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by Peter Moskos

March 31, 2008

The international drug war coming home to roost

Ending the war on drugs seems obvious to me. But many need more proof. Now the American-led international war on drugs is approaching our borders in New Mexico and Texas.

One article yields New Mexicans saying "legalize drugs." But a fellow New Mexican (my wife) warns, "But of course those Americans saying 'legalize drugs' are New Mexicans, so you already know they're freaks."

March 28, 2008

You can't make this up. You just can't

Get this... this is a story about two men. So there's this man, right? And it's like 4am and he gets jacked in West Baltimore. A man comes up to him and pulls out a sawed-off shotgun and tries to rob him. In response, the man getting robbed pulls out his fake handgun. Somehow, fake-handgun man takes the shotgun away from shotgun man.

Fake-handgun man, shotgun in hand, orders the man formerly known as shotgun man to strip naked in the middle of street. Fake-handgun man takes $800 from now-naked man and then marches naked man into a nearby laundry room. There, fake-handgun man (now actually new shotgun-man) starts beating the naked man with the butt of naked-man's sawed-off shotgun. The man wearing clothes is shouting that he's going to kill naked man unless naked man gets more money. Or a cell phone. Or something.

You still with me? Wack, wack! "You better get me some more money, bitch!" Wack. "N***a, I'm going to kill you if don't get me some motherfucking cash or a cell phone!"

BOOM!!! The shotgun goes off. I imagine this as a movie moment: two men; a fight; one loud gunshot.

A pause.

[Bang bang, I shot you down.]

The shotgun flies against the wall from recoil and clatters to the ground. Blood is everywhere.

The men look at each other. Who got shot? Who's going to slid down the wall, leaving a trail of blood behind him!?

[Bang bang, you hit the ground.]

Here's the irony, it's hard to give someone a good beatdown holding the butt-end of a sawed-off shotgun. There's not enough weight in the barrel for swinging leverage. The man giving the beatdown (aka robbed-man, fake-handgun-man, man-now-holding-the-shotgun and man-now-banking-a-naked-man) is holding the barrel of the gun to better hit with.

[Bang bang, that awful sound.]

The shotgun round rips through the stomach of the man holding the gun. He's dead.

The naked man runs away and ends up in the E.R. to treat cuts he gets from running barefoot over glass-strewn streets.

Now I suspect there's a little more to this story than meets the eye, and the complete Sun account is here. A sergeant in the homicide unit says, "It is sort of like one for the books."

[Bang bang, my baby shot me down.]

The death will be ruled accidental.

March 25, 2008

Against Prediction

My book review of Bernard Harcourt's, Against Prediction, was just published in the American Journal of Sociology. You can read it here.

What's wrong with this picture?

I heard Harvard Professor Bruce Western speak tonight at New York University. A short while back I heard him speak at John Jay College and he was nice enough to give me his powerpoint presentation. I use some of it in my class.

This is one of those slides:

We now lock up 730 people per 100,000. And this rate is still going up. That's more than any country in the world. More than North Korea. More than China. More than Russia. And remember that "rate" takes population into account. Hell, in pure numbers we lock up more people than China. And there are more than a billion of them.

This massive incarceration only started in the mid-1970s with the war on drugs. Mostly affected are young black male high-school drop outs. Among this cohort, the majority will be incarcerated at some point in their lives. Now I know this stuff and even I find it hard to believe. I asked Prof. Western if his data on incarceration included prison and jail and arrests? Nope. Just prison.

Doesn't anybody care?

In the Big City

The trial of the officers involved in the Sean Bell Shooting continues with lots of interesting testimony.

The justice department declares that New York City’s auxiliary police aren’t really police. At least when it comes to paying benefits to the family of two officers killed while patrolling in uniform.

And Governor Paterson, who I seem to like more and more, first admitted he slept around a bit. Now he says he smoked some weed and snorted some blow... you know, back in the 1970s, when it seems like everyone was doing it. This was the man to party with! Too bad I was only 8.

The governor said, “Most Americans during that period of time tried a whole lot more than that, and then gone on and led responsible lives.”

Does this mean he thinks people shouldn’t be locked up for drug use? Probably not. Politicians never have problems being hypocrites when it comes to the war on drugs. But maybe Paterson is different. Here’s hoping.

