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by Peter Moskos

December 20, 2007

Shooting in White and Black

The Sun has an excellent interactive graphic that can display all the year's homicide victims. You can select for different variables, so it's fun to play with (if you're a nerdy academic).

One of the depressing things about homicide is the racial breakdown. Breaking violent crime down by race doesn't get much press, probably because it treads on incredibly un-politically correct territory. But I'm not afraid of fact. According to today's paper, the city's homicide count rose to 277 (surpassing the 2006 total).

If you go to the interactive graphic, select for all of 2007 and white. You get 13 victims. Three of those by shooting. Keep shooting selected and then select for black victims. It's very, very depressing. It's mostly clustered in the Eastern, Western, and part of the Northwest.

Keep black and shooting and add "article, yes." Look at those red dots disappear. Young black men shot and killed that you never even heard about. And that's if you read the daily paper. Granted, most of the white victims didn't make the paper either. But for whites in Baltimore, we're talking maybe a dozen or so, not hundreds of lives a year!

Most of the deaths are caused by the issues related to the illegal drug market. If we regulated drug selling (and who is for unregulated drug selling?), lives would be saved.

When people ask me why things aren’t getting better, one of my stock answers is this: liberals refuse to talk about culture and conservatives are too greedy and don't give a damn. Of course, that's just my simplistic way to piss everybody off. So let me explain:

Liberals refuse to think of anything other than “root causes.” This usually comes down to money and racism. If anything is going to get better, it will cost money. But money isn’t everything. Rich drug dealers (though most are poor) have money. And they’re part of the problem. And most poor people struggle buy without ever killing anybody.

And racism matters. But if we wait till racism is over before moving forward, we’re going to be stuck a very long time.

And let’s talk culture. Part of ghetto culture is screwed-up. There are a lot of bad parents out there. I’m not going to divide parents into either “good” or “bad,” but some parents simply do a crappy job of raising (or not raising) their kids. I'm not blaming the victim. I think there are good reasons people are screwed up. But screwed up they are.

Just once I’d like to hear a liberal call anybody a “bad” parent. I’m not saying insulting parents is the answer, but sometimes a little truth is refreshing and helps clear the air (and may get conservatives to open their pocketbooks).

Conservatives, at least the good ones, do give a damn. But too often they are greedy or ideologically blinded. They don’t want to spend money. We need to change attitudes and shift priorities. But this can’t be done without money. We could make things better. If we had the will, we would find the money.

Say want you want about the risks of legalized and regulated drug selling, but if we could save lives (and raise money), wouldn't it be worth it? If you're still for drug prohibition after all these failed years, ask yourself what is more important than saving the lives of poor young black men. If you have an answer, you need to look deep inside yourself. You may not like what you see.

Hope for the Eastern's most beautiful building

The Sun reports that the American Brewery is getting money for development. This building is gorgeous, in the Eastern District, and in complete disrepair. $35 million to convert the five-story former brewery into office space for a nonprofit social service. It's good their going for office space rather than residential. The Eastern District is littered with failed residential conversions (the old school just off North Ave being the worst failure).

One of the nice things about being a cop is you can go explore any urban wreck you want. The interior is falling apart, there are feral fighting dogs living in part of it. And the upper reaches are caked in pigeon shit. It needs a lot of work. But these building also need love. They need to be saved because they will never be built again. Here's a good 3rd-party account of exploring the building. Mind you, it was 10 years more decrepit when I explored.

The brewery wasn't in my sector, but I loved it every time I passed it on the way back to the district. The most veteran cop I worked with remembered when it was still making beer and the friendly brewmeister serving on duty cops at his house across the street. Those were the days...

The Baltimore Sun did a great series on the neighborhood around the brewery.

Not the sharpest tack in the box

Cop brags about seized drug theft
The New York Daily News reports that two narcotic detectives here caught after bragging on their own wire about stealing bags of seized cocaine.

Corruption always involves drugs. But rarely in such idiotic fashion.

December 16, 2007

The Eastern District today

A student of mine went down to Baltimore and took some pictures of the Eastern. I don't get there much anymore, even when I go to Baltimore. I don’t know anybody who lives there.

In most ways, the Eastern looks like it hasn't changed at all. In one big way, it's changing a lot: the expansion of Johns Hopkins Hospital (or "Hotkins," as some say in the 'hood). It's a bit sad when even the community doesn't really object to the destruction of their area.

Of course these pictures don’t show the homes well kept up. There are working people and good homes in the Eastern. These pictures don’t do them justice. Neither does my book. But when an outsider goes into the Eastern, it’s hard not to be shocked by the abandonment of virtually everything.

Between 1990 and 2000, the District lost 30% of it’s population. And that’s just in these 10 years. I’d guess the District has probably lost three-fourth of its population since its peak, probably in the 1950s. When you take three quarters of the people out of an area, there’s lots of empty space left. Think of that vacant block Hampsterdam from Season 3 of the Wire. That was just west of Broadway, near the Amtrak tracks.

