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by Peter Moskos

November 30, 2008

Desk Duty

In the New York Times, Christine Hauser writes a very good article about "desk duty" in the NYPD.

"An officer... spent more than 18 months watching surveillance video while authorities investigated an accusation that he had struck a suspect. [He] was eventually cleared of the charge."

In Baltimore they call getting mired in the department discipline process "jackpotting" because it's seen as random and doesn't necessarily have any relation to actually doing anything wrong.

One of the biggest complaints and fears of police officers is seemingly arbitrary discipline and the amount of time it takes to clear innocent officers from bogus charges.

"A real treat"

The latest issue of Drug War Chronicle has an excellent review of Cop in the Hood.

"As revelatory as it is sometimes disturbing.... Engaging, even riveting"

November 17, 2008

St. Louis: Coulda Been a Contender

I'm back from St. Louis. Despite growing up in nearby Chicago, I had never been to St. Louis. In my mind, I was thinking the Baltimore of Midwest: Faded industrial glory, local pride, and the answer to one of my own favorite personal trivia questions: What city of a certain size (at least a couple hundred thousand? or perhaps with a major league sports team?)has lost the greatest percent of it's population?

The answer?

No, not Baltimore.

Not Detroit.

Not Newark.

St. Louise, M.O.

Yes, St. Louis. From 856,796 people in 1950 to 353,837 today. Almost 60% of the population left.

Why? Of course the usual economic and social reasons. But something had to be different about St. Louis to lose most of it's population.

We arrived by train from Chicago. I had St. Louis Union Station mapped out. Silly me thinking that trains actually arrived in the beautiful train station.

Instead Amtrak pulls up next to one of those Amtrak Shacks. Except it was dark and rainy and muddy when we arrived. Sigh.

A bad train station alone does not a deserted city make. The sad part is that St. Louis, which does have some very nice parts, coulda been a contender. The city doomed itself in the 1930s when they tore out the heart of the city. Part of this area would, in the 1960s, because the St. Louis Arch (or more ominously officially called the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial). The Arch, by the way, is beautiful.

I guess destroying your city in the 1930s was cutting edge urban renewal at the time. Most cities didn't tear themselves down till after WWII. In St. Louis, the old courthouse used to be in the center of the city. Now it's almost on the Eastern Edge surrounded by some ugly hotels and office buildings from the past few decades.

The old basilica used to be surrounded with glorious cast-iron buildings. Now it's surrounded by nothing. Why do they do that? What were they thinking? Why do they still do that?

Probably about a whole square mile is gone. And it's the part with history and character. Like Soho in New York. It's gone. All of it. Now there's the Arch area. OK. Fine (though there would be nothing wrong with an arch rising out of real neighborhood). And the rest? Now there's a freeway. And empty spaces. And lots of parking. Too much parking is always a bad sign.

From the arch you can see the huge space that used to be city.

There are just a few buildings in this area left. The buildings that are left look like this. Gorgeous.

What’s left is filled with a predictable blend of mediocre restaurants and sports bars in an attempt to bring nightlife back to the city.

St. Louis could have been the New Orleans of the North. But they torn down their French Quarter. Instead, well imagine New Orleans without the French Quarter. Or, for that matter, good food or music.

I didn't get a chance to see North St. Louis, where that half of the city that fled used to live. But in the brief time we had before our flight out, we were able to take the nice St. Louis Metro to Illinois and back. I wanted to see East St. Louis, even if a classic "slumming tour" just through the window of a light-rail train car.

East St. Louis, Illinois, is perhaps the single most f**ked up city in America (and there is tough competition). They lost their city hall in a lawsuit around 1990. That was their only asset. If you're interested or worried about this kind of thing, you should read Jonathan Kozol on East St. Louis.
Crossing the Mississippi River, you see the casino, the talisman of attempted economic revival:
Then you see how there's just no there, there.
The arch rising in the distance. Yeah, I know it’s not the most subtle use of juxtaposition.