March 22, 2008

33,541 Drug Overdose Deaths in 2005

The Drug War Rant and Stop the Drug War turned me on to a report by the Center for Disease Control. The just released "Deaths: Final Report for 2005" (hey, it takes a while to count all the dead folk) may not be the most uplifting title, but they do breakdown the two-and-a-half million deaths in America (bet you couldn't have guessed that number).

Here's the shocker: 33,541 people died of drug overdoses (see Tables 21 and 22 of the report for details). The report doesn't breakdown drug overdoses and legal and illegal drugs. But the vast majority of overdose deaths are from illegal drugs (opiates like heroin in particular) and entirely preventable.

Nobody wants to overdose on heroin. You take illegal drugs because you want to get high. Overdoses happen because the drug is stronger than you think. Or you get clean and relapse and forget your tolerance is down. People don't have to die. They would live if only we regulated and labeled this very dangerous drug. Somehow our drug-policy makers have decided that maintaining drug prohibition is worth tens of thousands of death per year. Shame, drug warriors. Shame.

March 20, 2008

Missing. . . . not!

New Jersey Governor Corzine signed “Patricia’s Law” mandating that police must accept—without delay—any report of a missing person. I would assert that no law named after a person has ever been good. This one sure isn’t.

The Record reports:
Under Patricia's Law, police cannot refuse to take on the case of a missing person — whether child or adult — on any basis, including if circumstances do not indicate foul play or if it appears the person disappeared voluntarily.

Police must then take down more than two dozen pieces of information, from the person's name to the address of his or her dentist. If the person remains missing after 30 days, police must attempt to gather DNA samples as well.

People worry about their loved ones. But the last thing you want is police hunting down dental records because a bus is late and a cell phone is out of juice.

The vast majority of “missing” persons aren’t missing. Missing persons come home. Traffic was a bitch. Or they had to work late. Or they’re having an affair. This is not police work. Mandating police to waste hours on useless cases is no way to help find real missing persons. And the strain on resources will hurt us all. Any law that assumes that police have unlimited resources is a bad law.

One probable outcome is that police response time to a call for missing person will increase in to the hours. That’s what I would do. Because 99 times out of 100, that person will appear before then. And for the 1 time out of 100, it’s not like broadcasting a report one hour faster will help anyway.

Around when you need one?

The Times reports that the NYPD is to shrink to its smallest size in 15 years. That’s a little misleading because the department in never at its budgeted size. The “size” of the department would “drop” to 36,838. But the actual number of officers today is 35,800. So the department could still grow despite this “drop.” The horrible irony is that the department has been shrinking ever since 2000. You know, right before the country set on a new path of safety and security. You might think the federal government would want more New York City police to help prevent the next large-scale terrorist attack. You might think that.

This does point to a larger issue of why there are so many unfilled positions. Word on the street is that standards in the academy have already dropped substantially. The answer, for once, is shocking simple: Starting salary: $25,100. Top pay after 5 or 6 years: $59,585. That’s not a lot to live in New York. And it’s less than most other surrounding police departments pay. You get what you pay for.

The idea the more cops equals more safety is actually surprisingly new. For decades, at least until the mid 1990s, “experts” in the criminal justice field used a lot of trees to disprove any link between police numbers and crime. What matters isn’t so much how many police there are, but what those police officers do. But if police are doing the right thing—and that’s a big if—more police officers help. And since the early 1990s, police officers in New York have been doing the right thing more often than not.

Nobody knows the “right” number of police to have. Ideally we’d always have more. But when you take the zero-sum world of municipal budgets into account, I think New York City has about the right numbers today. Raising the pay of police officers is an issue of fairness and an issue of getting and retaining better officers.

It only takes one big lawsuit tomorrow—paid out of the pockets of New York City taxpayers such as myself—to negate any financial savings from cheap pay today. Saving a buck or two (or million) now will cost us more later.

March 17, 2008

Marginal Revolution

Alex Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen, the people behind Marginal Revolution, a respected and well read blog, have been very kind to me (or at least very kind to my book).

Tyler Cowen posted about my book and the Amazon pre-sales rank got a big boost (not that I check these things, of course).

Wild gun fight. Police shoot bad guy. Officers shot.

This one, if the Sun is to be believed, sounds wild. Though if the Sun is to be believed, this happened in East Baltimore (you know, where bad things happen). Best I can tell it started in the Central and ended in the Northern.