The blocks just west of Broadway, the ones that haven’t been demolished, are interesting and a little scary. You get streets off of alleys. Even cops have a tough time finding Iron Alley (though many know it as the place a cop was shot and killed in 1985). And even I have to use to Google Earth to remember Hakesley Place and Lansing Ave.

When most people who can afford to leave, leave, there’s a lot of concentrated poverty and crime left.

Maybe the expansion of Hopkins will do so good. Maybe not. It's not like they've been great neighbors in the past. And it’s not like I’ve got the answer, short of regulating drug selling and taking the profit out of the hands of criminals (or, even better, turning criminals into legal tax-paying businessmen).

I like the idea somebody had to paint the boards on boarded-up buildings pretty colors. That way the neighborhood will look nice. This in just south of the market, if I remember correctly.
These little bricked streets, if you squint enough, can actually look beautiful. I once saw a picture or postcard of this street from 1945. There was a big banner hanging over the street saying, “welcome home soldiers!” All the stoops where scrubbed clean with pumice stone, and every home was occupied. I believe that block had three occupied buildings when I worked there. I remember one burnt down when I was there. Now it’s probably completely unoccupied.

This used to be the worst drug area in the district, conveniently locked next to Hopkins E.R. bad drug area. This is very strange. It’s all gone now. And they haven’t redrawn the post-boundaries, so 323 post has suddenly become a great post to police. I’m sure the dealers and junkies movie elsewhere. But I wonder what happened to the excellent (black owned and operated) produce stand on Washington St. and Mr. George and his Laundromat and Wolfe and Eager?

They didn’t have these when I was a cop. I’m not sure if they do any good. I think printing the slogan “believe” on them may be going a little far. A friend of mine is the guy who sits on the police end of these cameras on the midnight shift, watching the cameras. Mind-numbing work, but he’s got no choice. He was forced to retire on disability after being shot and almost killed in the line of duty. He needs the money since he can’t live and support his family on his pension.
I’m the type of guy who would have bought some ribs from this operation. Other cops thought that was a little funny.
I think this is Lafayette or Lanvale, judging from the trees. These blocks were some of the prettiest in Sector Two.
This is taken from Bond St, looking down the 1700 block of Ellsworth. I used to spend many mornings here, just behind where this was taken. It was the best view of the east. I could watch the sun rise and listen to Amtrak trains disappear in the tunnel toward Penn Station.

Cops 1 - Robber 0

For all the press police-involved shootings get in New York City, there are a lot more shootings in Baltimore if you take the difference in population into account (almost an equal number if you don't). Baltimore shootings don't get much press because the city isn't a media center and Al Sharpton doesn't live there.

Instead, the local chapter of the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement (who?) is protesting the latest shooting. I think they should pick their battles a little better.

A man robbed a Burger King (not too far from where I lived) and, while making his getaway, pulled a loaded handgun out at police officers. He got killed. Damn right police shot. But perhaps only in Baltimore do family members of the dead robber wonder why more police didn’t shoot.

The full story is here.

Family demands answers in police shooting

By Stephen Kiehl

Baltimore Sun reporter
December 15, 2007

The family of a man killed by police last week asked yesterday why it still hasn't received a written report on the shooting and said it is in the "beginning stages" of filing a complaint with the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
Relatives of Coby Brown, 23, said they have not received any response from police despite multiple requests for a full accounting of the Dec. 4 shooting in Upper Fells Point. They also question the use of such lethal force.
"We are left wondering what happened, how it happened and if it needed to happen," said Thomas K. Smith, Brown's stepfather, during a small rally at the shooting scene. "We want the truth."
Brown was shot by police after he robbed a Burger King in the 2000 block of Eastern Ave. in Fells Point, police said. Officers on foot patrol gave chase. Another officer pursued in a vehicle. Brown shot at the officers and then stopped in front of a house on Gough Street, police said.
When Brown pointed his gun at Officer Modesto A. Olivio Jr., police said, Olivio shot Brown in the stomach. Brown died the next day at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
"This suspect made a choice when he pointed a loaded handgun at a police officer, and when he makes that choice, the officer is left with no choice," said police spokesman Sterling Clifford.

December 12, 2007

Advance Praise for Cop in the Hood

"Peter Moskos, a sociologist by training, somewhat inadvertently became a police officer. Cop in the Hood is the fortuitous and fascinating result. It gives the reader the real dope from someone with the training and ability to put the street into the larger context. Highly recommended."
--Alex Tabarrok, George Mason University, cofounder of marginalrevolution.com.

"Cop in the Hood is an extremely valuable study centered on patrolling a drug-infested Baltimore police district. Readers interested in drug policy, criminology, or policing cannot help but to learn a lot from this book. I know that I did, and I am grateful to the author. Many of his insights are eye-opening. His voice is unique and essential in debates concerning drug-policy reforms."
--Jim Leitzel, University of Chicago

November 18, 2007

He's dead... cuff him

The New York Times has an article by Al Baker, "Handcuffing the Wounded: Tactic Hits a Nerve."