Downtown East St. Louis.

New development.

What the morale? I don't know. Why do we let this happen? And if you think your city is in trouble... just remember, it could always be worse.

[December 10 addition: Just remembered that part of the reason we got on the light rail was to find a place to eat. The employee at the station told us authoritatively: "There are no restaurants in Illinois."]

Good Taser Use

I've said that Tasers are overused and too often lethal. But here is a perfect use--as an alternative to lethal force. Well done, BPD. The Baltimore Sun reports:
Baltimore police use Taser to subdue armed woman

November 17, 2008

Baltimore police used a Taser last night to disable a woman who was wielding a handgun in front of a house in the 200 block of W. Lorraine Ave. in the Remington community, said a Northern District shift commander. Sgt. Michael Hennlein said the woman, who is in her 20s, and a girlfriend were arguing in the house about 9:30 p.m. when the woman fired a shot that shattered a window but missed the other woman. Hennlein said several people in the house ran outdoors, followed by the armed woman. During the incident, someone called police to report a shooting. Hennlein said that when officers arrived, the woman was standing outside, bleeding from cuts caused by broken glass and threatening to shoot herself and others. After officers warned her to drop the gun and she failed to comply, one of the officers fired a Taser, striking the woman in the upper body with 50,000 volts, he said. The woman was taken by ambulance to a hospital for treatment of the lacerations and the effects of the Taser. He said charges were expected to be filed against the woman upon her release from the hospital and that no other injuries were reported.

November 13, 2008

Gone fishing...

In the morning I'm off to Chicago for a memorial for my father at Northwestern University. Then on Friday to St. Louis for the annual American Society of Criminology Conference (and dude, do they know how to party...) I'll be back next week...

November 11, 2008

Let junkies be junkies

Very interesting article by Vince Beiser of Miller-McCune about drug policy in Vancouver (thanks, Louise). It is also fair and balanced. From the article:
Canada’s third-largest city has embarked on a radical experiment: Over the last several years, it has overhauled its police and social services practices to re-frame drug use as primarily a public health issue, not a criminal one. In the process, it has become by far the continent’s most drug-tolerant city, launching an experiment dramatically at odds with the U.S. War on Drugs.
Vancouver has essentially become a gigantic field test, a 2 million-person laboratory for a set of tactics derived from a school of thought known as “harm reduction.” It’s based on a simple premise: No matter how many scare tactics are tried, laws passed or punishments imposed, people are going to get high. ...

Harm reduction is less about compassion than it is about enlightened self-interest. The idea is to give addicts clean needles and mouthpieces not to be nice but so they don’t get HIV or pneumonia from sharing equipment and then become a burden on the public health system. Give them a medically supervised place to shoot up so they don’t overdose and clog up emergency rooms, leaving their infected needles behind on the sidewalk.

Give them methadone — or even heroin — for free so they don’t break into cars and homes to get money for the next fix.
Though Vancouver is cutting the collateral damage caused by hard drugs, the city is making far less progress in reducing the number of users. Surveys report that drug use is higher in British Columbia than in the rest of Canada. A recent poll found that almost half of all Vancouverites consider drugs a major problem in their communities — a figure double that for residents of Canada’s biggest cities, Toronto and Montreal.

With serious drug users come rip-offs, break-ins and holdups for fix money. So it’s no surprise that Vancouver’s property crime and bank robbery rates are higher than most of Canada’s. The city also has more gun-related crimes per capita than any other in the nation, a fact at least one criminologist has linked to the number of substance abusers.

November 10, 2008

Cops and Nurses

I'm not the first to point out that cops and nurses have a lot in common. This is from a nurse/midwife:

I was reading your book today on the train and thinking about cops and nurses. I was a one-woman nurse academy for the last year and it's such a maddening process. I had to teach new nurses:

1) the rules of a system;

2) that nurses don't always follow the rules, they do it another way, but please know the rules; and finally—if the nurses can handle such cognitive dissonance and it doesn't utterly disillusion them:

3) that the system is misguided and broken, and the informal way nurses do it doesn't really benefit laboring women or respect birth either. And that just about everything in the labor room goes against evidence-based practice.