Officer Anthony Jobst, 47, was in his patrol car in the first block of E. Lafayette Ave. about 2:30 a.m. when he heard gunshots and saw a white Audi speeding away. Jobst, who was joined by four other uniformed officers, drove after the Audi and followed it for about a mile to an alley in the 400 block of E. Lorraine Ave. in the Harwood neighborhood.

The Audi crashed in the alley, and the driver ran out and hid behind a brick wall. When officers approached him, the man opened fire, shooting Jobst in the foot and grazing the left leg of 27-year-old Officer Hadyn Gross, Bealefeld said.

Officers returned fire, striking the man several times in the upper torso, but the gunfight was "protracted" because he was wearing body armor enhanced with steel inserts.
Back at Lafayette Avenue, where shots were first fired, police found Rico Alston, 27, with two bullet wounds to the chest. Alston was taken to an area hospital.

He was in serious but stable condition yesterday, police said.

[March 19 update: 88 rounds were fired. The bad guy died Monday night. The Sun reports, "At one point, the man signaled to police that he was surrendering - but police said he used the lull in gunfire to reload the Smith & Wesson."]

March 13, 2008

Always the narcs getting into trouble

Too often, almost predictably, undercover vice units are involved in scandal. Even the Sean Bell shooting has a strong narc connection.

The Night Club Task Force involved in the Sean Bell shooting was formed in reaction to the Chelsea abduction and murder of 18-year-old Jennifer Moore. These undercover vice and narcotics officers worked to establish patterns of wrongdoings in clubs, such as alcohol sales to minors, to force closure with civil proceedings and nuisance abatement laws. Evidently they did a good job. Perhaps the unit should have been disbanded with accolades. Instead, after three months in Chelsea, commanders sent the 20 or so police officers to Queens. In the killing of Sean Bell, this unit’s undercover vice and narcotics mentality is very evident.

In a drug arrest, it is important to find drugs on a person. Otherwise there is no case. Vice and narcotics officers are ingrained to work in ways that build strong court cases. But guns aren’t drugs. If the officers believed that Bell and his friends were going to get a gun, they should have stopped the suspects before they got to their car. But they wanted an arrest. If the men weren’t in the car with the gun, no court case would have had a change. But still, any illegal gun would be confiscated and them men would spend a night in jail

Undercover units should be limited to operations that uniformed officers can’t handle. Because plainclothes police know and feel they are police to the bone, when performing police duties they can too easily forget or fail to convince citizens that they are, in fact, police. Badges can be bought on eBay. The flash of a shield isn’t enough, especially when a gun is involved.

Uniformed foot patrol can work with bars and nightclubs to alleviate problems rather than sting them out of business. There is nothing about a rowdy bar that a good cop or two can’t handle. Local beat cops know the area. Officers on foot are rarely involved in controversial shootings because they are more familiar with the surrounding and less likely to be afraid. The good old-fashioned beat cop... Nobody is better at keeping the peace. Instead of drug cops trying to make a good arrest, beat cops focused on public safety would have saved the life of Sean Bell and the careers of three police officers.

March 12, 2008

Balancing Security and Liberty

Occasionally I will repost op-eds of mine to give them fresh life and allow people to comment. The following was published in the Washington Post, August 2, 2004. You can read all my op-eds here.

When you board a plane, both you and your carry-on bags are searched. A civilian employee of the Transportation Security Administration may open and search your checked luggage as well. Although primarily looking for security threats, workers report any illegal or suspicious objects to a supervisor or law enforcement agent, even if the object represents no danger to the flight.

Two legal concepts allow both you and your bags to be searched despite the Constitution's protection against unreasonable search and seizure. By being in an airport and trying to board a plane, the Supreme Court says, you have given "implied consent" to being searched. The "plain view" principle, according to the court, states that whatever law enforcement legally finds, feels or sees -- even if unrelated to the original investigation or search -- is fair game for arrest and prosecution.

Using security and terrorism as justification, the government is beginning to extend airport-like implied consent zones to more and more of the public sphere, including the entire Boston subway system. Before the Democratic convention, daily commuters, anybody approaching a national political convention, and drivers on vital bridges and tunnels were told to expect random searches without a warrant. Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure does not apply.