I read that article with interest. Police don't have the option to not handcuff a suspect. I always thought that officers should have some (limited) discretion to not handcuff suspects. For instance, you're patrolling, minding your own business, and a person comes up to you and says “I'm wanted, I'm here to turn myself in.” OK. You run his info and indeed, he’s 10-30 (In Baltimore, that means wanted or in custody).

Let's also say this person is wanted for a failure to appear in court for a non-violent crime. Why handcuff this guy in public? He’s turning himself in. It only serves to discourage others from doing the same.

The part of the article that made the sense to me was the idea that after a shooting, there's a lot to deal with, and you don't even want to think about having a debate about whether or not to handcuff a suspect. Just do it and move on.

I think the rules will change only if some doctors can show that handcuffing a suspect could threaten the life of a wounded suspect.

There was one suspect I didn’t want to handcuff. I was just out of field training and Green, working the Artscape fair in Baltimore on three hours sleep. A young black man was playing the buckets. Buckets are easy to play poorly. But this guy was good. Loud and good.

Some of the Artscape people complained. The paying vendors didn’t want the noise and were maybe jealous that he drew more people than they were. He wasn’t allowed to play in this area. People paid good money to set up shop.

Two mounted cops said they weren't going to tell him shit. My friend and partner wasn’t going to play bad cop either. The drummer had attracted a big crowd, who were enjoying his performance.

I made the mistake of asking the sergeant what to do, hoping he would say leave him be. But he said to get him out of Artscape boundaries, so I had to do it. After his set, I approached him and, to the loud boos of the crowd, told him to pack up and leave the Artscape property. He couldn’t play in the area. I told him where to move and told him he didn’t have a choice. He agreed, I left.

A few hours later I was with the same sergeant and the guy was playing again. Sarge said he was 10-30. "There's the right way and the wrong way to handle these things," he said. He didn't put cuffs on him there, which was a smart move. Rather, buckets in hand, he was lead back to the police truck. I had to do the paperwork and write him a citation. I told him he was a good drummer. He was friendly and a little slow. Perhaps mildly retarded. He told me he was blessed. Maybe he was.

He said made over $500 the day before. He could bang those buckets good.

He was so compliant, even sweet, that I didn't think to cuff him until one of the people in the truck said, “Is he 10-30? Then why isn't he in h-a-n-d-c-u-f-f-s.” Oh yeah. It was a fair question. I was violating departmental regulation. I know there's no guarantee that a sweet and compliant young man can’t turn violent. But I just didn’t think this guy needed to be cuffed. And though I still thought it unnecessary, I cuffed him.

Things got worse. I couldn’t write him a citation because he had no ID. You can’t write a ticket if you don’t know how they are. So now he’s under arrest (technically detained to verify identity, but it’s the same thing). I thought he was 20, but it turned out he was only 17. So now there’s there extra hassle of juvenile paperwork.

I had to count his money for inventory. He had about $170 on him. It was quite a sight later. Laid on the table, you’d think he was a big time drug dealer, except they were all one-dollar bills.

I should have just let him go. It’s the only arrest I’ve ever regretted.

November 15, 2007

Don't Taze me, bro!

I know my classes are topical, but I wish people didn’t have to die to make it so. Yesterday I class I talked a police-involved shooting in Brooklyn and the overuse of Tasers. Today a bunch of students sent me these links about a man’s death in Vancouver after being Tasered. Proving exactly what I said in class:

Since Tasers can kill people (though very very rarely), Tasers (and other less-lethal weaponry) should only be used in situations where you're willing to use lethal force (or where there's no clearly less lethal force practical).

The CNN report.

And one from Breitbart TV (Canadian).

This man should not have died. Nor should he have been Tasered. There were four cops. Why the hell can't they take the guy down with muscle? Is the Taser emasculating police officers? Tackle the S.O.B.! You know the guy isn't armed (it was a secure area of the airport).

Andrew Meyers shouldn’t have been Tasered either.

Also worrisome is that the Mounties lied and said the guy was fighting. That didn’t pan out when the video went public.

I don't like the idea of people, police included, being able to cause pain at the press of a button. It makes it too easy to torture. I’ve said it many times: policing is a hands-on job. If you need to hurt somebody, it is best to do it with hands (or stick). Hurting somebody with your hands is a natural check and balance to excessive force. Physical force takes effort, reminding you of the consequences. And being close to somebody means you might get hurt, which also is good to keep in mind. It’s just too easy to press a button.

I also don’t like that Taser is a private for-profit company. That’s not inherently a bad thing. But for makers of less-lethal munitions and prisons, it may be. They shouldn’t have P.R. and lobbyers. Or studies saying how great and safe their product is. At least for other forms of munitions, there’s healthy competition and generic products. It’s just a red flag. Plus, their slick website looks like something out of the movie Starship Troopers.

What does a Taser do? Here’s an amusing video of cops getting Tasered. Always good for a laugh.

November 14, 2007

The untimely death of Khiel Coppin

An unarmed man was killed by police Monday in Brooklyn. Here's the New York Times account. This isn’t going to start any riots. Trust me. By all reasonable accounts, this was a “good” shooting.

