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by Peter Moskos

December 31, 2009

Being a professor is a better job

"Most days I don't miss being a cop; being a professor is a better job." And so begins the thrilling story of Cop in the Hood.

Providing further evidence in support of this hypothesis, I'll be on vacation for the next three weeks in Thailand and Bali.

Happy New Year!

And of all nights to stay safe, tonight is the big one. Please don't get hit by any bullets, falling or otherwise.

December 30, 2009

And now you know... the rest of the story!

Fatal stabbing suspect Cyan Brown, 16, was the aggressor in Christmas Eve New York subway fracas, police say.

This happened in an area I go through a lot. The original reports said: poor girl "fondled" by group of bad men and stabbed one in self defense. The cop in me knew that wasn't the whole story (when will reporters ever learn?). The truth is never (or almost never) that simple. Now the real story seems to be coming out.

The account in the New York Daily News.

December 29, 2009

Murders down again in NYC

Illustrating once again that crime and the economy are not inherently linked. The story in the New York Times.

Taser shock in the courts!

The 9th U.S. Court of Appeals (never known for its pro-police views) to be precise.

This perhaps landmark decision has been called, "The clearest and most complete statements yet from an appellate court about the limits of Taser use."

From the story by Hudson Sangree and Kim Minugh in the Sacramento Bee.
In the summer of 2005, Carl Bryan, 21, was pulled over for a seat-belt violation and did not follow an officer's order to stay in the car.
During his second traffic stop in Coronado, he got out of the car. He was "agitated … yelling gibberish and hitting his thighs, clad only in his boxer shorts and tennis shoes" but did not threaten the officer verbally or physically, the judges wrote.

That's when Coronado Police Officer Brian McPherson, who was standing about 20 feet away watching Bryan's "bizarre tantrum," fired his Taser, the court said.

Without a word of warning, he hit Bryan in the arm with two metal darts, delivering a 1,200-volt jolt.

Temporarily paralyzed and in intense pain, Bryan fell face-first on the pavement. The fall shattered four of his front teeth and left him with facial abrasions and swelling. Later, a doctor had to use a scalpel to remove one of the darts.
McPherson could have waited for backup or tried to talk the man down, the judges said. If Bryan was mentally ill, as the officer contended, then there was even more reason to use "less intrusive means," the judges said.

"Officer McPherson's desire to quickly and decisively end an unusual and tense situation is understandable," Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the court. "His chosen method for doing so violated Bryan's constitutional right to be free from excessive force."

The court decision is here.

I think it's a very good decision, but I wish they had done so without hanging the officer out to dry. McPherson could end up in jail and lose his home. That's not right.

The court wrote:

If an officer’s use of force was “premised on a reasonable belief that such force was lawful,” the officer will be granted immunity from suit, notwithstanding the fact excessive force was deployed.
A reasonable officer in these circumstances would have known that it was unreasonable to deploy intermediate force.
Where an officer’s conduct so clearly offends an individual’s constitutional rights, we do not need to find closely analogous case law to show that a right is clearly established.
No reasonable officer confronting a situation where the need for force is at its lowest—where the target is a nonviolent, stationary misdemeanant twenty feet away—would have concluded that deploying intermediate force without warning was justified. We thus hold that Officer McPherson’s use of significant force in these circumstances does not constitute a “reasonable mistake” of either fact or law. ... Officer McPherson is therefore not entitled to qualified immunity for his use of the Taser X26 against Bryan.


How can the court say that "no reasonable officer" would conclude that force was justified? I’m reasonable (and against such Taser use) and I think what he did, prior to this decision, was legal! Given all the tasering incidents going on, it seems pretty obvious that many if not most officers would do exactly what McPherson did. Using a Taser in compliance situations has become standard operating procedure. That's what needs to change. This is a problem of policy and training, not one sadistic cop!

December 28, 2009

Terror Suspect

So what's the lesson with this guy? Seriously.

It's damn hard to stop people from doing harm if they're willing to kill themselves... but that's no real answer.

Here's one of many stories.

[poor Nigeria, their rep was bad enough with simply internet scams!]

[update:] Maybe it's this, from David Brooks' column in the New York Times.
At some point, it’s worth pointing out that it wasn’t the centralized system that stopped terrorism in this instance. As with the shoe bomber, as with the plane that went down in Shanksville, Pa., it was decentralized citizen action. The plot was foiled by nonexpert civilians who had the advantage of the concrete information right in front of them — and the spirit to take the initiative.

For better or worse, over the past 50 years we have concentrated authority in centralized agencies and reduced the role of decentralized citizen action.

