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by Peter Moskos

April 30, 2008

Officer Pete says (rule 28):

If you’re stinky, please take a bath.

On Point

I was on National Public Radio's "On Point" today. You can listen to it here. It's a quick hour.


Pulled from the shelves! Indeed, if you don't already have a copy of Cop in the Hood, odds are you're not getting one for a couple of weeks.

No, I didn't fake the whole thing. No, the book isn't a safety hazard. No, there's nothing substantively wrong with the book. But the book is an editing mess. There are errors, little errors, lots of little typos and sloppy mistakes.

How they slipped by me, how they slipped by professional editors, how they slipped by the damn proofreader (he's not getting any fruit cup, that's for sure), is anybody's guess. Ultimately my friends and mother pointed them out.

So Princeton University Press is recalling the book. They’re ashamed and aghast. So am I. It is, after all, my book. Princeton Press is going to correct the mistakes and reprint the book. Unprecedented, they told me. That sounds like good blurb for the back of the book. Too bad it's not good.

They've also offered to replace copies out there, if wanted. But if you've already got a copy, I'd hold on to it. Maybe one day it'll become a collector’s item.

Here’s the official press release:
It has come to our attention that a recently published book, Peter Moskos’ Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore’s Eastern District, contains a number of grammatical and spelling errors. As a result, Princeton University Press has decided to recall the book so that the necessary corrections can be made. We hope to release a corrected edition in about 4-5 weeks.
Odds are it will be faster than that.

A suppose in a month things will be fine. But it sure sucks for now.

Police "kill Colombian drug lord"

These kind of headlines, this one from the BBC, always crack me up... and make me sad. Why? Do you feel safer? This guy's death won't mean shit. Some other drug lord will take his place. I nominate his second-in-command.

I mean, really... Does anybody think that killing some bad guy is going to win the global war on drugs?

We got rid of Noriega. Think of all those "cartels" we broke up in Colombia. We get drug lords all the time. We got millions in prison. We invaded Afghanistan! Keep up the fight! Another victory! But it doesn't matter. This is so 1984. Why won't we win? Because--as Chris Rock so eloquently puts it--people wanna get high.

Drug users don't support terrorism. The War on Drugs supports terrorists. Shame on us.

April 29, 2008

Police-involved shootings

For those interested in an honest police perspective on shooting (and not shooting) people, I recommend Into the Kill Zone: A Cop's Eye View of Deadly Force by professor and former police officer David Klinger. It's a lot of 1st-hand accounts of deadly force incidents. And it's good stuff. You can read an excerpt here.

Sean Bell Verdict May Deepen Mistrust of Police

You can listen to my appearance on the Talk of the Nation radio broadcast.

Marijuana Arrest Crusade

I haven't digested all this yet, but there's an interesting little brouhaha about a recent study released by the NYCLU by Queens College Professor Harry Levine and Deborah Small. The paper is called, “Marijuana Arrest Crusade: Racial Bias and Police Policy in New York City, 1997-2007.” The report claims that 35,000 people a year are arrested in New York City for marijuana possession. This figure is somehow disputed by the NYPD. I’m not sure who’s right.

[Update: For the record, Prof Levine is absolutely right. See here for more stats and information.]

Officer Pete says (rule 29):

Police officers don’t go to work wanting to shoot somebody.

Buying drugs in Amsterdam

Buying drugs doesn't need to involve criminals, violence, and neighborhood blight.

These are pictures I took a few years back of a friend buying drugs in an Amsterdam “coffee shop.” I show it to my classes at John Jay College of Criminal justice.

Amsterdam is a beautiful city of canals and old buildings.

I love being on a boat.
In a nice (and expensive) part of town, there’s a seed store. They’re not selling tulip bulbs here.

It’s a very sleek and modern store to buy all you need to grow your own dope.
Around the corner, there’s the Hemp Hotel. I don’t think you have to smoke there, but I’m pretty sure they won’t kick you out of their bed if you do.
A block away, on the Reguliersgracht (of the Seven Bridges fame).
There’s a “coffee shop” selling marijuana and hash. Again, it’s nothing that will lower property values.
Even the police welcome you!
The store is licensed and regulated. It can be shut down by the police for any reason and without cause. But there never is trouble in a “coffee shop.” Partly because, well, why should there be? And also because the owners don’t want to risk losing their license. They know they’re sitting on a cash cow. This coffee shop can be open from 7 to 1AM.
Inside the place looks nice! Nicer than the average “coffee shop.” Much nicer, need I mention, than the average drug corner in Baltimore.
I had to ask my students what this was. How do they know?
The guy working there was happy to show off the coffee and ice cream, but didn’t want me taking pictures of drugs.
So I went to another coffee shop, across the street from the seed store.
Here’s the menu. Standard cafe stuff except for the filters, screens, and rolling papers.
You have to be 18. The idea that consumption is “compulsory” cracks me up. But they’re not talking about drugs. You just have to buy something if you want to hang out in their store. Fair enough.
The drug menu is now behind a window that you have to press a button to see. I’m not certain why they made this rule. It’s not like people in a coffee shop don’t know they sell weed. But I’m always happy to see drug selling successfully regulated.
Here’s the money shot, as he weighs out some marijuana to sell.
Many tourists don’t even know there are canals in the city until after they arrive in Amsterdam.
They also sell pre-rolled joints, mixed with tobacco. In Holland, smoking marijuana straight is considered a bit gauche. Hell, in Holland, smoking marijuana at all is considered a bit gauche.
It’s that easy. So what’s the result? A nation of stoners? No. In fact, there are fewer marijuana smokers in Holland than there are in the United States. 37% of Americans have tried marijuana compared to 17% of people in the Netherlands. 5.4% of Americans admit to smoking in the past month compared to 3% of the Dutch (and I would imagine the Dutch would be more likely to admit it, since it’s not a crime). Heroin addiction is 1/3 in Holland. Incarceration rates are 1/7. The murder rate is 4 times higher in America. (the cites for these are in my book, Cop in the Hood, and also here.)

Fewer drug users. Fewer addicts. Fewer prisoners. Fewer overdoses. Less violence. Less money spent on drug-related problems. No money spent on a “war on drugs.”

Could it work here? I don’t know. But why aren’t we even considering it?

Officer Pete says (rule 30):

Don’t ask police for a ride. Despite what we say, we could give you a ride. We just don’t want to.

Talk of the Nation on National Public Radio

I'll be on Talk of the Nation today, after 2pm, Eastern Time.

April 28, 2008

Officer Pete says (rule 31):

No, I don’t "know how it is." You’ll have to explain.

Adapt or die

I just got an email from an academy classmate of mine. One of the nicest things about writing Cop in the Hood is that I hear from people I miss, but with whom I had lost touch.
So you know, I never left the Eastern District. I love patrol. I don’t know why, but I do. My beat is [***] post (the projects) and I seem to be the only officer who loves to walk foot in every project alleyway. Anyways, being a city police officer changed me... changed me ALOT! I even changed my hair cut style. Also, I am no longer shy or timid. I guess that’s what working the ghetto does to one person. It is like "adapt or die." [...] Anyways, I am working at this moment, but wanted to congrat you on your book and teaching. Oh, and a lot of our classmates were either fired or left to other agencies. Anyways, have a good one!