When police are granted greater rights to search without probable cause, they will use these rights. Therefore it's essential to consider the implications of implied consent and plain view searches in the public sphere. Fear of increased government repression is shared by both ends of the political spectrum. But many others understand that a necessary element of freedom is security. Airline passengers should be screened. The Democratic and Republican national conventions need to be bomb-free.

Few people object to bomb searches on airplanes. And many would be willing to waive their constitutional rights (if such rights were negotiable) to guarantee their security. But what starts as a necessary security measure will quickly become standard law enforcement procedure even for crimes that are nonviolent and not related to terror. These expanding implied consent zones have staggering implications for American life and freedom far beyond al Qaeda.

Police officers are experts at bending rules, particularly in the "war on drugs." As a police officer, I was taught to push the rules of the "Terry search," which meant that if I articulated fear that a suspect might harm me, I could legally frisk suspects for weapons without probable cause. I know officers who towed cars, again legally, simply so they could "inventory" the contents (technically for safekeeping). In both cases, the real goal was to find illegal drugs and make an arrest.

One must expect law enforcement to use all its available tools. As a law enforcement officer, why deal with the tedious process of probable cause, judicial approval and paperwork?

In order to stop and search any suspect, not just a terrorism suspect, law enforcement need only wait for a person to enter an implied consent area such as a subway or a shopping mall. Their action justified by the "war on terror," police may then conduct a full search. The true object of the search -- most likely drug possession, but any contraband will do -- is unrelated to terrorism.

Of course people shouldn't break the law or carry illegal objects. But the difference between civilian employees searching for bombs in airports and government agents conducting random searches for suspicious objects is the difference between preserving a free society and creating a police state.

In airport security today, items deemed suspicious are not necessarily dangerous: Large amounts of cash, pirated CDs, pornography and, of course, drugs -- not just illegal drugs but even prescription drugs in certain circumstances. In fact, controversial books can be grounds for further investigation and arrest. Such a standard, even if established in airports, is unacceptable and must not be allowed to spread to our streets and subways.

The solution -- the balancing of public safety with constitutional liberties -- is surprisingly simple. The only way to prevent creeping use of implied consent is to limit the doctrine of plain view. Before searching a person, the government must choose either plain view or implied consent. If the government must search without probable cause, let it search, but only for illegal weapons or bombs. If security outweighs the Fourth Amendment, the scope of such searches must be limited to objects representing a clear and present danger to public safety. Any unrelated suspicious or illegal objects found must be ignored.

It is the job of our courts and legislature to strike the balance between security and liberty. By limiting the plain view doctrine, lawmakers or Supreme Court justices have the rare opportunity to be tough on terrorism while guaranteeing the rights and freedom of citizens.

March 11, 2008

No more "Moving Day"

There are many day-to-day things in the ghetto that start to seem normal, or at least routine, when you're in too deep. These are things that would shock most outsiders.

Take evictions. Every day you'd turn your police car into a street and see the insides of an entire home neatly piled up in the street. This structure often looked like a trash dumpster, but there was no dumpster. Just a whole lotta shit, piled high. Somebody would often be sitting by sadly, trying desperately to guard or sell the more valuable stuff while arranging for transport and a place to stay.

And while I know it's not nice to make fun of people's misfortune, cops love morbid humor. Luckily, evictions were not the job of city police. So the sad sight of people lives on the street might be greeting with a Groundhog-Day like exclamation of "Moving Day!" Hey, at least nobody died.

Well it turns out that having all your shit piled on the street actually is a Baltimore thing, hon. And now, happily, it's a thing of the past. The city recently started prohibiting landlords from tossing evicted tenants' belongings into the right of way. And guess what? Evictions have fallen 25 percent. Better yet, the number of tenants present for eviction day (the city sheriff keeps track of these things) dropped almost 40 percent.

Why is this? Because, as the Baltimore Sun reports:
Previously, after a landlord got approval from a judge to remove a tenant, the landlord would call the sheriff's office to schedule the eviction. Although the court would notify tenants that an eviction was imminent, they were not told the date when the sheriff would arrive.

No wonder people had their belongs thrown out: they didn't know when the eviction would happen.
The number of times Department of Public Works crews have been called to pick up personal property has fallen from about 580 a month to three in January and none in February.
The new ordinance requires landlords to inform tenants of the date and to send that notice three times, by two different forms of mail, 14 days before an eviction and, a week before, with a posting on the property. City officials said that providing a firm deadline gives tenants time to plan whether to move their belongings or pay their rent.