December 26, 2009

Tooting Other People's Horns

Two of the best police books out there are little read. Too little read.

And top-quality and much more action packed than my book.

I've written about both these books before, but it can't hurt writing about them again.

Beyond Hope? by Michael East is about policing in Saginaw, Michigan. Unless you live in Saginaw, you probably won't find it in book stores, but you can buy it here. Beyond Hope? is one of those few books written by an active police officer under his real name. But East doesn't pull any punches.

The other is another book about the Eastern District. But his experience was very different from mine. Badges, Bullets, & Bars by Danny Shanahan.

They're both great books. I haven't met either of the authors. But both know more about policing than I do. And they write well. What more could you ask for?

Calls for Drug Legalization in Mexico

From the Wall Street Journal:
Growing numbers of Mexican and U.S. officials say—at least privately—that the biggest step in hurting the business operations of Mexican cartels would be simply to legalize their main product: marijuana. Long the world's most popular illegal drug, marijuana accounts for more than half the revenues of Mexican cartels.

"Economically, there is no argument or solution other than legalization, at least of marijuana," said the top Mexican official matter-of-factly. The official said such a move would likely shift marijuana production entirely to places like California, where the drug can be grown more efficiently and closer to consumers. "Mexico's objective should be to make the U.S. self-sufficient in marijuana," he added with a grin.

He is not alone in his views. Earlier this year, three former Latin American presidents known for their free-market and conservative credentials--Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, Cesar Gaviria of Colombia and Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil--said governments should seriously consider legalizing marijuana as an effective tool against murderous drug gangs.

December 24, 2009

Ethnography Bashing

I don't mind a mixed review of my book (Contemporary Sociology), but it does bother me when a reviewer calls my participant-observation research a "major flaw." It's like a man who doesn't like olive oil, fish, and lamb bashing a Greek restaurant for being too "Mediterranean." If you don't like the concept, don't review it.

Basically, goes the tired old sociological argument, because I was a cop, I can't see police objectively. This is called "going native." Like all sociology majors, I learned this in college (in my case as a Princeton sophomore in Professor Howard Taylor's most excellent "Introductory Research Methods in African American Studies"--the class that made me a sociologist!).

While going native certainly is a possibility. Given the sum of my book and writing, to say I did so is a bit absurd.

The reviewer writes:
This raises the possibility that [Moskos] was not privy to some of the more sensitive issues and events that may have happened. He states categorically that he witnessed no instances of illegal police behavior while on the Baltimore Police Department which suggests that he failed to encounter them either because he was shielded from such events or he did not define them as illegal because he had adopted the police view that such activities were necessary to get the job done.
Actually, I stated categorically I saw no instances of police corruption. I wrote a bit about illegal behavior: "High-arrest officers push the boundaries of consent searches and turn pickets inside-out. Illegal (and legal) searches are almost always motivated by a desire to find drugs." So much for a thorough reading.

I did write this (p. 78):
I policed what is arguably the worst shift in the worst district in Baltimore and saw no police corruption. ... Incidents do happen, but the police culture is not corrupt. Though overall police integrity is very high, some will never be convinced. But out of personal virtue, internal investigation stings, or monetary calculations, the majority--the vast majority--of police officers are clean.
Sometimes reality causes cognitive dissonance to people with strong prejudices. I guess the idea that most cops are clean (cleaner than professors, I like to add) is just too shocking for some in academe. Rather than face up to one's own anti-police biases, I guess it's easier just to bash ethnography.

The snowball heard round the web

Everybody is talking about it...

...so here's my two-cents:

For a cop, having a gun out isn't such a big deal. Pointing a gun at someone is a big deal. Waving it around would be a big deal (and would also show a lack of professional training). I understand others may see any display of a gun as a shocking development. But this is D.C. and this is a police officer. The streets are dangerous.

Simply having your gun out means there's a threat. Having your hand on your holster means there might be a threat. This officer has lived through a lot of threats and I don't begrudge him for feeling threatened by a large crowd. And from what I can tell he holstered up pretty quickly.

To me the question is why the guy got out his Hummer in the first place? That's the mistake. He could have just kept on driving.

[Though I should point out, because I haven't heard anyone else do so, that all the uniformed officers handled the scene very well.]

When you're in your vehicle, snowballs are not a threat to anything but your manhood. The only potential threat to the officer was created by the officer when he made a choice to exit his vehicle to initiate a useless confrontation with a large group of people. Christ, if you feel so threatened while driving your Hummer, what's the point of owning a Hummer in the first place!?

It's not new, but is it fair?

I wasn't even going to link to this story because I don't want to repeat myself more than necessary.