April 25, 2008

Regarding Sean Bell

Clearly something wrong happened because an innocent man was killed," Peter Moskos, author of Cop in the Hood, and a professor at New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told TIME. "But that's not what the system was testing. They were testing if there was reasonable doubt. I think the verdict is fair, but it doesn't address that this man was killed. The court system is no place to address these problems.
The whole article is here.

The Sean Bell verdict came out at 3pm, Amsterdam time. At 5pm, I got a call on my temporary Amsterdam cell phone from Time Magazine (thanks to John Jay's public relations and my quick thinking wife for getting my phone number to the reporter). It was an awkward interview, because 1) I don't like talking on cell phones. And 2) I'm standing in a bar in the Leidseplein with a gypsy band busking outside. I felt a very long way away from the Queens Courthouse. I was very worried about failing to get my thoughts together and being misquoted on such a sensitive topic.

Madison Gray captured my words and thoughts perfectly (and he mentioned my book).

3 Detectives in Bell Shooting Acquitted

You heard it here first in my March 6 post.

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.

"Hard" versus "soft" drugs

The Dutch make an interesting and useful distinction between "hard" and "soft" drugs. When a Amsterdam police officer says, "I think drugs should be illegal and dealers should go to prison," they're almost assuredly talking about "hard" drugs like crack and heroin. Marijuana and hashish are considered “soft” drugs and were decriminalized in 1976.

The result is that "coffee shops" selling weed and hash appeared, since people knew you wouldn't get arrested for possession.

When the hard/soft distinction was made, the idea was to accept marijuana for what it is and allow people to buy weed without having to deal with drug dealers and guns and gangsters.

The hard/soft distinction is somewhat arbitrary. But no more so than our distinctions between legal, prescription, and prohibited drugs.

There is also some debate about whether to classify ecstasy and hallucinogenic mushrooms as hard or soft.

Dutch police generally support the hard/soft distinction and would not want to close “coffee shops,” even if they could. In speech, they use “drug” to mean “hard drug.”

When I asked a police officer to clarify the distinction between "hard" and "soft" drugs, she said a hard drug is one that, "if you do it wrong, you can die." That's not a bad working definition. Particularly because it presents the problem of drug policy as geared to saving lives, and not imposing morals or punishing deviants.

Of course I think all drugs should be regulated, but I would settle for a system where no drug user is jailed, violence is low, and drug use is seen as a public-health rather than criminal-justice issue.

A genuine "good guy"

Initially my presence was greeted with skepticism, especially from supervisors who believed, probably accurately, that nothing good could come from my writing. One lieutenant told me: “Moskos, I like you. But I don’t want anything to do with your book. I don’t want to be in it. I don’t want my name in it. I don’t want any part of it.” Outside of this reference, he’s not.

That quote is from Cop in the Hood. That very lieutenant (if my memory is correct) sent me the following email:

I hope you are doing well.

You were always a genuine "good guy" and always listening and learning.

Can't wait to get the book.

It isn't like it used to be around here. You would probably only know a handful of people at the Eastern.

Good Luck, ............

Those are very kind words. Of course any two-bit grad student can listen and learn, it's the actual "doing" that makes you real police.

I received a follow-up email on 28 April:
Yes, I believe it was I the one who said don't put me or my name in your book. That's OK.

The small portion I read online looks great! It should be mandatory reading for all high school seniors to give them a taste of reality not seen on MTV's "real world".

So how's life as a professor? I hope things are going well for you. I bet some of your students can't believe some of the stories you can tell them about inner city life.

I think the experience you've had will be nothing but good for your career, and life in general.

You've had the chance to see things 95% of society doesn't know exist.

With any luck all of your students will become right wing conservatives!

April 24, 2008

Officer Down

It's horrible anytime a police officer dies. It's particularly horrible when it's at the hands of another police officer.

If the Baltimore Sun is correct, the officer who died had 44 years on. I didn't know any officer had 44 years on.

My condolences to the officer's family.

From the Economist

This is from the Economist:


I'M STANDING on a street lined with boarded-up shops—a popular haven for drug-dealers. A police officer is frisking a suspect whose trousers are nearly around his knees. The policeman didn't pull them down; that's how the suspect wears them. A bit impractical, perhaps, if his line of work requires him to run away from policemen.

But he insists that he is no longer in that line of work. He was caught once, but is now going straight. He has a legitimate reason for hanging around a nearly deserted street, after dark, in the pouring rain, for several hours. He is waiting for someone, he says.
AFP Follow the trousers

The police officer's colossal partner, whose sense of humour is as robust as his shoulders, prays aloud: “Oh Lord, I pray that a meteorite hits this [drug bazaar].” (He adds a P.S. to the effect that God should be careful not to hurt anyone.)

The temporal authorities in Baltimore take a more pragmatic approach to fighting crime. Like every other large city, they have copied elements of New York's system for mapping crime statistics, which allows police departments to send officers where they are most needed.

Baltimore has also put more officers on foot patrol, so that they are closer to the people they are supposed to protect. It has locked up many of the most violent offenders. And it has encouraged local volunteers to mediate between young hot-heads. Such volunteers know when a fight is about to erupt over, for example, a stolen girlfriend. All this is quite new, but the mayor, Sheila Dixon, thinks it is working. The murder rate for the first three months of this year was sharply lower than last year.

But still, the drug trade is unlikely to be peaceful so long as it is illegal. Crack pushers cannot ask the courts to settle their disputes. The only way to stop them shooting each other is to legalise drugs, reckons Peter Moskos, a sociologist who spent a year as a policeman in Baltimore's eastern district and wrote a book about it.

That is not going to happen, alas. And even if it did, it would hardly be a panacea. Anyone with a proper job leaves the ghetto. The young men left behind develop traits that render them unemployable. For example, says Mr Moskos, they react violently to trivial slights. This is a useful quality in a drug-dealer, but less so in most other trades.

April 23, 2008

A night of fieldwork in Amsterdam

I often wonder why anybody would prefer to crunch numbers than do fun qualitative research.

I'm in Amsterdam right now. I made contact with and successfully gained access to my desired police station tonight (to make a long story short).

I want to compare the attitude toward drugs of Baltimore and Amsterdam police officers. These attitudes are very different. Even the most conservative of Dutch cops thinks that people should be able to purchase and smoke weed in “coffee shops.” No Dutch cop thinks that drug users should rot in prison. Most Dutch cops think that punishment needs to be harsher for dealers of “hard drugs” (crack and heroin).

I meet the chief. He is both friendly and smart. And welcoming to an outside American research he doesn't know. I interview him and some of his main men. Then I ask to talk to some low-level cops, doing the kind of work I did. I am passed around to various police officers and interview them all.

As a cop, I’m impressed with the free coffee machine. It makes much better coffee than the machines they used to have when I did research here 10 years ago in de Pijp.

Next to the coffee machines is a box of free sandwiches. While the cop in me loves free food. I pass on the broodjes. I think it’s strange that the police here make such an effort to keep cops from taking free food outside the police station that they prefer the cops to eat and drink without leaving the police station. Is that a victory?