It always sounds bad to describe the shooting of an unarmed man as “good,” but in police parlance, “good” and “bad” shootings aren’t a moral judgment as much as a way of saying that the shooting was justified by regulation and law.

A man comes at police saying he's armed and going to shoot while holding something under his shirt? He gets shot.

When a man says he has a gun, police have every right to believe him.

Maybe this was suicide by cops. Maybe the man just needed to take his meds. I don't blame the cops. But there is another problem. An one of my students said, "they got another one."

The greater problem is that another unarmed black man was killed by police. It’s not just this one case. It does keep happening. That’s why people get upset. Maybe this one was justified, maybe the last one, too. And the one before that. But can they really *all* be justified? That’s the greater question.

Police occasionally kill innocent unarmed white people as well. But you probably never hear about it. It never becomes national news. There’s no Al Sharpton for white folk. Maybe there should be.

It usually goes without saying, but cops don’t put on their uniform hoping they’ll shoot somebody that day. No cop wants to be involved in a shooting. Sometimes it just happens (luckily it never happened to me).

The problem with individual police-involved shootings is that any criminal trial becomes symbolic of greater issues of history, race, and justice in America. That’s not fair to those on trial. But we, as a society, don’t have any better of discussing and dealing with these issues. That’s the greater problem.

November 1, 2007

Gang Member Is Convicted Under Terror Law

Today’s New York Times has an article about a gang member being convicted under anti-terrorism laws. The only thing that surprises me is the surprise. The article states: “Other states have used their terrorism statutes, which were seen as largely ceremonial when they were introduced because major terrorism cases were likely to be prosecuted by the federal government.”

There’s a simple rule here: police and prosecutors will use any tool they can. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Police and prosecutors wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t use all the tools at their disposal.

But law-makers need to consider that when they pass ceremonial feel-good anti-terrorism laws, these laws have real-world implications. When certain acts or motivations are criminalized, the effects of laws will always extend beyond the specific target group intended.

Maybe terror laws should be used against gang members. Most Americans have much more to fear from local criminals than from international terrorism. As one Baltimorean said a while back, “Osama Bin Laden don’t live on Caroline Street!”

But something about using laws in ways they weren’t intended bothers me. Especially because so much of this always comes down to the War on Drugs. RICO laws, intended for large-scale organized crime, are now used against low-level drug laws. Terrorism laws will be, too. Assault and violence have always been illegal. I don’t think the answer to our nation’s problems is simply incarcerating more people for even longer terms.

October 20, 2007

Lead free equals crime free?

There's a piece in the New York Times Sunday magazine with an interesting link between lead and crime. Jessica Wolpaw Reyes wrote a paper linking the crime drop in the 1990s to getting the lead out of gasoline in the 1970s.

This is hardly conclusive, but it is interesting. There's still a lot of lead in Baltimore, mostly in the form of peeling paint in old rowhomes. Could too many kids munching on windowsills be responsible for Baltimore's high crime rate? No doubt there's more to it than that, but it's still interesting.
New York Times Magazine
October 21, 2007
Idea Lab
Criminal Element

Has the Clean Air Act done more to fight crime than any other policy in American history? That is the claim of a new environmental theory of criminal behavior.
Drug Rehab Centers have also done a lot to help people who are struggling with addiction issues.
Reyes found that the rise and fall of lead-exposure rates seemed to match the arc of violent crime, but with a 20-year lag — just long enough for children exposed to the highest levels of lead in 1973 to reach their most violence-prone years in the early ’90s, when crime rates hit their peak.
You can read the whole NYT piece here.

October 9, 2007

Cop in the Hood! All new material!! Plagiarism Free!!!

Well the second claim is true even if the first claim is a bit of an exaggeration.

For anybody who has ever turned a PhD dissertation into a book (uh, if you're reading this, odds are you have), you may wonder, just how different was my book from my dissertation. Hopefully a lot, because dissertations almost always suck.

My adviser, Orlando Patterson, was pretty good about letting me write my dissertation with the final book in mind. For one thing, that means my dissertation didn't have any statistical regressions. That's rare in sociology these days, at least at Harvard. But it's still a dissertation. Nobody fails to get a PhD because of passive verbs, or advising that more research is needed, or for having an extra chapter that should probably be cut.

Before my book gets set in type by a man who knows the printing press (I like to imagine Princeton University Press does things the old-fashioned way), I wanted to make sure my book is plagiarism free. Academics stay up at night worrying about things like that. And I'm talking about the ones who don't plagiarize. Given constant reworking, and all the things I've read, and my cut-and-pastes from a file of excerpts from books I've read, well it's easy to see how something could slip through. Or how I could read an idea and then come up with it on my own four days later. My family is famous for that. Half the time my brother says anything half intelligent I protest than I told him that, six months earlier. The other half of the time he read it in the Economist. Sometimes both. He doesn't care. Blood runs thicker than plagiarism.

Professors have the great resource of [lest they benefit from my praise, the name has been redacted by a cease-and-desist order from this company. They say I violated the licensing agreement by submitting my book.]. It's a plagiarism detection system on which I check all my students' papers. I haven't taught a single semester without failing at least one student for plagiarism. Sad but true, but that's for another post.

