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by Peter Moskos

August 10, 2016

Initial thoughts on the DOJ Report on policing in Baltimore

My take away is that the report is 1/3 spot on, particularly in describing some of the dysfunction in the department (e.g. pp. 128-137) and some (but not all) of the abuses of Terry, 1/3 crazy and wrong (that goddamn 2007 kid on a motorbike is brought up as racist evil policing), and 1/3 bullshit and errors of commission (like the black power structure and majority-minority status of the city and police department).

The optimist in me hopes it will be hammer that improves the department and the lives of police officers and Baltimoreans. The report brings up problems I've spent over a decade bitching about. So good. Cops don't want to work in a dysfunctional police department. Maybe this will change that. (One can dream...)

And I hate zero-tolerance policing. But today's politicians are trying to pass the buck to the past for present failures. Stop blaming "the early 2000's" for what is going on today. And those horrible O'Malley days when I was a cop? Crime and homicide were lower; and there were no riots. That should count for something.

Too many of the examples of bad policing are A) good policing or B) completely misinterpreted/misunderstand on a situational and legal basis. And it bothers me because this isn't an undergraduate paper I can correct. It's the friggin Department of Justice! Of course some anecdotes are examples of bad policing. But take that that damn dragging a seven-year-old kid off his bike incident from 2007. That was an example of bad parenting (and bad reporting), not bad policing. If that's used against police, I don't know which anecdotes I can believe. Too many Terry Stops do become illegal searches. I know that. And too many cops are rude to people. I know that, too. Preach on and spread The Word. But is every damn complaint lodged against police God's unalterable truth? Get real.

I'll write more later, but for now I'm going to cut and paste (with permission) from my good friend Leon Taylor. He grew up in the Eastern. We were exchanging emails last night as we were both reading the report until I finished and went to bed under the glow of rosy-fingered dawn.
Police are a crime fighting entity, not a cost effective social outreach unit. Teach every officer that they police communities. Stop hiring white police who feel they're some sort of heroes, and whose friends laud them for working in a "war zone." Stop hiring Black Police who don't understand that they'll be disciplined more harshly than White Police.

Will somebody please own up to the fact that the same politicians who criticize Police are responsible for bettering the communities that Police serve?

The report only pays lip service to the real problem of socioeconomic disparity. People think of "The Police" as a faceless, soulless entity, when in fact, the "Police" experience more of the human condition than most scholars and politicians. You say "Stop Police Trauma"; I say "Stop Traumatizing Police."

Police everywhere are a direct reflection of the communities they serve. It's extremely difficult to have a functional police department in a dysfunctional community. We need to stop using police as a societal band aid to cover wounds that require complex surgical procedures and intense rehabilitation. There's no use touting police reform as the panacea to all of our social ills if that ends political reform. Political reform will have a lasting positive effect on the communities most at risk in this country.

Fuck community policing. It's just for show.

And this:
I know we try so hard to be cavalier about it, but the truth is we're not staying up all night reading this document because we don't care. Quite the contrary. We do. You can't police Baltimore the right way and come away from it unchanged. You can't forget what you've seen. I could sleep better if I could. And I can't imagine how those charged to improve the quality of life for Baltimoreans can sleep at all.

One one think "healing the city" would be a simple enough task, given the mayor appoints both the Police Commissioner and the Director of Public Safety. I mean, they do report directly to the Mayor's office.

Maybe the real issue here isn't to investigate the police in Baltimore, but to investigate the other social services services in the affected neighborhoods. If they're not up to par or non-existent, there's no way the police service can be up to standard. The level of dysfunction in the community is simply too overwhelming.

I'm reminded of former PC Batts, knocking on doors to talk to residents in high crime neighborhoods, never understanding, as any BPD rookie knows, that that's a good way to get someone killed. I'm reminded of Mayor Rawlings-Blakes' "those who wish to destroy" comment which precipitated the riots last year. Both are examples of presumably well meaning but woefully uninformed assessments of the realities of life in some Baltimore neighborhoods.

Ferguson and Baltimore are two completely different situations, but both play extremely well to the masses. You can't police Baltimore like Beverly Hills. Ideally, you should be able to -- that should be the goal -- but I'm too much of a realist to suggest it's even remotely possible. I'm all for making things better, call it police reform, if you will.

But we also need political reform. We need a societal overhaul to even begin to address the issues that drive violent crime in places like Baltimore. Where else in the U.S. (or the world) would anything less than 300 homicides a year for a population of 620,000 be cause for celebration?


David Madden said...

I fear that the "reforms" this report are going to bring are going to lean heavily on more documentation and punishing cops. Improving training and leadership to prevent fuck ups in the first place will be paid lip service.
Society keeps placing higher and higher expectations on their police forces, but refuse to increase funding to allow for better training. The length of the average police academy has been roughly six months since, well forever. Every year more requirements are added to the curriculum. Something has to give.
Same goes for yearly inservice training. I'm a defensive tactics instructor and every year I have to fight (no pun intended) to get enough time allotted to keep my cops up to date. The training commission keeps adding stuff like "service animal awareness" to the required content and the department does not want to incur the OT that comes with adding more time to inservice. Its a zero sum game, every hour of training takes an officer off the street.

Andy D said...

David, even better are that so many "In service" classes are nothing but Death-by-PowerPoint BS, often taught by people who know little to nothing about the topic at hand. This year we had our mandatory "sexual assault/autism awareness/some other BS" class where it was the same PowerPoint presentation (complete with cheesy animated "sexual assault scenarios") that I had seen in the previous years.

Advocates of "more training" seem to forget that there is a HUGE cost associated with REAL training: hands-on, scenario-based training, judgmental shoot/don't-shoot firearms training, training that integrates non-lethal use of force with lethal force, training that evaluates and teaches tactics. The training is expensive, the manpower demands of sending people to it are huge, and none of these advocates are willing to put up the money to make it happen. I'd welcome it. The few real, genuinely GOOD training programs I've been to have been great experiences and I've learned a lot. But most "training" is just bullshit. But at least we are aware of service animals now.

ss12036 said...

"Stop hiring Black Police who don't understand that they'll be disciplined more harshly than White Police."

How is this part of a defense of police? If a black cop gets a harsher punishment for doing the same thing as a white cop, that would indicate some serious problems in that department.

Peter Moskos said...

I don't think it is necessarily a defense of police. It's just reality, as Leon sees it. There ARE serious problems in the department. Nobody thinks otherwise. It's just what are those problems and how to make them better is where people differ.

ss12036 said...

But if black cops being treated unfairly by the rest of the department is a problem, the solution would be to put an end to it, not to "Stop hiring Black Police who don't understand that they'll be disciplined more harshly", right?

Peter Moskos said...

It's deeper than that. And part of a bigger picture. That was just a shorthand late-night comment from one black cop. I don't know what to say.