One police officer asks me if I want to join some plain-clothes officers on their patrol of the Red Light District. Sure, I say. So I do.

The big problem of the area is not drug use or prostitution. Prostitution is legal here. Marijuana and hash can be legally bought in any of many legal “coffee shops.” The big problem of the vice-filled center in this city of sin is, get this, fake-drug dealers.

People who stand on bridges trying to get stupid tourists to buy drugs. Except they don't have drugs. And they might take you into an alley and rob you. It's not much of a crime here to sell baking soda. So it's hard to get rid of these guys. And they really are a terrible P.R. problem for Amsterdam.

So many tourists come here and think, "This city is so overrun with drugs. I mean, there's a drug dealer standing on every corner!" There's not a drug dealer on every corner. But there is a man trying to sell you fake drugs on most bridges in this very small part of the city where all the tourists walk around to do their vice-related slumming tour. (Can you imagine if Baltimore’s Eastern District was a tourist attraction... and it was perceived to represent the whole city?)

These cops, a man and a women, have been on this detail for three months. So all the bad guys know them, uniform or not.
You can see this as the guys look down and slink away when they see the plain-clothed police.

So the cops ask me to walk in front of them so people would proposition me (really, I'm not well known in the Red Light District). So I do. It's raining for the first time in days, so the streets are relatively empty. But after maybe 1/2 an hour, I walk by a man.
He says, "Cocaine?"
I say, "What?"
He says, "You want to buy cocaine, heroin, ecstasy?"
That’s it. That’s what they need for the arrest.
I say, "How much?"
He says, "Follow me."
I say, "No thanks." And, using our pre-arranged sign, I take off my hat. I walk away. The officers, close behind and in listening range, make the arrest.

This is such small-scale stuff for a Baltimore cop. But it’s been years since I’ve been part of the action. Hell, I never even worked plain-clothes. My heart is beating fast as I enjoy the small surge of adrenaline. It’s fun to be back in the game, even if in a very small way.

These cops have arrested this guy before. He is walked (rather freely, in my opinion) back to the police station. He is treated very politely and very humanly.

The prisoner is guilty of the very minor crime of offering (non) drugs. That’s a 150 euro fine. But he doesn’t have any real drugs on him, except his prescription meds. But he’s also guilty of violating his 3-month banishment order (issued four days ago) for the same crime. By law, he must stay out of the city center. Yes, in Europe, you can still be banished. Now he’ll get (re)offered a place to sleep and social help.

Unlike American police, most Dutch police are happy to offer social help.
“Really? Is that real police work?” I asked.
“Yes, because it helps solve the problem.... Isn’t it better to prevent a crime than make an arrest?” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Brave ethnographic confession from Cop in the Hood

Professor Corey J. Colyer of West Virginia University sent me the following email:


This note is motivated by a remark you make about your methods in the first chapter of Cop in the Hood. It is rare (and therefore refreshing) to see an ethnographer admit that they failed to capture details in their notes. We get tired, overwhelmed, and even bored in our efforts to craft moderately complete ethnographic records. The bulk of the methods literature (in my humble opinion) unrealistically frames the good ethnographer as a tireless scribe, who dutifully returns to the desk after a long day in the field to generate thousands of pages of notes. This leads to what I describe as "ethnographer's guilt" and worries of being a fraud. I've never measured up to this model and it's nice to see someone as talented as yourself admit to this as well. [By that I mean, you seem to more than adequately support your assertions with rich ethnographic detail]. I suppose it makes me feel less like a fraud as I return to my manuscript this morning.

I'll sharing that section of your first chapter with my graduate level methods class next Monday.

With respect,

Corey J. Colyer, PhD
Assistant Professor
Division of Sociology
School of Applied Social Sciences
West Virginia University
PO Box 6326
Morgantown, WV 26506-6326

Hate mail (2.4)

The latest from my conservative friend:
Prof Moskos;

Lets get real. Legalize drugs? Just look at alcohol. 21 years olds buy it give it to younger friends, who give it to even younger friends and now we have many 12 year old alcoholics in this country. Multiply that with narcotic addiction and see what the fabric of this country looks like then. Who will be trainable to fly the F22 raptor? Some coke head like Obama..... And lets be realistic.. What is so bad about drug dealers killing each other..?

As far as I'm concerned that is a win-win situation.

Now to your premise about liberals not ruining Police Depts.... In the past Baltimore had one of the best Homicide squads in the Nation. Their clearance rate was over 90%.

Then came the downfall " Affirmative Action" every liberals dream.

Good street smart homicide detectives were unceremoniously removed from homicide and put back in uniform. They were replaced with rookie, black, officers with little or no experience, just to appease the Gods of P.C.

Now the clearance rate is somewhere around 40% and homicides are up.

Please explain how this liberal move has made Baltimore a safer place to live.

Baltimore now has a new nickname which is known all over the East coast: " The City that Bleeds".

When I was a kid in the 40's and 50's you could sleep in Patterson Park on hot nights.

Try it now... if you dare....

Again about education. I have a daughter-in-law with a masters my son had 3 years college, and my family is conservative. Mostly because of family values and the fact that my son and his wife went to a Moderate school. There were no Ward Churchills teaching there. I myself have some credits from a community college. I am not against education, I am against educators brainwashing students to be little socialists.

Kruschev once said "we will destroy you from within". That destruction starts with biased education.
Mark DeRosa Sgt ( ret) Balto P D

April 22, 2008

Hate mail (2.3)

I'm giving the sergeant a pseudonym, Sgt. Mark DeRosa. That’s not his real name. He is willing to use his real name and print his email. But I’d prefer to give him a pseudonym and not print his email.

I wrote:
Sgt. DeRosa,

I also want you to know that I am and will continue to post our correspondence on www.copinthehood.com. I'm not identifying you in any way, other than retired BCPD sgt.

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

Sgt [DeRosa] writes:
Feel free to post my name and address if you wish [Ed note: I do not wish. But I admire his willingness.] . I am a proud conservative and vote that way every election. I distrust any one who contends that "the police are the problem" in the ghetto. Those animals living there who rob "mostly their own" are the problem. I totally distrust any one who contends that drugs should be legalized. Hell, why not legalize bank robbery & rape, then we could lay all the police off as there would be no crimes to arrest for. Then we would have more money to give to those who chose not to work for a living.

Liberalism has ruined Police Depts all across this country. It has begun to ruin the whole country as well.

As for me I will not sing "Kum-by-ya.", I will keep my powder dry, my guns loaded, and my picture of Charlton Heston dusted. I will never be a victim because some liberal thinks I should be. Further more, I do not have a problem with your PHD, just the way educators use it to impress liberal views on young kids who are paying a fortune to be turned into future liberal activists. It is a statistical fact that 90% of professors are left wingers. Surveys that were taken prove this, as the intelligencia has admitted it. Ward Churchill is a perfect example. Teach if you wish, but teach the truth, not the truth as you wish it to be.
[Mark DeRosa] Sgt (ret) BCPD

My response:

[Sgt DeRosa],

The police are not the problem. I agree. Again, I wish you would read my book. You’ve taken me for some cop-bashing liberal. I’m not (well, I am liberal. But I’m not a cop basher. Believe it or not, those are two different things).