I submitted my book to [the company that wishes to remain unmentioned, despite my praise], just as I submitted my dissertation 3 years ago, to make sure it comes back clean. It did. If you exclude quotations (and I think it can only exclude some of those, because most of my quotes are long and without quotation marks), 25% of my book matches my dissertation. I think if you removed all the juicy quotes, it would go down to 15-20%. In other words, 75-85% of my book is new material, not in my dissertation in any form.

I don't know what the significance of that is or if the percentage is high or low. But I think it's interesting to know, and undoubtedly a credit to my great editor, Tim Sullivan. It's certainly great for the readability of my book.

Baltimore crack house

#1) 1900 Block of E Eager. 1906 E Eager is the third house (with awning) from Mr. George's corner laundromat. Two short blocks North of Johns Hopkins Hospital, this corner (Wolfe and Eager) is one of the "hottest" (but hardly the only) drug corners in the neighborhood, heroin and crack are sold around the clock, rain or shine. Most of the customers are locals, but a conspicuous minority of whites drive in from the poor suburbs looking for the purer heroin found in the ghetto. This neighborhood, built around the turn of the century and featuring typical Baltimore rowhomes, formstone, and marble stoops, was all white until the 1950s, middle class until the 70s and 80s, now it is mostly vacant, all black, and very poor. Hopkins and city own most of the property. Hopkins has since torn down most of this area.

#2) The corner looks deserted. It is just 7 in the morning. But a few moments earlier, there were dozens of people roaming about. But a funny thing happens when you part a police car in the middle of the intersection, turn off the motor (otherwise the picture is blurry), and take a picture. People scatter. Note how everybody is walking away. I didn’t take in personally.

#3) Approaching the rear of 1906 E Eager from N Chapel St. I was looking for a location to observe drug sailes on the corner and out of one house in particular.

#4) Most vacants are boarded up to prevent junkies from entering, or filled with too much trash and damage to let one safely enter. The Rear entrance of 1906 E Eager is wide open. The first, time, on official police business, I went in alone. The second time, to take pictures, I brought along a partner, just to be safe.

#5) The rear room on the first floor is what used to be the kitchen. In the Northeast corner are old appliances, partially stripped and peeling lead paint, and remnants of alpine wallpaper.

#6) Another view of the alpine wallpaper

#7) Looking Southwest in the kitchen, a few more appliances.

#8) The Southeast corner of the kitchen. The iron stove top grates have long been sold for scrap. Almost all the metal has been.

#9) The front room is the living room. A TV and couch remain. Makes me think the home was occupied into the 1990s. The front door is on the right. It’s interesting to me that a big color TV, once somebody’s prized possession, is no longer worth anything.

#10) The front door is on the left. Vivid woodland wallpaper remains.

#11) Looking up the staircase between the rooms. One of the stairs is rotted through, but the rest are in pretty good shape. This is a typical staircase for a rowhome. It’s horrible for police. Often there’s no handrail, and you can easily be pushed down. At the top, suspects could be in either or both directions. They don’t teach you about this in the police academy.

#12) 2nd floor front room. Nice windows for surveillance of the dealers katty-corner across Wolfe St. Otherwise trash, some drug paraphernalia, a mattress against the wall, two pairs of shoes, and a nicely patterned linoleum floor remain.

#13) Looking East in the upstairs front room. A nice old heating grate, removed from the wall, hasn’t been taken to sell for scrap. A small water bottle (nicely labeled "water") is on the floor. This water would be mixed with heroin and heated with lighter in a metal bottle cap from a 40oz bottle of malt liquor. The mixture is then injected. The only thing is these pictures I manipulated is the water bottle. I turned it so I could photograph the word, “water.” I love how it’s neatly labeled.

#14) Rear room second floor. View looking rear from the stairs. Two layers of floor cover are visible, along with purple latex gloves, and a black tourniquet to make veins bulge for easier injection. An empty container of cornstarch is on the chair. Cornstarch can be put into empty crack vials and repackaged as “burn,” or fake drugs to sell for a quick buck, mostly to whites coming into the neighborhood. Some of these whites then call the police and tell us they were robbed (always of $10 or $20). They don’t get much sympathy. Locals would know not to buy from local junkies. But selling burn is not without risk as selling burn to the wrong person can get you beat up or killed.

#15) Looking towards the front in the rear room. Mirrors and black pride posters increase the positivity and create a much nicer overall environment. Tupac, Goodie Mob, and Q-Tip. An almost empty bottle of Pepto Bismal lies on the ground, showing that indigestion can strike anyone.

#16) A poster and broken clock on one wall is just of above the bottles of piss and cans of shit neatly kept in the corner (unfortunately my partner knocked over that board you see on the lower right corner, tipping everything over. It smelled really rank after that.)

#17) A 2000 Sears poster celebrating Black History claiming it's not just for February anymore: “Every family has a history. We celebrate yours every day, every year.”