I feel some success when the new nurses start talking about home birth. It's the only sane response to learning about hospital birth at **** (or most NYC hospitals). But then after orientation the nurses have to go out and do the hospital job anyway, which means being asked to fit all patients into the same tight, wrong mold.

I am about halfway through the book. It sounds like nurses have a similar response to cops. There is a lot of dehumanizing of patients, and gallows humor, and gory details over drinks. They get very good at writing reports (documenting in the chart) that fit a certain picture even if not really accurate.

To an extent, nurses have a sisterhood and look out for each other, but there is also quite a bit of undermining and backstabbing (women culture vs men?). And yet it is amazing how often the nurses can still be kind and creative and still see the screaming bleeding whining person in front of them as an individual human needing support.

Public Defenders in Revolt

"Public defenders’ offices in at least seven states are refusing to take on new cases or have sued to limit them, citing overwhelming workloads that they say undermine the constitutional right to counsel for the poor." Read the whole story here.

From the Brass

Colonel (Ret.) Margaret Patton is the highest ranking woman in the Baltimore City Police Department. Back in 2000, when I was a cop, she was in charge of the Northern District. I don’t think we ever met, but I knew her by reputation, and it was good.

A few months ago, when I was having an exchange with retired police who refused to read my book on principle (apparently, for some, ignorance is not a problem but a principle). Out of the blue, Colonel Patton wrote to tell me what she thought. Let me tell you, I may be a slouched-over academic now, but when I get a letter from a colonel, I sit up straight and at attention, ma'am!

But she put me at ease. She thought it was unfair for people--people she knew and respected--to criticize me for a book they wouldn’t read. She resolved to buy my book, read my book, and let me know what she thought. I already had respect for Colonel Patton as a police officer; I quickly gained respect for Maggie (as she insists I address her) as a person.

Months passed. I thought perhaps she hasn’t written because she had nothing nice to say. A few days ago I sent her a note asking if she had finished my book and again asking for her thoughts. Here is her reply (reprinted with permission):
Hi Peter,

Yes, I certainly did finish your book and enjoyed it very much. I would have sent my "critique" back to you but I thought you were only being nice. I always consider it a privilege to be asked to comment on someone's work. I pulled your book off my shelf and realized that I had even taken notes while reading it.

Let me first say that I think that the book should be made mandatory reading for every recruit in the Balto. City Police Academy. I would love to be in the classroom listening to the conversations and debates sparked by your experiences. I believe that this dialogue would help to lessen the feelings that nothing of substance is taught or learned while in the academy. The command staff would certainly learn much by reading
Cop In The Hood because command does forget a lot with each rank they achieve. Granted, they learn a lot with each experience of rank but much is forgotten.

You mentioned that stats should be maintained for recovered drugs and not just for drug-related arrests. I couldn't agree more and I'm sure that the Lab would have these stats but I have never seen them used for tactical purposes. It would give the city a better understanding of how prolific drugs are and it would help in providing necessary funding for treatment beds and enforcement.

On pages 108 and 109 you discussed the problem with the dispatch of calls for service including foot patrol and rapid response. You are just so on the mark with these observations.

I am so sorry that you didn't have the opportunity to work for Major Lewandowski. He was way beyond everyone in his thinking. He took the "good police" out of their cars and put the inexperienced and lazy ones in the cars. This, of course, was met with resistance because everyone wanted a car. He would sit by the computer and re-assign calls for service putting some on hold because of more serious calls waiting. You can just imagine how the dispatchers felt about this. He ran into much resistance because the system was not set up for this type of strategy. His dream was for officers to be provided with real time crime information at roll call - now it can be done. You two would have made a fantastic team!
If I had been your editor I would have liked to have seen you personalize your story more, maybe even bordering on an autobiography. ... BUT, your book as written, is perfect for the academy.