I do think drugs should be legalized. Basically because I don't think drug dealers wouldn't shoot each other as much if drugs were legal. There's more, but I’m not going to type my reasoning again here. It’s in the book.

I think you misunderstand Liberalism. I’m not saying there aren’t any stupid and intolerant liberal. There are. Just like exists among conservatives. I feel I do teach the truth. Sometimes the truth is Liberal. Sometimes the truth is Conservative. You know what liberals and conservatives have in common? When they know that they're always right and think less of those who hold other opinions, they become one and the same thing: fascist.

But no, I don’t think Liberalism has ruined Police Departments. I think Liberalism has made policing and the country better. I also think that police should reflect, to some extent, the people they police. So personally, being liberal and living in a liberal area, I’d prefer to have more liberal cops. I think the streets would be safer.

I appreciate you not hating me for having a college degree. I’m sorry you’re against higher education in general because of the generally liberal bias. But that's why you take many professors, to hear all different perspectives.


April 21, 2008

I'm lowbrow and brilliant!

That's the word from New York Magazine's "Approval Matrix." I'll take it!

A sociology dissertation thesis?

Feel free to steal this idea:

For centuries, the Netherlands has tried to "normalize" their society. While it may have worked in the past, today "normalization" is killing Amsterdam. What makes Amsterdam great and unique, is that it isn't a "normal" city.

In Holland, they have a different idea of democracy. The mayor of Amsterdam isn't even an elected position. He's appointed. Imagine if George Bush appointed the mayor of New York City.

Hate mail (2.2)

This conversation starts a few posts down. Here's the latest:
I have read excerpts from your "book" and frankly sir, "YOU HAVE NOT PAID ENOUGH DUES TO BE CONVERSANT IN POLICE WORK". I think that your PHD impresses only you. It certainly does not impress me. As a Sgt, I had College grads working for me ( I am not one myself) and had to correct their misspelled, mispunctuated, sloppy, reports. It was laughable. One such " Grad" lost a $100 bet to me because he was so convinced that construction 'Site' was spelled "sight".
You sound like the usual liberal Academia, which has been the problem, not the solution to the type of recruits the Dept is getting.
I do not know which years you were on the dept, but I started in 62' when there were no walkie talkies, mace, issued handcuffs, and you had to WALK an arrestee blocks to get to a call box. Not to mention 60 year old .38 cal revolvers with ammo that you could actually see the bullet fly when you fired them.
P.S. I worked in the Eastern District for 4 years as a Sgt and it was a busy district, but not the combat zone you describe. Of course I had Officers working for me that were tough, street smart cops who did not have to resort to sociology to get the job done.
Before one "talks the talk", they should have "walked the walk"
I don't think you should be expecting "Pulitzer" to be calling soon.
[name removed] Sgt ( ret) BCPD..

My response:
Sgt [******],
First of all, I appreciate you writing me with the dignity of a full name and an email. I will talk to any man, man-to-man. I respect that.

But again, you seem to be reading too much into me without knowing me.

I never say police should be college grads (which seems to be your sore point). Just please don't hold it against me for having a PhD. It doesn't make me a worse person. Really. And it does allow me to get a great job teaching in college.

My book stands on my analysis and description of policing, not my degree.

You were real po-lice. Actually, if anything, my point is that we need more police like you. Police should be able to police like you did: no radio, no mace, and walking prisoners back to the District. I'm not making fun of you. I'm totally serious. You knew how to make a good arrest and walk that prisoner back without getting your ass kicked. It's not [that you] coddled bad guys. I'm sure you didn't. But you were able to gain the respect of people you policed because you knew who the bad guys were. That's what policing is all about. That's what may be lacking today. That's my point! But of course you don't know my point. You just think I'm a prick with a college degree. If you still think that after reading my book, that's your business.

You might actually find that we have a lot in common. I don't know what else to say. If you don't read my book, I have nothing else to say. I don't want to waste my time writing what is in my book. I mean, I've already written it. That's my book.

I'm politically liberal and I'm sure you're politically conservative. But we're probably less far off in our beliefs than you want to think.

One other question. I'm not telling, I'm asking... but I don't think the E.D. was a combat zone when you were patrolling it. Probably because you were doing a good job. I think the worst years were in the late 1980s and late 1990s.

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

Another Taser death

A good man I know only from the comments section of blogs (I really need to get a life... but I like writing about this things), send me this link. He's right, I don't like Tasers.

He notes: "Firstly, we don't call it non-lethal but less lethal. Second, the cops asked him to stop and he had bouncer help too."

I agree. This man should not be dead. He should be in handcuffs. And I could have done it myself.

Fan mail

A friend and former student of mine (and mid-to-high-ranking officer in the NYPD) wrote me this:
I picked up your book at Barnes and Noble on W. 18th Street last Wednesday. Congratulations! Just started reading and it is enjoyable already. You’re the best author I know (and only author I know, we cops are not known to hang in literary circles).
I know you put a lot of hard work and sacrifice into this book. Thanks again for being my professor (Received MA degree in Feb.), friend and now distinguished author. Wish you continued success.

Talk to you soon,

April 20, 2008

Amsterdam police station

Here's one of the least intimidating police stations you may ever see. In Osdorp, Amsterdam.

"Bad" part of town

In Amsterdam, it can take a somewhat trained eye to even know you're in the "bad" part of town.

First, there's the immigrant issue. Actually the issue is more with the children (the male children) of immigrants. Immigrants, and not just illegal immigrants, are considered a problem here and in most of Western Europe. Citizens of Moroccan decent take most of the blame here. Some--but not all--of it deserved.

Here, for instance, are three youths blocking the bike path. Just because they can. Dudes, you're so cool. So tough. So I had to bike around them on the grass.

Then there's this picture:
To an American, it probably looks innocuous. But to many Dutch people, this gives reason to not want to live in the neighborhood.

It's not the blah architecture. Or the largely failed suburban vision in an urban area. It's the satellite dishes. In Holland, many people consider satellite dishes a blight and a figurative "Broken Window." They're aimed at Turkish and Moroccan TV stations. It means the residents aren't really "Dutch." It means there are more mosques than churches. It means the crime rate is higher. It means there are troublesome Moroccan youths hanging out. At least that's how it's seen.

It should be noted that even in the "bad" part of town, there's a pretty canal to stroll down.(that's my brother posing)

And more desirable middle-class--even upscale--housing being built across the street.

These drug dealers aren't so bad

In the Netherlands, you can walk into any "coffee shop" and legally buy or smoke marijuana or hashish. It's a sight so common, you barely notice it. So here, in a "bad" part of town, are the drug dealers. They don't shoot each other. They pay taxes--albeit not on the sale, which is technically only "decriminalized," but they do pay income taxes based on the sales. It's hard to understand how people can think that regulated drug selling is worse than unregulated drug sellers.

No joint smoking

It's my Spring Break and I'm in Amsterdam doing police research (and visiting friends).

Biking with my brother today, I passed this sign.

This is what you can do if you regulate drugs. This sign was put up because it's an "area deserving special attention" (or something like that). In Amsterdam, this is considered a "bad" part of town. It's not that bad. Compared to "bad" parts of town in America, it's heaven.

