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by Peter Moskos

March 1, 2017

Seven Baltimore cops indicted

The Feds arrested seven Baltimore City cops today. I don't know all the details yet, but the robbery charges seem major. "Robberies while wearing a police uniform," I just heard. But you know what? Even without knowing the details I can go out on a very short limb and predict a few things. Why? Because it's always the same. And that's what makes it so frustrating. It's like we never learn.

Articles in the Wall Street Journal and the Baltimore Sun. And an unrelated scandal in Chicago. Though I will read these stories thoroughly. It bothers me that I don't have to. Some things are always the same. Always:
• Drugs. Always drugs. I'm not one for "root causes" theories in the abstract, but if you want to end police corruption, you've got to end drug prohibition. That's it. Until then, this will happen. This only question is when, where, and how often. The drug game is dirty. And it is a game with arbitrary rules. It taints all involved, even the honest cops.

• A specialized unit, removed from the generally non-corrupt culture of most police officers.

• A selective unit, in that people don't just get assigned there. Officers need to self-select. And the more aggressive cowboys do. And this aggressive hot-headed police sub-culture can feed on itself. Here's something you may not know: most officers have no desire to work with those cops. Why? Because most cops don't like they way they operate. Do cops know they're dirty? No. But they certainly suspect things aren't kosher. So the good cops stay away. You stay away because there's guilt by association in the police department, and when the shit hits the fan, and it always does, you don't want to find yourself in the jackpot.

• Red flags galore. Let me guess, the officers involved had tons of overtime (this seems to be one of the charges). Too much legal (or illegal) overtime is a red flag. But usually what now happens is the department cracks down on all overtime. Collective punishment, in essence. And that will only piss off the honest cops who are trying to do their job.

I bet a few of these cops are "highly decorated." Yes, too many awards is a flag.

I'm also going to guess there were a lot of complaints against these officers over the years. Now of course if you do aggressive work you'll get more complaints than some lazy hump who never gets out of their car. And you need to be careful not to see every complaint as legit, because most are BS. But still, when you get a dozen complaints -- use of force, discourtesy, the whole nine yards -- in a year or two? I think of the line from the Wire:

"...which for Herc will make an even four in the last two years."

"None sustained."

"But all of them true."

On the flip side, you can't treat every complaint as a career hold. That's how you get the maxim, "If you don't work you can't get in trouble." Flags aren't guilt. That's why they call them "flags." You notice them. You investigate. And maybe there's nothing to them. But sometimes there is. Somebody up top needs to notice these flags. And somebody with authority, you know, a "leader," needs to put their neck on the line and take action.

• High "productivity." You want guns and drugs and cash on the table? You reward officers for arrests? Then you get this. (Not always, mind you. Not immediately. Not all officers. But yes, eventually it is inevitable). It's not easy to balance "productivity" on one hand with "laziness" on the other. But I'm telling you, there's a huge middle ground into which fall 80 percent of cops.

• Bad supervision. The sergeant got arrested, and this implies the squad was rotten to its core. So, I can't help but wonder, who was the Lieutenant? Go on up the chain of command, for a change. Not just to punish and blame, but to inquire, reform, and figure out how this happened. Did the LT close his or her eyes because of pressure from higher up? I don't know. Where exactly was the communication breakdown? Because this is about bad apples. But it's not just about bad apples. There's the barrel that allows these apples to rot.

The military-like chain-of-command does nothing more efficiently than suppress open communication. In a police department, it's too easy to put on blinders and not know what is happening around you. In fact, you'd be a fool to do otherwise. This is not the same as a "blue wall of silence," mind you. But it is a problem. But even if those higher up don't know about the crimes happening under them, it's still a failure of leadership.
Anyway, I'm just writing about scandals in general. But if these facts are true in this case -- and I bet they are -- isn't that, as they say in the police world, a clue?


Andy D said...

Gun Trace Task Force...Praised for all their arrests...huge civil payouts for complaints about them...doubling salary with overtime...

You MUST have read the whole Sun article before you wrote your piece, right? Because if not you nailed every point.

Peter Moskos said...

You can tell I wasn't cheating because you can't find a single case of police corruption in which what I wrote wouldn't apply.

What I described really is boilerplate corruption. It's always the same. That's what is so frustrating.

One part is missed/got wrong was the unit's focus on guns in particular. That doesn't really change anything, but it is slightly unique.

aNanyMouse said...

Andy, be careful about putting much weight on payouts, if City Hall has been rubber-stamping them to suck up to BLM.

As to Peter's point about supervision, it's crucial that the probes go ALL the way up the chain. How many City Councils have been asking (e.g. about the Laquan mess)"what did the mayor know, and when did he know it?" I'll bet ranch that part of the "Ferguson Effect" owes to cynicism that the cops are the easy targets, while Pols/Brass still get to rake in glory and $$ (incl. KBs for "seeing no evil" in major drug trafficking?).

Andy D said...

Mouse; I wasn't making any inference about WHY there were payouts...just commenting that the Prof PREDICTED red flags and woah were there some red flags!