Here's the point: black New Yorkers are seven times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. For a moment, let's put aside the actually story (not that we should). For the sake of debate, let's accept the seven times figure (as we should). Let's also accept that whites smoke just as much weed as blacks (that's also true). Let's ignore that fact (not that we should) that these arrests happen even though personal marijuana possession in New York State is decriminalized. And let's also not concern ourselves with the cost of $53 million to $88 million annually for these arrests. Let's not worry that these arrests may play an important part in a general "broken windows" approach to crime prevention. And finally, let's assume that everybody arrested is guilty as charged.

Here's my question: Does it matter that blacks are seven times more likely than whites to get caught for this drug crime? Perhaps not. I mean, all you have to do to not be arrested in not commit a crime, right?

Is simple guilt all that is needed to give moral justification to our criminal justice system? Remember, this seven-times discrepancy is not due to the facts that blacks are more likely to commit this drug crime. We're just talking about the odds of getting caught.

I mean, what if cops only gave traffic tickets to women. Women who speed and run red lights. But what if basically men were given a pass when it comes to traffic violations. Does it matter? Would this be fair? Perhaps.... since all the tickets were given to guilty women. But for traffic enforcement to be fair, shouldn't men get tickets, too?

At some level, I think the very notion of justice--at least justice with any moral legitimacy--depends on the idea that everybody has an equal (or at least somewhat equal) chance of getting caught.

What do you think?

December 23, 2009

Stocking stuffers of the century!

And the century has just barely begun.

How come nobody is buying Cop in the Hood for Christmas? My Amazon sales rank is rapidly approaching infinity. Not good. Last I checked, more than 200,000 book were selling better than my book. That's a lot of books being bought that aren't mine.

I can't think of a better present in the holiday spirit than a scintillating story of blood, drugs, and arrest discretion!

Oh wait, I can. There's Forking Fantastic, the best cookbook ever. It's even got a recipe by me (though that's not what makes it the best cookbook ever).

Two great last-minute Christmas presents. You can still get them shipped in time for Christmas. Or go to your local bookstore. I'm just sayin'...

December 22, 2009

They are most definitely not playing

Only hours after the grieving family had finished burying [Ensign Melquisedet Angulo Córdova, a Special Forces sailor killed last week during the government’s most successful raid on a top drug lord in years] in his hometown, gunmen burst into the family’s house and sprayed the rooms with gunfire, killing his mother and three other relatives, officials said Tuesday.
More violence. More victory!

The story by Elisabeth Malkin in the New York Times.

December 21, 2009

Read it for the writing (don't peek at the pictures!)

"A pre-Christmas 2003 "Code Orange" terror alert that had police standing guard in heavy assault gear on the streets of Manhattan was the result of a scam by a man named Dennis Montgomery." From Playboy.

CopCams in San Jose

To record interactions with the public. The story in the Mercury News.

Check out my dope suspenders!

I know you think it's cool to be chillin' with your pants hanging low, but funny things happen when your pants don't stay up. For one, if you're running and I'm chasing you and you've got one hand holding your pants up, I will actually catch you. Two, if you're like Hector Quinones of the Bronx and kill three people and wound one more, you've got problems. "A fifth relative managed to escape only when Mr. Quinones lost his balance after his pants had fallen down." Next thing you know, the po-po are coming and you make to leave out the window and fall to your death.

The story by Michael Schmidt in the New York Times.

December 19, 2009


Problems in Baltimore Internal Affairs? I'm shocked. Shocked!

Neither, I suppose, is Justin Fenton. Here is his story in the Sun.

Remember the whole Staples affair from my era? "Stolen" confidential police files that then showed up in a Dunkin Donuts dumpster? You can't make this stuff up.

And you wonder why cops don't trust the system...

Ayers killing "justified"

Indeed, you read it here first (many thanks to my anonymous tipster).

Here's the story by Stephen Gurr in the Gainesville Times.

Of course regardless of this decision and any lack of criminal conviction, the Ayers' family will get a lot of money in some civil case. But no amount of money will bring Jonathan Ayers back. The whole situation--up to and including the shooting death of Ayers--this was bad policing.

December 18, 2009

The killing of Jonathan Ayers judged "good"

I have just received word over the virtual transom (as of yet still unconfirmed word [update: now confirmed]) that this morning the grand jury decided not to bring criminal charges against the officers who killed Jonathan Ayers.

I would have loved to have heard the facts as they were presented because knowing what I do know, the police-involved shooting seems very wrong. Certainly wrong enough to let a jury decide.

If this is true, the officers had best be buying a very sympathetic prosecutor a nice Christmas present since, as the saying goes, you can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.