And oh yeah, the fine is €50. That's about $80, with the weak dollar.

Hate mail (2.1)

Here's another. Once again, I can't take criticism too seriously from people who haven't read my book. I haven't yet heard anything bad from anybody who has actually read my book. But I'm sure that will come, too. In the meantime:
While I have not read your book, and don't intend to I have a question for you. How do you become such an expert on Police work and functions. Keeping in mind that you had to work one full year on each shift in your vast 3 year tenure. You only had one years experience on 4X12 shift where most of the action occurs. Day shift is boring and 12X8 shift is usually quiet after 3 AM.
You sure crammed alot in that one year of 4X12 combat.
I spent 25 yrs plus on the BCPD and keep company with police who have experiences in the 30-35 year range, some of them command staff.
They as well as I, do not "consider" ourselves experts, just experienced.
Good luck with the "book" rookie. Keep telling those war stories, someone might buy that bull.
[*** *******] Sgt (ret) BCPD

My reply:
Sgt. [*******],

Why so bitter? Because I only worked 20 months? Or because I wrote a book? I make no apologies for either.

A lot of your questions are answered in the book (I worked midnights, by the way). You really shouldn't be so critical of somebody for writing something you haven't read. It's not a long book.

I never called myself an expert. I don't consider myself an expert in the sense that I know more than anybody else who's worn the uniform. Given my 20-and-out (months, that is), I know less than any retired Baltimore City police officer. I have less experience that 80% of active police officers. I just call 'em like I see 'em.

People are and should be interested in policing. If more experienced police officers could and would write books about the job, there wouldn't be a need for my book. Why don't you write a book? Maybe then police officers would be treated with more respect. What are your ideas about how to improve policing? Now that you're retired, what have you done to make policing better? I've spent the past 7 years writing and working toward this book. I hope my book will improve the working conditions for all police officers, but especially police in the Eastern District.

If you want to judge me, first read my book. Or talk to somebody who has. Or at least talk to somebody who worked with me. They're not hard to track down. Get Cop in the Hood from the library to save that gigantic $1.50 royalty from paying off my meager advance.

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

Hate mail (1)

I'm amazed that the mere thought of my book would get people so riled up that they would write me. It's hard to take criticism of my book seriously from people who haven't read my book. But here's the first email:
Mr. Moskos, three years. Count them (3) years!! Wow! How in the world did you stand being on that job so long? It is very dangerous. Have you ever gone to court, or shot at, or been shot at by anyone? Have you ever walked in a neighborhood without a walkie talkie, or handcuffs? Have you ever walked at all? It must have been really hard on you trying to study to get a degree and working all those nasty shifts that police officers work, and be very busy answering calls and writing tickets, and all the other stuff cops do. Did you ever get beat up, or get into a fight with anyone? Did you drop your study material during a fight? I'll bet your side partners really miss you, since you were there for so long. I'll bet you were a police "agent" that everybody thinks so highly of? Have you ever met Joseph Wambaugh? He wrote a book also. You should read it. Maybe you could put some of his thoughts into your own words.

My reply:
Dear ******,
Actually, it was less than two years.
But in answer to your questions:
Yes, I've been to court.
Yes, I've been shot at.
Yes, I've walked in many neighborhoods without handcuffs or radio. But no, I would never walk the Eastern Distict where I policed without the tool of my trade.
I wasn't studying when I was a cop. I just took notes when I got home.
I never got beat up.
I was in fights.
My partners say they do miss me, at least many of them do.
I wasn't an "agent." I was a police officer. But yes, I had the academic degree needed to be an agent.
I haven't met Joseph Wambaugh, but I do like his books.
I hope you read my book before passing more judgements.

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

April 19, 2008

It's all about the numbers

There's a quota system in place for attorneys working in the office of U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien in Los Angeles.

As reported in an article in the L.A. Times , O'Brien says: "This office does not and never will have quotas for its criminal prosecutors.... To suggest that any attorney in this office must charge a certain number of defendants each year or face discipline is simply not true."

Too bad he's lying. Or at least that's what attorneys working for him say.

The problem I have is the idea that our court system should be "efficient." A factory should be efficient. A bicycle racer should be efficient. Justice is not supposed to efficient. It's supposed to be fair. In the real world, prosecutorial "efficiency" is just another word for plea-bargain. And a plea-bargain is not justice.

In this case, the motivation seems to be that more prosecuted cases equals more federal funding. The Prison-Industrial Complex in action.

First Amazon reader review

A round of applause for Generic Guy. I'm glad you liked my book. Thank you.

Read my book?

Then write a review for Amazon. There are still no reader reviews. Especially if you've already told me how much you liked my book... tell the world... in that 5-star-review kind of way.

No Amazon reader reviews makes me think of that B.B. King line: "Nobody loves me but my mother, and she could be jivin' too."

April 18, 2008

In the Economist

I'm quoted prominently in an excellent article about Baltimore in the current Economist. But it's a real shame he didn't plug my book (Cop in the Hood). Or my school (John Jay College of Criminal Justice). But it is still a very good article.

A big problem for the police (and more so for respectable ghetto residents) is the unfortunate truth that for many young men, gangster culture is alluring. Apart from the low pay and the high risk of getting murdered, drug-dealing is not a bad job, says Peter Moskos, a sociologist who spent a year as a policeman in Baltimore's eastern district. You hang out with your friends. People “respect” (ie, fear) you. You project glamour. You get laid.

You also become otherwise unemployable, says Mr Moskos. To survive on the street, you learn to react violently and pre-emptively to the slightest challenge. This is a useful trait for a drug-dealer, but, oddly, managers at Starbucks do not value it.


Civil libertarians argue that America punishes non-violent drug offenders far too harshly. Mr Moskos reckons that, at least in Baltimore, the people jailed for drug possession are usually violent dealers whose more serious crimes cannot be proven or whose plea bargains have been accepted by an over-burdened judicial system. He thinks drugs should be legalised, though, because their prohibition fuels a criminal economy where disputes are settled violently.

April 17, 2008

Lies, damned lies, and DEA statistics

The DEA and other prohibitionists have a long history of lying about drug facts.

In the past, they've claimed that the Netherlands drug policy was a "disaster," despite all statistics to the contrary (especially compared to the United States).

Here's the latest. The DEA claims that a ballet measure softening enforcement of low-level marijuana crimes in Colorado is leading to an increase in drugs and organized crime. It's a lie.

Officer shot in daylight gunbattle

Wild gun battles in Baltimore are unfortunately nothing new. But this time an officer almost died.

April 16, 2008

Bright light! Bright light!

Bright lights don’t reduce crime. Good lighting might. Too often people reflexively think that the brighter the street light, the safer the streets. I don’t buy it.

Lighting sets the tone. Street lighting is no different. If you light the streets well at night (not just bright, but well), people will go out and, without even knowing it, help keep things safe.

In Holland, they call the concept of creating a nice environment gezelligheid. I wish we would take this concept into account when planning lighting and public safety in our public spaces. Candles are gezellig. Florescent lights aren’t.

