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by Peter Moskos

May 2, 2008

The Great(,) Humiliation Column

I got a call from Laura Vozzella of the Baltimore Sun the other day.

I thought maybe she was a reviewer asking about a press release from Princeton Press telling reviewers to hold off until the new edition is out.

But I got worried when I started talking about the errors and heard the tapity-tap-type of note taking in the background.

It's certainly not like the Sun has been particularly good to me. Yes, they've published two op-eds of mine. But since then, I've been misquoted in the Sun. They hadn't (yet) mentioned my work or book. They generally don't call me about Baltimore police issues (they always call Eugene O'Donnell, one of my esteemed colleagues. Gene is a great guy, knowledgeable and smart, but he wasn't a Baltimore cop!). And yet for some reason, unlike every other cop I worked with, I don't hate the Sun.

Cops hate newspapers with even more venom than they hate Hillary Clinton. Reporters screw up crime stories. Or break scandals that shouldn't be. Or insist on getting "both" sides of the story when there is only one side.

Sometimes, the truth is exactly like the cops say. Say a thieving, violent, robbing, drug-dealing young thug goes on a rampage, pulls a gun on cops, and gets killed. Nothing is worse than quoting her mother insisting that her baby never did nothing wrong and was just killed by police in cold blood while coming back from volunteer work at the HIV orphanage. Readers are left to assume that the truth lies somewhere in between the two versions. That’s not right, fair, or true.

Probably half of all police stories show cops in a negative light. A reader may be left to assume that half of everything police do is bad. Of course this isn’t the case. But police need to understand that newspapers will never write column after column of “Another cop goes to work, does a damn good job, and comes home safely.”

No matter, I like newspapers. I like reporters. Maybe it's because there's a bit of journalism in my blood. I loved writing for and editing my high-school newspaper, the Evanstonian. And my uncle was a big-shot editor-in-chief for many fine papers.

So Ms. Vozzella is typing away and I'm telling her everything that's bad about my book. What can you do? All publicity is good publicity, they say... as long as they spell your name right. Well Laura not only spelled my name right, but she wrote a damn good column:

First, don't kill all the editors
by Laura Vozzell
May 2, 2008

First, Princeton University Press issued the book, Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore's Eastern District. Then it issued the news release recalling the book.

"Turns out I wasn't a cop at all, and I made it all up," joked Peter Moskos, the author and an assistant professor of law and police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Moskos really was a city officer from Dec. 6, 1999, to April 1, 2002, Baltimore police spokesman Sterling Clifford confirmed. (Clifford wasn't otherwise vouching for the book, which he hadn't read. "It's not like the CIA where even if you're gone, if you write something about it, they have to approve it," Clifford said. "We're stuck with what they write.")

The real reason the book has been pulled off shelves, according to Moskos and Princeton: more than 90 grammar and spelling mistakes. After the book was issued two weeks ago, Moskos' mother and friends spotted what copy editors at the esteemed publisher apparently overlooked.

"A lot of errors for a 200-page book," said Moskos, who quipped that he should not have gone with a "fly-by-night organization" like Princeton. "The director of the press called it 'unprecedented.'"

Said Princeton publicist Lisa Fortunato: "For us, this is very unusual."

Don't those Ivy League-types have Spellcheck?

"You know what? We asked the same question," Fortunato said. "I don't know the full story."

The book is expected to be back on shelves in four to five weeks. Not a huge delay, but one that's upsetting to Moskos, since he has already begun promoting the book.

"It's just frustrating because I was on the radio today, and you can't buy it this instant on Amazon," he said.

At least he has a sense of humor about some of the errors.

"Somewhere in the book, 'Baltimore' is spelled wrong," Moskos said. "Maybe I spelled it with a 'd' like it's said."

Ironically, there is an error in the column.

My date of hire was indeed Dec 6, 1999 (The day before the day that will live in infamy is how I remembered it--and since this date goes on a lot of police forms, I needed to remember it). But I entered the academy on Oct 29, 1999.

My end date, however, was neither April 1 nor 2002. I turned in my papers on April Fool's Day (seemed kind of funny to me at the time). But my last night in uniform was June 25. And (because of backed up sick/vacation/personal days) I got paid until early July, when my employment officially ended. And it was 2001.

So in my mind, I worked from Oct 1999 to June 2001. In the police department records, I should be listed as having worked from Dec 1999, to July 2001.

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