That seems like a no-brainer.

But what do they do with all the stuff?

Man pays for sex

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer slept with a whore. She was an expensive whore, as is befitting a man of his station. I believe once the price is more than $1,000 an hour, the word is "high class." So there you have it: Man Pays for Sex. There really isn't much else to say.

I don't care. I don't think more highly of this man. There's irony galore. I feel for sorry for his wife to have to go through this. But really, I don't care. That's his and her (...and her) business.

[And there's the fact that the "liberal rag" New York Times once again shows its true colors in excellent, trustworthy, and independent reporting.]

Perhaps the only thing more silly than the war on drugs is the skirmish against prostitution. I don't want street walkers on my block anymore than I want public drug dealers. But if you can run a prostitution ring as a legal, regulated, taxpaying, and complaint-free business, more power to you!

What does bother me is that federal law enforcement officials waste any time and money cracking down on rich men paying upwardly mobile young women for sex.

Aren't we at war? Aren't we supposed to be worried about terrorism?! And we're squandering precious resources on paid sex between consensual adults?!! Oh, Lord. Why is this a crime? At least Spitzer had the common courtesy not to do it in a public bathroom.

March 10, 2008

The fire-bombing of 324 car

About a year after I left the B.P.D., this happened. 324 car got firebombed. Some locals didn't like the officer driving it because he could outrun and catch anybody in the district who tried to run from him. Somebody led him on a foot chase while his friends torched the car. It was our best car, too. The only one with a computer.

It got torched.

And burnt-out shell.

The yo-boys celebrating their victory. What can you say about a group of mostly kids, all in white T-shirt and jeans, celebrating their victory? It's 1AM, do you know where your child is?
[originally posted 9/07]

March 8, 2008

Officer shot

Something strange is going on here. There are important details not reported.

No matter, I'm glad the officer is alive. The rah-rah part of these stories bothers me. If the bullet was anything but a graze, odds are this officer will never patrol again.

City officer shot by gunman who was hiding in bushes

By Ruma Kumar

12:06 PM EST, March 8, 2008

A rookie Baltimore police officer is recovering and in good condition at Maryland Shock Trauma Center this morning after he was shot in the leg around 1 a.m. in Southwest Baltimore, police said.

Officer Pedro Perez, 24, who graduated from the police academy in July, was injured during a patrol stop in the 100 block of Palormo Ave., Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said at a press conference today. Perez and his partner had stopped to talk to two men loitering in an area where criminal activity is rampant when a gunman jumped from behind some bushes and shot at the officers.

At least three shots were fired, Bealefeld said, and one hit Perez above his right knee. Bealefeld said police are following a number of "good leads" and do not believe there is a link between the unidentified gunman and the two men the officers were talking to at the time of the shooting. The two have been held for questioning, but are considered "more witnesses than suspects at this point," Bealefeld said.

"This definitely reinforces the dangerous nature of the work these police officers do, and (shows) that more work needs to be done," Bealefeld said today.

Saying Perez is with his family, Bealefeld added, "this man is in excellent spirits...he's eager to get back."

Police did not release a description of the gunman.

Copyright © 2008, The Baltimore Sun

March 7, 2008

Humanizing the Corner

I just stumbled across "Murder I Wrote" (from a link related to Bradford Pulmer's blog).

In 1997, David Simon, producer of The Wire (the best TV show ever), wrote in The New Republic how corner boys were recruited for a day to be slinging extras for the TV show Homicide (not the best show ever). The boys complained about how unrealistic it was.
"Damn," said Manny Man, walking back to his position. "This ain't gonna look right. People in other cities gonna see this show and think the crews in Baltimore don't know how to carry it."
Most of the boys are now dead.

Simon understands that yo-boys may not but model citizens, but they're living breathing people. I was strangely moved by Simon's article.

911 is still a joke

In his blog, Bradford Plumer writes a thoughtful analysis of one chapter of Cop in the Hood (scroll down to “Call a Cab Cause a Cab Will Come Quicker,” and the comments in particular).

I learned of a 911 operator in Detroit criminally convicted of negligence for failing to take a call from a 5-year-old boy seriously. The boy's mom died. But I listened to the call. She shouldn’t have taken the call seriously. She was right (even if in this case she was dead wrong)!