Horribly bright orange sodium vapor lights are probably just as bad as having no light as all. You can’t have a romantic stroll under orange lights. You’ll never want to sip a drink under bad street lighting. Bad lighting makes people look ugly and tells them to go inside. Fewer eyes on the street make the streets less safe. Good lighting sooths people and lets you see the street, the stars, and the moon. Good lighting makes you want to take an evening stroll and kanoodle.

This came to mind while reading Eric Jay Dolin’s gripping Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America. Ever since I first read Moby Dick (like 4 months ago), I’ve been fascinated with whaling. In Dolin’s wonderful book, he quotes John Adams making what must be one of the earliest references linking dark streets to crime.

In 1783, 46 years before Sir Robert Peel established the first metropolitan police force in London, Britain passed a tax that effectively banned American whale products. In 1785, John Adams made his appeal to the British to lift this ban:
The fat of the spermaceti whale gives the clearest and most beautiful flame of any substance that is known in nature, and we are all surprised that you prefer darkness, and consequent robberies, burglaries, and murders in your streets, to the receiving, as a remittance, our spermaceti oil. The lamps around Grosvenor Square, I know, and in Downing Street, too, I suppose, are dim by midnight and extinguished by two o’clock; whereas our oil would burn bright till 9 o’clock in the morning, and chase away, before the watchmen, all the villains, and save you the trouble and danger of introducing a new police into the city. (Dolin 2007, p. 168)

The appeal failed. Britain retained its protectionist policies. It’s interesting to think of the role whale oil (or the lack thereof) contributed to street crime and the establishment of modern-day police.

Drug prohibition kills 220 in Juárez...

...and that's in the first 3 months of this year. And about a dozen of those are police officers.


Here's the New York Times story.

April 15, 2008

The raw excitment of criminal-justice

I was interviewed tonight by a good writer from a prominent local magazine. I ate and drank very well, thank you very much.

It was a nice chat. Toward the end, I was asked a softball question and couldn’t really make contact. “What’s the most exciting thing happening right now in the criminal justice field right?” I couldn’t really think of a good answer (other than my book, of course). That probably says more about me than it does about the field. But the field is somewhat to blame.

Biking home, I thought about this. One "proper" answer is the field of reentry. All those millions of people locked up are going to get out. What are we, as society, going to do about them? Answer: probably nothing. But there is lots of good stuff going on in field of reentry. But that's not really my field.

As for police-related research, I think the most exciting research is yet to be done. There are some people in the field doing interesting hands-on research (Venkatesh comes immediately to mind). But the bulk of researchers generally do out-of-touch quantitative work. There's more to the real world than statistically significant correlations.

I think there's more thought-provoking and real-world value in the average Malcolm Gladwell New Yorker article than there is in the average article in American Journal of Sociology. That's a shame.

Why aren't academics examining the merits of foot patrol? Why aren't academics more interested in the field of police discretion? Why aren't more professors really studying why the murder rate went down, what can we do to lower it more, and how can we keep it down? Why aren't more sociologists doing research that actually involves talking to people? Why aren't more professors interested in police and crime prevention? The general public certainly is. I don't have the answers.

April 13, 2008

Tar and feathers?

One of my fears is that my book won't be well received by my cop friends in Baltimore.

I'm proud of the book. And I think it's pro-police because it shows the shit we had to deal with. Good workers in a bad system. But I'm always been afraid that cops wouldn't like it because it's not 100% pro-police. I don't want to be tarred and feathered next time I go to Baltimore.

But the initial reports from Charm City's Finest are favorable.

One of my academy classmates said he liked the academy chapter and wrote me a good story I'd forgotten:
I don't know if you remember, but one day we were getting ready to take a test, and [____] stood up and said, "Sir, you can't give us the test yet. We have not been spoon fed the answers yet."
He never knew when to shut up.

April 12, 2008

Waiting for execution

There's a lot of pathos in this video. And a hell of a Baltimore accent.

A visit to Maryland's supermax. And quite an indictment of the criminal justice system.

On the lighter side...

...Someone with way too much time on his hands made this. And I love it. Homies meet Baltimore's Eastern District. I love Homies. And I love the Lego police motorcycle paddywagon that zooms through.

Amazingly, this isn't the only stop-motion animation with Homies and cops. But it is the only stop-motion animation with Homies and cops that promotes my book. Guerrilla advertising at its best.

Here's the You Tube link.

April 11, 2008

$12.47 for Cop in the Hood? What a bargain!

Strand is selling my book for $12.47. I doubt you will ever find it cheaper. But there are only 2 copies in stock. I bet when these 2 are gone, the price will go up. $12.47 is 50% off cover price. I can only get 40% off cover price and I wrote the damn thing! Amazon with free shipping ($16.47) is always a bargain.

Of course nothing is better than loving your neighborhood book store and getting them to stock Cop in the Hood.

I wish I loved my neighborhood book store. And I'm not the only one, who's got issues... or two, or three.

Pay NYPD More (II)

A police officer was arrested in Pennsylvania for bank robbery. I don't like to compare common criminals with mistakes people make because they're poor--like the NYPD officer who discharged his gun (shooting an 18-month-old boy in the apartment below) while cleaning it... in the dark... because he couldn't pay his electric bill.

But what all this has in common is that it wouldn't happen if police officers could live off their starting salary ($25,100) and recruiting standards were higher.

From Veronika Belenkaya and Ethan Rouen's story in the New York Daily News:
An NYPD rookie sworn to enforce the law broke it big-time Thursday, stealing $113,000 from a Pennsylvania bank at gunpoint, authorities said.

Cop-turned-robber Christian Torres, 21, of Queens, was collared less than a block away and the loot was recovered, police said.
Officers Hector Alvarez and Miguel Castillo told New Jersey police they were investigating terrorism when they were caught trying to rob a Bergen County drug den in May 2007, cops said.

Four months later, NYPD recruit Claribel Polanco, a mother of two, allegedly committed welfare fraud.

Too poor to pay his electric bill, Officer Patrick Venetek of Brooklyn was cleaning his gun in the dark when it accidentally went off in February. The bullet struck an 18-month-old boy in the apartment below.

April 8, 2008

T[aser] is for Torture

More good discussion from the comments of marginal revolution.

I'll call this: Ask Officer Pete!

Q: Peter, I have an issue with you comments about police use of force. Your argument that the use of "muscle," physical strength and holds, will lead to less excessive force issues in contrast to Tasers or other less lethal uses of force, needs to be substantiated. Officers who go over the line, in my experience prefer to use physical strength and intimidation. It gives them a better "high;" that feeling of control and power. It has been my experience with the modern Tasers, ... that trained Officers are more likely to stay within the bounds of Departmental policy and the Law. Additionally, do we as a society want to expose our law enforcement officers to MORE danger by not allowing them the advantage of distance? Officers and suspects are less likely to be injured if there is no physical force used. This has multiple "good" effects.

A: You very well might be right. What you say is certainly the modern and progressive thinking of the day. But I still disagree. I'm not talking about officers who want to use excessive force. I'm not talking about abuse by "bad" officers. I'm talking about torture by otherwise "good" officers.