#18) Bottles of piss sit in old malt liquor bottles. Next to it is a free parenting magazine and a toy box. My partner accidentally knocked the loose door on to the bottles of human waste. This spilled a lot of piss. We left the place worse than we found it. This wasn’t low-impact policing. Sorry.

#19) Another view of the main lounge and work area. Given the conditions, this is not where serious drug dealers do their work. This is a place for addicts to shoot up, relax, and scheme how to come up with their next $10 hit.

#20) A few chairs are set around a collection of empty crack vials. There are also more shoes. Why all the shoes?

#21) Looking closer, there are dozens of empty crack vials. Every color of the rainbow. The legal use for these vials in for perfumes and oils. The color of the cap on the vial often becomes a sort of brand name: red tops, blacks tops, or orange tops. Other good brand names: Uptown, Bodybag, Capone, and the more generic Ready Rock. Also on the floor are candles, cigarette butts, lighters (lots of them), tin foil, and bottle caps. Heroin and coke is an ever popular mix. John Belushi overdosed on it. Sugar, in the form of candy bars and tasty cakes can take some of the edge of the beginnings of heroin withdrawal.

Notice that the cup being used as an ashtray is standing and in use. The shoes are lined up. Paper is on the floor. In this disorder, there is order. But it’s almost inevitable that at some point in time they’ll burn the place down. And when that happens, you don’t want to be the neighbor next door.

These pictures were taken in early 2001.

Struggling NYPD mother caught in welfare bust

When I tell you that a New York City police officer was caught milking the welfare system, your first thought should be, “what’s a police officer doing on welfare?!” Good question, thanks for asking. The starting salary of the NYPD is $25,100 a year. Granted it goes up a lot after 6 months, but still. How can you live off this for 6 months when you’re not allowed to hold secondary jobs and can’t make overtime? I was making $28,400 when I was hired as a police officer… 8 years ago... in Baltimore. I could get by, but I had no family, no car payments, and $300/month rent.

You can’t live in New York City on that money. This headline was inevitable. Sad, too. How did it get this way? Well, a few years back, in contract negotiations, police got a well deserved raise. But it came at the expense of new recruits. Peter was robbed to pay Paul. At the time, I thought, “fine.” In a few months this absurd situation will be rectified and all New York City police will get the raise they deserve. Now it’s a few years later.

A recruit, perhaps a very good future police office, was caught for abusing the food stamp system. It wasn’t even aggressive abuse. It was passive abuse. Somehow I think that’s better. She didn’t lie to the system. She just “forgot” to mention to welfare people that she was now employed. Had she mentioned it, she would have lost $1,000. A thousand dollars that she used, I suppose, to feed her hungry kids. How many of you would have done differently?

Except for the welfare abuse part, she did all the right things. Working her up. Trying to get off welfare. Becoming a police officer after going through the cadet program. Now I suppose she’s unemployed and costing us more money.

New York will pay for this in the long run. Mark my words. You get what you pay for. We will have worse cops, dirtier cops, and bigger lawsuits to pay in coming years. Lawsuits that will probably overshadow any savings from paying police a low starting salary. If crime goes up, we’re all doomed as a city. But if we refuse to pay police officers a living wage, we get what we deserve.

Struggling NYPD mother caught in welfare bust
By Alison Gendar, Kerry Burke and Michael White
New York Daily News staff writers

Friday, September 21st 2007, 4:00 AM

A 25-year-old NYPD recruit was so strapped by her $25,100 Police Academy salary that she committed welfare fraud, authorities said.

Claribel Polanco, a mother of two who was collared yesterday at her Bronx home, was suspended from duty and most likely will be fired, police sources said.

"She's all the problems in a nutshell - a trifecta," one police source said. "The department pays dirt, so all they can hire are kids on welfare. ... So she committed a crime to get by. And now the department has a criminal on the books - and she's not even out of the Police Academy yet."

When asked about the charges, Polanco said only, "This is ridiculous. Why are they doing this?"

Polanco, of Morris Ave. in Morrisania, was an NYPD cadet - a program for students - and was attending college when she signed up for welfare, a police source said.

She had been receiving food stamps and Medicaid.

But she failed to notify the authorities when she was hired by the NYPD in January and continued to receive more than $1,000 in benefits illegally, court records show.

Polanco was arraigned in Bronx Criminal Court yesterday on felony grand larceny and welfare fraud as well as misdemeanor larceny and welfare fraud counts and was released without bail.

NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau investigators had prevented her from graduating with her academy class in June after catching wind of the alleged fraud, police sources said.

Police union officials declined to comment on the arrest.

Police officials have expressed concerns that dropout rates in the current class also have risen because of the low $25,100 starting salary.

October 5, 2007


Here's the text for the back of the book. It makes everything sound so exciting that even I want to re-read my book...

Cop in the Hood is an explosive insider’s story of what it is really like to be a police officer on the front lines of the war on drugs. Harvard-trained sociologist Peter Moskos became a cop in Baltimore’s roughest neighborhood—the Eastern District, also the location for the critically acclaimed HBO drama The Wire—where he experienced the real-life poverty and violent crime firsthand. He provides an unforgettable window into this world that outsiders never see—the thriving drug corners, the nerve-rattling patrols, and the heartbreaking failure of 911.