No city has tried to "unsell" the public on 911. It is way too tough, politically.

People think that 911 saves lives (and it does for fire and ambo). I think the first job is to educate the public about the "bullshit" nature of the majority of 911 calls.

It's too easy to say police need to respond to every call without understanding how this response isn't feasible. Responding to thousands of needless 911 calls prevents the police from getting out of their cars and doing the kind of real police work that would really save lives.

In a year in the Eastern District, police have to respond to over 6,300 "911 hang-ups." That's over 5 percent of all calls. Police have better things to do. Here's how probably 6,299 of them went:
[Cop knocks on door]

"Did you call 911?"

[indignantly] "No!”

"Well somebody did."

"I didn't!"

"Do you have kids"


"Well tell them to stop playing with the phone."

"My baby wasn't playing the phone!"

"Ok. Whatever. Good bye."

[door slams]

For that, we don't have officers walking the beat.

March 6, 2008

The Trial in the Killing of Sean Bell

Sean Bell, an unarmed black man, should not have died. But the officers on trial won’t be convicted of anything major. The police certainly make mistakes. We all do. Like it or not, mistakes aren’t usually crimes, especially for police.

After any high-profile police shooting, there is the hope that time will reveal the truth and truth will lead to justice. This trial won’t bring truth or justice because there is no single truth.

In the Sean Bell shooting, there are as many truths as there were bad choices. On many different levels the events leading up to Sean Bell’s death were not exactly ideal police work. Yet everybody behaved rationally in their own way.

Sean Bell left a club and thought a black man with a gun was a robber. Bell drove away, hitting the gunman in self-defense. An undercover officer fired in self-defense when a drunk man he thought was armed hit him with his vehicle. The officer’s partners fired when they thought they were being fired on from the vehicle.

It only takes one bullet to kill. While the number of shots fired makes the headline, what matters is why police shot at all. The first shot, combined with adrenaline and danger, often causes other officers to shoot. This is the so-called “contagion effect.”

Police aren’t supposed to shoot at or from moving vehicles. But police are trained to shoot when they think their life is in danger. If that threat exists for 10 seconds, they will fire for 10 seconds. When I was a police officer, my gun held 17 rounds, two more than allowed in New York City. I could fire 50 rounds in 15 seconds. I was trained to reload quickly and “get back in the game.” If you don’t like that, change the training or change the gun. But don’t blame police officers.

This trial has become a symbol for race and policing in New York City. Are police too quick to see young African-American men as threats? Would so many shots be fired if Bell and his friends were white? Perhaps not, but police kill white people too. You just don’t hear about it because there is no white version of Al Sharpton.

It’s unfair to unload three centuries of American racial discrimination and police mistreatment onto the backs of these three police officers, especially when two happen to be black. The shame is that short of vigils and riots, our society has no ritualized way to atone for collective sins.

Sean Bell isn’t on trial. Society isn’t on trial. The New York Police Department isn’t on trial. Three men are. Conviction would mean the loss of their jobs and freedom. But a guilty verdict won’t bring Sean Bell back to life. And acquittals won’t return the police officers’ lives to normal.

Despite the police cliché, “better to be judged by twelve than carried by six,” police don’t want to be judged by twelve. Police, often for good reason, don’t trust city juries. The officers want a bench trial so their fate is in the hands of a Queens judge rather than a Queens jury.

Judges are better at deciding cases on facts rather than prejudice and personal experience. Of course judges, especially senior white judges, have fewer reasons to have prejudice against police officers. This senior judge, Justice Cooperman, is certainly no cop hater, but he’s also no pushover. Cooperman actually tried, convicted, and imprisoned two police officers in 1986.

Still, beyond a reasonable doubt is a tough legal standard to prove. Was there a need to shoot in the first place? Was a threat still present when the last shot was fired? If the answer is yes or even maybe—anything but a strong no means no conviction.

My gut knows the police did something wrong because Sean Bell is dead. But what should a reasonable police officer have done? I don’t know. I never had to shoot my gun on duty. My gun was never the only thing between me and an SUV trying to kill me. I have doubts. As long as Justice Cooperman has some of the same doubts, the officers will and should walk free.

The Wire, the War on Drugs, and Jury Nullifcation

There's a great article in Time by Ed Burns, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, Richard Price, and David Simon. They're the writers for the best show ever, The Wire.