Here's a no brainer: Clean needles

Clean needles save lives. Clean needles make policing less dangerous because 1) it limits the spread of HIV and and hepatitis, and 2) which would you prefer to get stuck with? So logically, police are big supports of clean needles and needle exchange (oh, wait, I just made that last part up).

There have been countless studies on the matter. There's really no doubt that giving out clean needles saves lives and does not increase drug use. So the feds have finally repealed a 21-year-old ban on federal funds going to clean needle programs.

Here's the story in the S.F. Chronicle.
Robert Martinez, chief of drug policy under President George H.W. Bush, said government funding for clean needles "undercuts the credibility of society's message that drug use is illegal and morally wrong."
If only I could get a clean needle, I'd shoot up my Christmas smack!

Ohhh, that makes me so mad. Nothing like death to send the right message. Nothing like bastard political flunkies preaching about morality. Nothing like admitted illegal drug use from the past three presidents to send the right message.

December 17, 2009

Handcuffed man gets tased, dies

Despite my strong opposition to the taser as a compliance tool (I much prefer old-fashioned force), this is a tricky case because the guy was handcuffed. He got squirrelly and started fighting.

[Hey, once I was rolling on the ground with a handcuffed man. What could I do? He already had his hands tied behind his back and I still couldn't get him back under control.]

If you strike a handcuffed man, you're begging for a lawsuit and assumptions of police brutality. That's why departments love tasers. It makes it seem more legit. But if they just hit the guy, he's still be alive. Damned if you do. Damned if you don't.

Murder is Good

Sgt T sent me this, related to the previous post: "Metro Atlanta may get a little bloodier. Call it a sign of success."
They use a bastard version the same retarded thought process here in the states. Early last year the head fed in Atlanta was crowing about how their success in the war on drugs was driving up street violence. To which we could only offer a hearty, "Thanks for the help, assholes!' Ten years in patrol and I can count one hand, with fingers left over, how many times the feds were willing to help on a major case. But, as we used to say, some people just investigate for a living and some people actually police.

"The rising death toll is a sign the drug gangs are weakening"

Of coooourse.
Washington says the rising death toll is a sign the drug gangs are weakening under President Calderon's military crackdown, which has seen some 49,000 extra troops deploy across Mexico.
You see the rising death toll in Mexico is always a sign that the drug gangs are weakening because, well, when the gangs are weak, they lash and kill lots of people. And when the gangs are strong, then they don't kill anybody. So we want to attack the drug gangs so they become weak and kill more more people, which is how how we know we're winning the war on drugs. Or something like that.

Logic like that makes my head hurt.

I do know we're not winning the drug war. In Mexico 14,000 people have died in drug-prohibition violence in the past four years. You know, ever since President Calderon started his military crackdown to win the war on drugs. And they must be winning, because a whole lot of people are getting killed.

Anyway, one of Mexico's bad guys, a most wanted, a "boss of bosses," he was killed by the good guys. Another stirring victory. Keep up the good work. Drive safely. Sleep well. Tip your waitstaff. War is Peace! Ignorance is Strength!

And there's another sure sign the drug gangs are weakening:
Separately, the severed heads of six policemen were found near a church in the north of the country, police said.

[Update: And more about prohibition murder in Mexico, if you needed it.]

December 16, 2009

Five years in jail before trial

And then you're found not-guilty. After being behind bars for five years.

Now granted, as the guy's lawyer says, "Ikoli was carrying an unloaded gun" and "there's an awful lot to not like about what he did." But he was not guilty of murder and acquitted by a jury. His friend, who he was with, plead guilty at the start of the trial and is serving a six-year sentence. So I guess he'll get out any day.

Innocent or guilty, good or bad, there is no excuse for a trial to take five years to get started. What ever happened to the 6th Amendment's right to a speedy trial?

The story in the Daily News.

You know what would make me really happy? Is if, five years from now, he isn't with his friend in prison.

Cops shoot bad guys with guns

Mostly I just like the headline.

But as usual, Peter Hermann has interesting things to say. Particularly about suspended sentences. That's the crazy concept where you do a crime, get caught, get convicted, get sentenced, and then don't serve time. Not even in theory.
Guest, when was 15, he shot another youth in the head and pleaded guilty, but spent just under five years in prison. Guest [now 32] died later at a hospital [after being shot by police].

Guest had a convoluted series of prison stints. In 1994, a judge delayed imposing a 13 year sentence for the murder and instead put him away for three years for a handgun violation to give him a break. He served one year for the gun but in 1999 he got arrested on a drug distribution charge. Another judge then reimposed the 13 year sentence for the killing and folded an 8 year term for the drugs into that. The judge suspended four years, meaning Guest's total sentence was nine years. He got out after serving 4 and a half years because of credits earned while incarcerated. Later, he got sentenced to another three years on a drug conviction but was out in one.