I have three main problems with Tasers: 1) they’re used too readily, 2) the pain they cause isn’t geared toward the compliance I want, and 3) people die.

Nine times out of ten officers exercise more restraint that allowed by departmental policy and law (See Dave Klinger's book Into the Kill Zone for lots of examples of this). In Baltimore I didn't have a Taser, but the use-of-force guidelines for Tasers and mace (actually pepper spray) is generally the same--for compliance. That's too low a bar.

If I followed departmental policy, I could have maced about 3 people a shift. Instead, I maced one person in 14 months. Mace has a natural check and balance: it goes everywhere. No officer quick with the mace will be popular in the department for long.

Physical force can often be done without too much pain. And the pain caused is directly proportional to your resistance. For instance, I need you to put your hands behind your back. I use force. Force isn't the same as pain. It might hurt if you fight it. But as soon as you stop resisting, any pain is over.

Officers use Tasers quicker than they otherwise would apply hands-on force. "Comply or I Taze you." You don't comply so I Taze. Clean and legal. But wrong because it's not necessary. Departmental regulation be damned! It’s too easy to press a button.

We're talking about pain compliance... hurting somebody. Tasers cause pain as punishment. That's not right. We shouldn’t pretend that causing pain is clean process. It never is.

Force is part of the police job. No suspect puts handcuffs on himself.

Without a Taser, I just say "Comply." You don't. So I keep talking to you, cajoling you, ordering you, threatening you. But the point is I'll work harder trying to convince you to comply if my only alternative is hands-on force. Officers *should* be reluctant to use force. You don't want to use physical force because there is some danger... and also you break a sweat--something you always want to avoid while wearing body armor.

When I do use hands-on force, at least my force is geared toward getting you to do what I want (like getting your arms behind your back so I can cuff you). With a Taser, it's just about disabling pain. That's torture. And consider this, it's not easy to follow instructions after being in the greatest pain of your life. So you get tazed again.

I worked in a rough district. I want to police to be safe. But the danger police face isn't really from officers working to put handcuffs on one suspect or get that suspect out of a car. That's just part of the job.

Besides, I trusted my squadmates because I knew they could handle themselves in a fight. I don't care how hand-off people try and make policing in theory and in the academy, on the street, it's hands-on. I want to work with officers who aren't afraid to use their hands. Reluctant, yes. But afraid, no.

And oh yeah, Tasers kill people.

April 7, 2008

Car vs Foot Patrol

There's a good discussion I've been contributing to in the comments section from a post in marginal revolution.

Demand More Foot Patrol

More foot patrol is always possible. Back in the days, all patrol was foot patrol. Our almost complete dedication to cars responding to dispatched calls is a choice we make... or maybe a choice made for us. But if we really wanted and demanded more foot patrol, we could have it. Police departments need to defend car patrol with something better than tradition and response time. Here's an op-ed I wrote a few years back for the cause.

One of my favorite pictures shows how it was done in 1911 New York City, at least in theory. Maybe today cops shouldn't stand in the middle of intersections like bowling pins, but the idea is better than any patrol done today.
(If anybody knows the source of this picture, let me know. I got it from an old Yale Alumni Magazine. They could only tell me they thought it was public domain.)

Homicides down in Baltimore

At least for the first three months of 2008. Hopefully it will last. Here's the Sun's story by John Fritze and Sara Neufeld.

There's a nice Sun news graphic in the story.
It's rarely mentioned that what looks like a steady decline in homicides in the 1990s correlates pretty well with the decline in the city's population. So while the numbers dropped, the rate didn't.

Cops tell the truth

If that statement shocks you, you're a fool. All cops don't tell the truth all of the time. But cops tell the truth a lot more than many people seem to think. At least in Baltimore there is no culture of lying on the stand or anywhere else.

Why would I perjure myself and risk my job and my reputation just to convict some teen-age crack dealer? I don't live in that neighborhood. I'll do my job, play by the rules, and go home, thank you very much.

In the Queens trial of the officers who killed Sean Bell, a police officer testified last week that the officers identified themselves as police before shooting. This was largely discounted by many. The assumption was that an officer would always lie to protect a fellow cop.

Today a person who lives near the shooting testified that the police did in fact yell a lot before shooting... just like the cops said. This is huge for the defense of the officers.

Maybe they're both lying, or maybe not. I don’t know. I wasn't there.

My point isn’t about Sean Bell and his friends. The cop in me is bothered when people reflexively believe the testimony of thugs and their mothers rather than hard-working and dedicated police officers. If a cop says one thing, and a criminal says another, believe the cop!

Too often TV news, in some attempt to get "both sides of the story," talk to some thug's mother. The mother says her son is an angel and couldn't have been doing anything because he was home asleep at the time, or in church, or helping homeless orphans with their homework.

Guess what? Mothers always think their son is an angel. That’s their job!

Here’s a case of a poor mom, seeing the truth. From my Baltimore notes:
We pull up on 700 N Port St and [my partner] knows one of the kids there. [My partner] says he promised to arrest him if he saw him there again. When [my partner] gets out of the car with cuffs, the guy takes off. [My partner] chases and I follow in the car, calling us out on the radio. I see them run down Madison and up an alley towards Ashland. I turn up Collington and make a right on Ashland and stop in front of Bradford.

I can't figure out what's going on with [my partner], who it turns out lost the trail when the guy booked in a vacant. But [my partner] thinks he's still in there. Meanwhile I see who I think is him stroll off Bradford. That's him, I think. So I get out and he starts to take off again, but another car pulls up from the other side on Madison and he stops.

I grab him, the other cop says, "put him down" and we put him on the ground. [The other officer is] holding his arm back Koga style [a way that doesn’t hurt, but will hurt if the suspect moves or get squirrely]. His mothers appears (as they are wont to do) and starts screaming, "Why you hurting him? Why you holding his arm back. He ain't done nothing!" I'm waiting for [my partner] to come and say if it's him or not.

After a bit [my partner] does show up and says that's him. We stand the kid up, and another cop (there are many here by now) says, "what's that in your mouth?" Out of the kid's mouth pop one coke vial, then a second. The mother, looking on from about ten feet away, sees her angel pop coke vials out of his mouth and falls out [faints]!

That, indeed, is comedy. We call an ambo for the woman and give the 16-year-old kid shit for doing that to his moms.

April 6, 2008

Good Press in the Atlantic Monthly

I was on the subway today, reading the Atlantic Monthly (or is it just The Atlantic?... no matter, it's my favorite magazine.... with the New Yorker placing a close second and the Economist to show). I see a book review for Judith Herrin's Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire. I like Professor Herrin. I took a class from her in Byzantine History. She was great.

As the subway picks up speed going under the East River from Queens into Manhattan, I turn to my wife and say, "Hey look, I took her class at Princeton. She was great. Why isn't my book in here?! And as my finger goes down the page, I see MY book:

Here's the review. It's short, but it's good. I wonder how many times a professor and her student have had books reviewed on the same page? From the Atlantic's May, 2008 issue.
Cop in the Hood (Princeton)
Those prone to facile comparisons will liken this riveting book to The Wire, the acclaimed and popular cable-television series that inhabits the same mean streets. Those who take a longer view, however, will see this for what it is: an unsparing boys-in-blue procedural that succeeds on its own plentiful—and wonderfully sympathetic—merits. Moskos, now an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, deftly intermingles cops-and-robbers verisimilitude and progressive social science, yet keeps his reportage clear-eyed, his conclusions pathos-free. What results is a thoughtful, measured critique—of the failed drug war, its discontents, and the self-defeating criminal-justice system looming just behind.