Moskos reveals the truth about the drug war and why it is engineered to fail—a truth he learned on the midnight shift in Baltimore. He describes police-academy graduates fully unprepared for the realities of the street. He tells of a criminal-justice system that incarcerates poor black men on a mass scale—a self-defeating system that measures success by arrest quotas and fosters a street code at odds with the rest of society—and argues for drug legalization as the only realistic way to end drug violence and let cops once again protect and serve. Moskos shows how officers in the ghetto are less concerned with those policed than with self-preservation and maximizing overtime pay—yet how any one of them would give their life for a fellow officer. Cop in the Hood ventures deep behind the Thin Blue Line to disclose the inner workings of law enforcement in America’s inner cities. Those who read it will never view the badge the same way.

Cover Design

This is the fun part of writing a book: having other people do work after you're done. This will be the cover. I like it.

September 21, 2007

The problems of ethnography peer review

Way back when, I submitted an article to a prominent ethnography journal. Time passed. Nothing happened. I submitted the article elsewhere. It was reviewed, accepted and published this past summer. Yesterday I received a reply from the journal. Rejection.

I have never been in the somewhat awkward a position to receive a rejection for a published article. (There were good reasons why the process was so delayed in this journal, related to an editor’s personal health).

But the rejections were striking. Three out of three people rejected the article. This article has been published in the peer-reviewed Law Enforcement Executive Forum. And it forms the basis for a chapter in my book. It's good enough ethnography for Princeton University Press but not, apparently, for this Journal. I couldn’t get over one of the rejections. It stated:

This is not appropriate submission for [the Journal]. I can’t see how in any shape or form that this is ethnography or has anything to do with ethnography.

This bothers me. My research is ethnographic. So I couldn’t help but write the editor, who did write back an understanding email. It’s not the editor's fault. The problem is the process of peer review, perhaps especially in what seems to be the self-limiting field of ethnography.

My book, Cop in the Hood, is coming out in May (Princeton University Press). It is, dare I say, an ethnography. Here's what I wrote:

I appreciate the comments and agree with many of the critical points. Perhaps the article isn't best for [the Journal]. The article is weak on theory. It is geared toward police policy and practice.

I have a few thoughts on my mind from reading the comments. I feel and hope that you and the journal may gain from my thoughts. Take them for what you will. Take them constructively and not as the ranting of a slighted academic. Again, the piece is published, so at some level it doesn't matter to me. But I care about ethnography.

All three reviewers harp on the fact that this isn’t your typical ethnography. That doesn’t strike me as bad. I know this piece is more policy-oriented, but I hope my research expands the field of ethnography slightly in that direction. It bothers me that a policy or real-world focus would be part of the grounds for rejection or exclusion from the field of ethnography. It bothers me when I see the peer-review process in this field so narrow-minded that it is unwilling to consider a piece that doesn't "fit the mold." Likewise it bothers me that ethnographers wouldn’t consider a piece that some numbers in it.

I know this article isn't the "typical" ethnographic piece. I am well aware of ethnographic theory and consider myself an ethnographer (what else could I consider myself given my research and writing based on two years of P.O. research?).

In my mind, and maybe I'm wrong, research that follows ethnographic methods *is* ethnography. The style of writing and the format of the paper should be issues to judge, but not litmus tests. Again, I understand there are legitimate reasons to reject this piece for the [Journal]. But for cryin’ out loud, ethnographers, have a more open mind about what counts as ethnography!

The comments from reviewer 2601 I think are the best (not the most positive, just the most useful comments). The comments from reviewer 2622 are also constructive. The comments from 2602 are, as you I'm sure know, useless. Please don't have this person review another piece for the journal. What an asshole. People like that who serve as gatekeepers really limit the field.

Why can’t ethnography combine qualitative and quantitative methods? Why can’t ethnography be more focused on policy than theory? Perhaps these issues would make a better article for [the Journal] than an analysis of 911 calls for police service. But for both for academic and political reasons, I would hope that ethnographers would be a little more open minded. Of all fields to be judgmental and closed minded... how ironic.


Professor Peter Moskos
Dept. of Law and Police Science
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
899 10th Ave, Room 422
New York, NY 10019

September 1, 2007

Dog fight

So Michael Vic apologized for dog fighting. I don’t believe him. He likes dog fighting. He's not the only one. There's lots of dog fighting in the Eastern District. That's just the way it is.

Many cops I worked with were very upset at animal mistreatment. One time I answered a call for a pit bull on somebody’s stoop. The dog wasn’t causing any trouble but was quite large and in no mood to leave. He just sat there and took in the scene. One family couldn't leave their home. From behind the screen door, they had no idea where the dog came from and why it was on their stoop. We stayed very near our car for our protection.

The dog had clear scars on his face from fighting. My partner said, “It’s sad that I feel more for the dog than the people here. . . What did the dog do to deserve this?… I mean, I can rationalize and say that the people choose to live this way. But the dog?”