It's a powerful piece and you should read the whole thing. Needless to say, they write well.

Interestingly, they argue that for jury nullification, a concept I have long loved.

"If asked to serve on a jury deliberating a violation of state or federal drug laws, we will vote to acquit, regardless of the evidence presented."

As long as one member of a jury votes to acquit, conviction is impossible. It happened during Prohibition and there are some examples in our current War on Drugs. Vote your conscience. Refuse to convict regardless of the law, the evidence, or the suspect's guilt. It's a statement with impact. And it's a very powerful right we the people have against unjust laws.

"Jury nullification is American dissent, as old and as heralded as the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger, who was acquitted of seditious libel against the royal governor of New York, and absent a government capable of repairing injustices, it is legitimate protest."

It's a clever idea and I support it.

"It will not solve the drug problem, nor will it heal all civic wounds. It does not yet address questions of how the resources spent warring with our poor over drug use might be better spent on treatment or education or job training, or anything else that might begin to restore those places in America where the only economic engine remaining is the illegal drug economy. It doesn't resolve the myriad complexities that a retreat from war to sanity will require. All it does is open a range of intricate, paradoxical issues. But this is what we can do — and what we will do."

March 5, 2008

An "adrenaline-accelerating night ride"!

Another good review. From Publishers Weekly, a trade magazine:

Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore's Eastern District
Peter Moskos. Princeton Univ., $24.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-691-12655-5

A Harvard-trained sociologist, Moskos set out to do a one-year study of police behavior. Challenged by Baltimore's acting police commissioner “to become a cop for real,” he accepted. During his six months in the police academy and 14 months on the street, he “happily worked midnights, generally the least desirable shift” in one of the city's least desirable precincts: the Eastern District (where HBO's The Wire is filmed). Moskos frankly records his experiences with poverty, violence, drugs and despair in the gritty ghetto. During “field training,” he first encountered “drug dealers, families broken apart, urban blight, rats, and trash-filled alleys. Inside homes, things are often worse.” Moskos's overview of policing problems covers everything from arrest quotas, corrupt cops and excess paperwork to the reliance on patrolling in cars, responding to a barrage of 911 calls, rather than patrolling on foot to prevent crimes. Moskos blends narrative and analysis, adding an authoritative tone to this adrenaline-accelerating night ride that reveals the stark realities of law enforcement while illuminating little-known aspects of police procedures.

You see this cat is a baad mother--

What would you do when you get shot? Get a Slurpy? Shut your mouth!

From today's Baltimore Sun.

Can you dig it?

Man gets shot, takes cab to convenience store
He hailed taxi, went to S. Baltimore 7-Eleven

By Gus G. Sentementes

Sun reporter

8:33 AM EST, March 5, 2008

A man who was shot several times in South Baltimore last night didn't call an ambulance, but instead hailed a cab whose driver took him several blocks to a 7-Eleven store, authorities said.

The shooting occurred shortly before 8 p.m. when police said a 32-year-old man was wounded on the first block of E. Heath St.

Suffering from injuries to his neck, arm and body, police said the man jumped into a nearby taxi and rode a half mile to the convenience store on South Hanover and Hamburg streets.

Police said the man went inside the 7-Eleven and that someone inside called for an ambulance. The victim was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center and treated for non-life-threatening injuries, according to police.

Police said they had made no arrests and did not know whether the man had paid his cab fare. The name of the taxi company was not immediately available.

Undoubtedly, he's a complicated man.

[Basic crime stories are usually so dry. I love that fact that Gus Sentementes, a well-seasons crime reporter (who has never called me, by the way), asked the tough question, "did he pay his fare?!"]

March 4, 2008

Free copy of Cop in the Hood!*...

*...for anybody I policed with. Or if you were in the academy class of 99-5. Odds are I don't have your contact information, so email me at pmoskos@jjay.cuny.edu. I'd certainly prefer it if you bought your own copy. I don't get my own book for free. I have to buy it from Amazon.com just like everybody else. But if you wouldn't buy it otherwise, get in touch with me and I'll be happy to send you a free copy.

War on Drugs!

A 13-year-old girl in Tucson was strip-searched by school officials who suspected her of possessing ibuprofen (prescription-strength Advil). She didn't have any.

You can read her affidavit here.