Cameras in cop cars

Steve Lopez of the L.A. Times has a good take on cameras in police cars.

Ambitious Assult, Limited Victory

The New York Times has an excellent article by Michael Brick on a large police operation meant to get drugs out of the Cypress Hills project. Guess what, there are still drugs in Cypress Hills.

In many ways, it's great police work (and conceivable right of The Wire). A five-month investigation, undercover officers moving into the projects and pretending they're junkies. A tough prosecutor expanding the definition of conspiracy. Hundreds of arrests. Bad guys put in jail. It's all good. Sort of.

If I lived in Cypress Hill, I would want such police work. As longs are drug selling is unregulated and run by obnoxious, rude, and violent criminals I would want police trying their hardest. And yet I would also know the futility of the war on drugs in the long run.

The raids happened in 2002. It takes years for this this stuff to work its way through the court. The projects are still rough. One man is quoted as saying that today things are "not perfect, but better." That's good, but not good enough. We need to set our sights higher.

The whole article is worth reading.

April 5, 2008

I [heart] foot patrol

The smart folks at Marginal Revolution mentioned my book again. There's nothing I like talking about more than foot patrol.

The following are taken mostly from a comment I wrote to this post.
The Kansas City Preventative Patrol experiment is the most amazingly ignored police study ever. For police and crime prevention, it’s one of the few scientific studies ever (meaning there was actually a control group). It showed that a post with no “randomly patrolling” cars has no more crime than a post with twice as many cars. Cars don’t matter. Cops only need to be in cars to backup other police officers. Almost everything else could be done by foot and bike.

And yet the Kansas City study changed nothing. It’s ignored because police officers like cars and the police department is tied to radio dispatch. Culturally, it’s almost impossible to get police out of cars. Policing on foot is hard work. It’s usually punishment. So even cops who liked foot patrol, like me, didn’t want to do it.

In cars you can stay dry and warm (or cool) and listen to the radio. You can also more easily avoid crazy and stinky people that want to talk to you. Why do you think police hang out in cars in the back of remote parking lots?

People don’t feel safer with more police cars driving around (or sitting in parking lots) Putting more cops on foot *does* make people safer. See the Newark Foot Patrol Experiment (Police Foundation 1981) and common sense. It’s very debatable if foot patrol reduces crime. I think it does. But I may be wrong. But if people want more foot patrol (and they do), why not give it to them?

When patrol cars first hit the street, cars were supposed to save money (and oh yeah, eliminate crime). That didn’t happen. More foot patrol is not a matter of needing resources; it’s a matter of priorities and will. It’s not the citizens or the politicians who want car patrol, it’s the police.

My idea to get police officers out of cars is to give patrol officers, if they patrol on foot, the gas money they saved. Police model Crown Vics go through about 3/4 of a gas tank per shift. Cops don’t want to walk the beat, but $30 per shift could change that.

Fixing Broken Windows in Chicago

Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weiss says he plans more foot and bike patrol and an emphasis on "broken windows" policing. This is great news for Chicago... if it actually happens. It's tough to get cops out of cars. But Weiss is certainly saying the right things. This is reported in the Sun Times.

The point of getting tough on the little things isn't just to get tough on the little things for no reason. It's either because the little things are bad (like people pissing on your front door) or because the little things are part of a greater problem (like subway turnstile jumping was in New York City).

Broken Windows is not Zero Tolerance. Broken Windows is a strategy that respects police officers (by encouraging officer discretion) and the community (by listening to the community). Broken Windows is about problem solving and reducing crime. Zero Tolerance is about enforcing rules to increase police "stats."

You can read the original 1982 Broken Windows article here. It's a classic.

Pay NYPD more

Seattle is trying poach New York City's police. They're actively recruiting in New York City.

The Daily News reports :
Seattle pays its police recruits $47,334 a year and the annual salary rises to a maximum base pay of $67,045 in just six years.

NYPD recruits get a paltry $25,100 annual salary while they are in the academy. Their pay jumps to $32,800 after graduation and tops out at $59,588 after seven years.

Seattle will pay $5,000 in moving expenses as well. Not to mention that cost of living in New York City is higher as well.

New York City police officer need a raise. And I'm willing to pay higher taxes to pay for it.

California taxes drugs

Richard Gonzales of National Public Radio report that California is pulling in $100 million a year in taxes from medical marijuana. This is a federal crime.

The main opposition to medical marijuana comes from Big Government Conservatives. Big Government Prohibitionists would be a better label. They have a moral agenda and are only conservative (states' rights be damned) in the sense that they hate liberals.

I'm torn on medical marijuana. I'm for it. To me it is a no-brainer. But I'm worried that the fight for medical marijuana distracts from the real problem of unregulated drug selling in general. If stoners ever do get legal marijuana, God only knows they'll be far too stoned to help support the cause of regulating other drugs.

Still, it's a step in the right direction. And a steady flow of tax dollar will undoubtedly convince some otherwise neutral people that regulation and taxation makes sense.

Well meaning, Balto is

My thanks to Marni Soupcoff of the (Canadian) National Post for her kind words about my blog. She's right, the real purpose of this blog is to get people to buy my book, Cop in the Hood. And she did! So thanks, Marni. Hopefully the weak dollar will inspire many others up north to buy a copy as well.

I particularly like Marni's quotable take on Baltimore, her old college home. I love Baltimore, poor Baltimore. "Horribly flawed but strangely lovable... inspires an arresting honesty"! These compliment my own line very well. "Baltimore: it means well."

April 4, 2008


The Sun reports that a man was sentenced to 11 years for dealing crack. That's a lot of years for crack, I thought. Of course, like everything with crime and criminals in Baltimore, that's not the whole story.

This 28-year-old man, William Floyd Crudup, shot two city police officer in 2005. His trial ended in a mistrial because one juror, "refused to participate in the looking at the evidence and told the judge that she had made up her mind about the case at the start of the trail."

This is not the place to experiment with Jury Nullification.

Sometimes people are just ig-nent. This isn’t the first time a Baltimore City jury refused to convict a guilty man for shooting or killing a police officer. It’s why police officers don’t trust city juries. Baltimore is a place where it is all too common for one person in twelve to believe it is every man’s right to kill police officers. I remember the shock and disbelief I felt when the killer of Officer Kavon Gavin walked free (he too has since been imprisoned for something else). Other officers were not surprised.

Crudup was still behind bars. Three years later the retrial of Crudup was still in the works. But back in 2005, a few days after he was charged with shooting the police officers, police raided Crudup’s homes and found drugs and guns and ammo.

The Feds took the case and got Crudup to cop a plea (3 years later). So it’s not 11 years for crack dealing. It’s 11 years for shooting two police officers. It just happens that they got him for crack.

Justice is a game. Everybody involved in the system knows this. The good guys play to win, too.