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by Peter Moskos

August 10, 2016

Mr 34Stop

From the DOJ report on Baltimore Police:
This data reveals that certain Baltimore residents have repeated encounters with the police on public streets and sidewalks. Indeed, the data show that one African-American man was stopped 34 times during this period in the Central and Western Districts alone, and several hundred residents were stopped at least 10 times. Countless individuals--including Freddie Gray--were stopped multiple times in the same week without being charged with a crime.
When I hear somebody is stopped 34 times, my first thought is "what the hell is he doing." Indeed, this does not happen at random. (I'd be more worried about a non-criminal being stopped five times.) You don't have to be charged with a crime to be an active criminal worthy of police attention. Stops (based on reasonable suspicion) can be a tool to get criminals to desist or change their illegal behavior. If this is targeted enforcement, so be it. Let's not forget, Freddie Gray was a drug dealer. He was charged and convicted of plenty of crimes. The real question is what do we want police to do? Don't we want police to have (legal) "repeated encounters" with drug dealers and those prone to shoot people?

Here is a good response from somebody else:
OK, so?

Who was that guy stopped 34 times? Clearly they couldn’t get him on any serious crimes in this period, but who was he? What does he do for a living? Does he have a criminal history apart from any of these possible humbles? If so, what is it? And who are his associates, if any? What is their line of work? DoJ presumes that all must be treated equal. But modern policing has, and will continue to, begin targeting individuals based on data and intelligence. Everything from camera footage to CIs to past history to social network makes some people targets of police “proactive enforcement.” This is what that looks like in the cold type of a DoJ report: not pretty.

But how does DoJ propose BPD (and all other departments) square this circle? Let’s assume for just a moment that Mr. 34Stops runs a sharp crew and moves several kilos per week into Sandtown and Bolton Hill. He’s never in the same room or parking lot as his product, and he has two or three henchmen who take care of the violence necessary to keep things running smooth. He stays off the phone and his people are loyal. Citizens in the neighborhoods he effectively controls are terrified and silent, but for a few nods and whispers. What is a district commander supposed to do about him?

Now, this is speculation, admittedly. Mr. 34Stops could as easily be a life-long resident, truck-driver and crossing guard who works nights, rides the bus and, maybe, enjoys a can of beer while sitting on his own or a neighbor’s stoop sometimes. The DoJ--and the U.S. Constitution--does not distinguish between these two men. Everyone else does though, because they present very different threats to order and safety.


Alex Elkins said...

"The DoJ--and the U.S. Constitution--does not distinguish between these two men. Everyone else does though, because they present very different threats to order and safety."

This is the classic tension in street policing, identified by Michael Banton, Egon Bittner, on forward. But is the author of the excerpt above arguing that public safety, as decided by police, should trump constitutional rights? I'm genuinely curious. I see this tension brought up a lot in police circles (past and present).

aNanyMouse said...

Typo alert: "The real question is what do want (WE) police to do?"

If winning the drug war requires dissing the Constitution, let's drop the drug war. If Freddie Gray could legally have a drug equivalent of a hot dog stand on his front lawn, he's much less likely to be involved with goons who get hired to protect drug-ring turf, and Mr. 34Stops might be Mr. 3or4Stops.

Cops could concentrate on stuff like cracking burglary rings, and probably get many more tips from locals about that sort of stuff, than they now get about drug dealers whose clienteles have sympathetic neighbors.
Cops are seen as an occupying army when they try enforce hated laws.
This is the other Ferguson Effect.

Peter Moskos said...

Yes. Let's drop the drug war. Because as long as we have drug prohibition, Baltimore cops are going to have to deal with illegal drug dealers and users. And *that* really is at the root of all these problems.

aNanyMouse said...

I'll guess that you're not being facetious. In any case, I do read your stuff avidly.
(I don't claim that it really is at the root of *all* these problems, just that it makes quite a diff.)

Peter Moskos said...

I've been preaching about the evils of the drug war for 20 years. Maybe I've been less loud as of late. But I'm totally serious.

Liberaltarian . . . said...

"Stops (based on reasonable suspicion) can be a tool to get criminals to desist or change their illegal behavior."

How does a stop but no arrest cause a criminal not to commit crime in the future? Is the idea that these criminals are going to be scared straight?

I really struggle with a bunch of stops of people who are not committing any crime. I can imagine myself getting stopped all the time just minding my own business in my own neighborhood, and I think it would breed a lot of resentment and anger in me. Damn, I get mad just watching a video of it happening to someone else! I have a much more difficult time imagining all the good resulting from such stops.

Peter Moskos said...

Because, in the smart policing world, innocent (meaning not criminal and not not-charged-with-a-crime) don't get stopped very often.

Behavior changes because your fun recreational activities -- dice games, drinking and shouting, drug dealing, harassing passers by -- become less fun when I'm always harassing you. So you learn to behave. Not get a job and find God. But desist from whatever it is that is giving me another 911 call to deal with you.