I don’t feel more for dogs than people. Seeing a lot of human suffering makes me less concerned about animals. In poor neighborhoods and countries, when faced with mistreated people, it bothers me less to see mistreated animals. That's just the way it is. It would be great if no human or animal had to suffer but in the meantime it’s all about priorities. People matter more.

It shouldn't be a zero-sum world. It's not that one tortured dog means one person living better. You should care about all living things. But a lot of things bother me when people are "shocked" about dog fighting. Why aren't more people shocked about the misery people suffer? I wish that people would take some of the sympathy they have for a suffering dog and transfer it to a suffering person. If you already care about suffering people, than by all means worry about dogs, too.

And why are people so shocked that there is a dog fighting culture? All they would have to do is ask anybody with any connection to the ghetto. But the people who are *shocked* have no connection with the ghetto. And that’s why it bothers me that they pass judgment so quickly and so passionately. They have no clue.

I don’t like dogfighting. But what if I did? I’ve had an urge to breed fighting game cocks (I will resist) ever since I read Alex Haley’s beautiful description of Chicken George in Roots. I mean, that man loved his chickens. And he fought them. That's why he loved them. It was beautiful. At least in the book.

I’ve been in countries (and states) where chicken fighting is legal. I haven't seen a cock fight yet. But who am I to judge? I feel like it’s none of my business. Cock fighting, dog fighting, is there a big difference? Yeah they’re both bad. To you and me.

As a cop, I wish there were fewer laws, not more. It’s not right to want to outlaw something just because you don’t like it. A lot of people don't like that I eat meat. I don't want them outlawing animal slaughter. The whole point of live and let live is to let people do what they want, even when you don’t like it. Just like free speech only matters when somebody says something offensive.

Some people want to fight dogs. And some dogs want to fight. That’s what they’re raised for. Is it worse than dog racing? Is it worse that factory farming and slaughter? Is it worse than eating meat? The answer to all those is probably yes, but what if I’m wrong? How can I feel smug saying dogfighting is horrible while waving a hamburger for emphasis?

I’m always skeptical of judgmental middle-class America outlawing the recreational choices of poor America. There’s a long history of that. Nine times out of ten, when poor people start getting into something, we make it illegal. Everything from drinking to drugs to gambling to prostitution to kids playing stickball in the street. We love telling poor people what they can’t do. And then we lock them up for doing it.

I saw a lot of messed up dogs in Baltimore (pronounced "dugs," by the way). And small packs of wild dogs roam the streets at night. The packs actually looked pretty happy and healthy, but it can't be good for property values.

Here’s a dead dog left in a box on a stoop. Poor dug.


Some of the blight of the Eastern

RIP graffiti:

You can’t outrun a mural.

Pig on pig.


After a cutting.

After being cut.

It could have been me… but it wasn’t! (I blurred their faces)

August 25, 2007

Escaped Prisoner - Wrong Justice

A prisoner escaped from a Jamaica Queens police station yesterday while being questioned by two detectives. Here's the New York Times account.

The article says, in part:
The suspect, Maxie Dacosta Jr., 27, of Queens, remained at large last night. The detective, whose name was not released, was suspended without pay and was forced to turn in his badge and gun, Mr. Browne said.

Mr. Dacosta, who had been convicted of car theft and weapons possession, was arrested Thursday morning in the death of Darnell Angevine, 25, of Amityville, N.Y., who had been fatally shot in the chest on July 28 in Jamaica during a dispute involving a group of men, Mr. Browne said.

He was questioned by the two detectives at the station house, a four-story brick building on 168th Street near Jamaica Avenue, for about two hours. For much of the time, he was shackled to a bench, but at one point the detectives took off his handcuffs and allowed him to sit at a table so that he would be more comfortable, the police said.

The detectives left the room for two or three minutes to talk about the interview and returned to find the window open and the room empty, Mr. Browne said. The other detective, who was not the lead officer on the case, was not suspended, Mr. Browne said.

What bothers me is that the police officer is suspended without pay and forced to turn in his badge and gun. Meanwhile his partner got off because he wasn't the "lead officer." Talk about dumb-ass distinction. Just from the paper's account, you never know if you're getting the whole story, and you're probably not. But assuming the Times is correct, what did the detectives do wrong?

It's too easy to say, "He let a bad guy get away." Well, yes. And he shouldn't be rewarded. Now don't get me wrong. It's not good that a guy who very likely killed somebody escaped. But so what? He'll be caught again. Easy come, easy go. What exactly did the detectives do wrong?

Handcuffs hurt. Taking them off a cooperative suspect is allowed. It's not like these sessions are short. They last for hours. If detectives are forced to keep handcuffs on, people are going to be that less willing to talk to police.

The only error the detectives made was assuming the room was secure when it almost was. But come on, it was on the third floor. It should have been secure. If there's a problem, it seems like it's that the police station doesn't have a more secure room to interview people. Why take it out on the cop? It's one this to bang a vacation day or something. But taking away a good cop's gun is wrong. Especially when there's a murder suspect on the loose and he's the lead detective.

Besides, anybody who is willing to jump an 8-foot gap from a window three floors up deserves some credit.