It would have been interesting to read about your parents and your upbringing. Why did you decide to become a sociologist and why did you decide to go to Harvard? Did your girlfriend think that she was getting involved with an academic and then you went off to become a police or did she think that she was getting involved with a police who then turned into an academic. How do your students react to you as a former police?

You are interesting because of the decisions you made and it would be interesting to see how you were influenced along the way to make these decisions (as a child, young adult, student, police trainee, police and now professor). The book could be titled
Professor Outside The Hood.
If the present police commissioner was smart, he would bring you down to run the police academy although I am sure it would be a step down for you. Your insight into the drug world and law enforcement is outstanding and I hope that this is not the last book you write.
Again, I enjoyed your book and I am so proud that you were a Baltimore Police Officer and a good one.

Personally, I would love to hear conversation and debate in the police academy on any subject. But, alas, that's not the role the academy plays.

When I was there, I offered to lecture to my class during any of the many downtime hours that filled those 6 months. I thought why not? So much time was spend doing nothing. And I've lectured on crime and deviance at Harvard. If nothing else it would relieve my boredom. But nobody took me up on the offer.

I could never figure out why so much time is spent "learning" how to write reports in a classroom when that kind of knowledge can be learned so quickly on the street.

I think 911 and the police car are the two biggest obstacle to real positive change in any police department. I was talking about foot patrol in my class last week and one of the N.Y. police officers said, "It will never happen!" And this the day after a black man was elected president of the United States.

November 6, 2008

Massachusetts deals with decriminalized marijuana

While the California prison guards helped defeat Prop. 5, stoners nationwide are lighting up splifs in celebration of their marijuana victories: Michigan became the first state in the Midwest to pass a medical marijuana measure. More significantly, Massachusetts passed a referendum decriminalizing possession of less than a ounce of marijuana. Possession will be a civil fine of $100. That's good (though it won't do anything to reduce drug-prohibition-related violence).

Amazingly, despite the opposition of the governor, most politicians, and all of law enforcement, the referendum was supported by 65% of voters.

Arlington Chief Frederick Ryan was stupid enough to admit that without crazy harsh penalties for marijuana, it will be harder to get people to work as police snitches. Why is Chief Ryan stupid? Because he just admitted something that is almost assuredly against his own department's regulations and perhaps illegal and unconstitutional, to boot. You see, you can't tell people to work undercover for the police and if they don't, you'll through them in jail. Of course that's what happens all the time, but it's not allowed.

Everybody knows snitches work for the police to save their own hide and shouldn't be trusted, but you're not allowed to officially offer them a quid pro quo. In theory, and legally, all confidential informants work voluntarily because they want to do the right thing.

Frank Pasquerello, a spokesman for the Cambridge Police Department, wondered whether officers will have to start carrying scales. Uh, Frank? No.

Chelsea Chief Brian Kyes, more of a thinking man, wonders what this will mean for issues of probable cause. That's a good question. I'd like to know the answer.

Boston commissioner Edward F. Davis seems to have a good head on his shoulders. He said the law should not be harder to enforce than others on the books: "I'm disappointed that it went through... but I don't think the sky is falling by any stretch of the imagination."

The whole story by David Abel of the Globe is here.

November 4, 2008


I won't rub it in to all my Republican friends, but the real America has spoken (and just once, for the record, I did tell you so).

While it may not be related to the Cubs, yet again, not winning the World Series, it does give me very good reason to fly the Cubs 'W' flag of victory from my front porch. Here's to America and what is for very good reason, the envy of much of the world: a democratic and peaceful transition of power.

And if you're still feeling shitty (I remember how I felt 4 and 8 years ago), there's always The Onion and this Onion story,too.