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by Peter Moskos

July 29, 2008

Who do I think I am?

When I'm criticized for my book (usually it's me that is criticized and not my book), I hear the same two things again and again: 1) who does this college boy think he is? and 2) what gives you the right to be an "expert" since you were only a cop for 20 months?

First of all, going to college is a good thing. And if you want to be professor, it's kind of required.

And I don't call myself an expert. Being a cop doesn't make you an "expert" on policing any more than being a criminal makes you an expert on crime.

Sometimes other people do call me an expert. Usually media types (and who am I to argue?). But here's the thing, being an expert isn't about having done something all your life or even being able to do something well. That makes you a professional, or a master. An expert is someone who can both understand and explain something. That's what makes you an expert.

And I have this question for high-ranking police officers who think a lowly patrol officer has no idea what's going on. You, sir, in headquarters, what makes you think you're an expert about my job here and now?

When's the last time you patrolled 8 hours? When's the last time you walked the beat at 3am? How do you have any idea what is really going on with police and crime in my post? Who, sir, do you think you are?

That reflects a problem with police departments everywhere (Baltimore under Norris included). Higher ranking officers lose touch with the streets. This isn't personal. It's organizational. If you're trying to reduce crime in my post, why not talk to the patrol officer. Nobody ever does.

I do know a lot about policing. And if you're good at asking questions, you can learn from those who know more than you (that's called research). Would I have known more after 20 years on the force, of course! If you've read my book, I'll take the criticism. I just don't often hear criticism from those who have read my book.

If you've worked the streets 20 or more years and resent me for writing a book about my brief tenure, I got this to say: write your own damn book!


Really. I'd love to read it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Some command officers (and managers in other occupations) seem to think that getting those stripes (or a promotion) indicates that they know more than their subordinates. I have found that this is demonstrably false. They may be good at standardized tests, interviews or ass-kissing, but they don't necessarily know more than "the troops." As for Norris, fuck him. His ego took a beating, with that conviction and all. And, like far too many bureaucrats he is terrified of radical reform. Hopefully, someday soon people like Peter Moskos will be seen as the innovators, and people like former commissioner Norris will be seen as dinosaurs.