December 15, 2009


I'm not too hard to reach. But if you're going to prank call me, please be sober enough so I can understand you!

The only really strange thing is that the caller ID comes back as a not-in-service number: (212) 237-2546. I'm not quite certain how you do that...

Here's the transcription, best I figure out:
Caller: [garbled] Please leave a message. Peter Mosko was never a police officer. He was a homo to begin with. All right. Poisoning the minds of little students over at John Jay.

Probably slobbers his bosses' knob for police [?].

But does he think that equal rights for gay because [garbled] can do it, too [unintelligable].

Fucking butthead.
Of course my wife's first thought was that it was one of my friends from Baltimore, but she noticed this sounded a little creepier. And his voice is strangely deep, which makes me think he's altering it.

Oh, he just called back from a different (718) number. I answered and talked to him a bit. He insisted it's nothing personal (uh, really?).

He claims he read my book (doubtful) and implied he had been a student of mine (no way). But in the end said I wasn't such a bad teacher.

Seems like he's just your average run-of-the-mill racist (he calls himself a "realist") idiot who doesn't like liberals or professors at John Jay. Particularly those who say that "Black people are never wrong and all that liberal-biased bullshit." It seems he has a particular problem with me and one other professor mentioned by name at John Jay.

You know, I had a listed phone number as a cop in Baltimore (not many people knew this) and never got a strange or prank phone call. But write one lousy book...

December 14, 2009

Prisons of Our Own Making

Crediting prisons and not mentioning police for the crime drop is a bit misguided, but there are still some very good points in Ross Douthat's New York Times column.

December 12, 2009

Pay police more?

Stilgar, in a comment, raises some excellent questions:
Claims about the quality of pay are irrelevant without context. Rather than shout past each other, it might be worthwhile to ask:

1. Based on the backgrounds of the cops you have worked with, would you say that many of them were well-paid in policing compared to what they could have made in other jobs?

2. If you believe that police should be well-paid, it makes sense that a lot of people will be paid less than cops. Who? Mental hospital orderlies don't get shot at, but they do get spat on and attacked as much as many cops, and they have to spend time looking up junkies' asses. Most of them also don't have sweet pension plans. That, of course, is just one of many possible examples.

3. Peter, in your book you try to demythologize police work: pointing out that most cops don't get shot at, that the job is usually boring, and that the majority of people of average intelligence, temperament and physical ability can do the job competently. Given that you don't seem to think policing requires specialized skills or extensive previous education, why should cops be paid more? (I know you haven't made that point in this conversation, but it's your blog, I figure I should make a question just for you- though others are certainly welcome to answer).

4. Okay, another in response to something Peter has said. You've written that you believe cops should be paid better in order to attract better candidates. But given the budget situation in most American cities, the fact that most people here will argue that most current cops do their jobs just fine, and the law of diminishing returns, isn't this throwing money down a hole?
I have thoughts but really need to grade papers. In the meantime, I'm curious what others have to say. What do you think?

December 11, 2009

Balto City and Police reach tentative deal

It includes 5 days of furlough and 2 more days of paid vacation. I would have liked that. I suspect most police do not.

Comp time (at 1.5 : 1) instead of overtime for court? The number of arrests will plummet!

Given that most police want to work more hours, not fewer, and this contract is designed to give police less money, it won't go over well.

One nice change is the "officers will no longer be forced to work six-day weeks." Six on and two off was just about the worst conceivable way to work 40 hours/week. What's the new system?

And a Kansas City police-involved shooting

Also good police work.

Good (but not for tourism)

Here's to Sgt Kelly and his good Times Square shooting!

The man was carrying a card that said: "I feel sorry for a cop if he think I’m getting into his paddy wagon.”

December 8, 2009


It's not unusually for to hear people lie in court. What is unusual is for somebody to be charged for it. Of course in this case it took an innocent man going to prison for a rape that wasn't.

Would be 10 years now...

December 6, 1999, was my official D.O.E. in the Baltimore Police Department (even though I was already two-months into an academy class). Had I stayed on the job, I would now have ten years on, with ten more to go.

December 7, 2009

Just Get New Fingers

The problems with security that used biometric data (like fingerprints) are 1) we have too much faith in it, and 2) it doesn't "fail" well.

If you lose your driver's license, you get a new one. What do you do if somebody steals your fingerprint?

Here's a case from Japan of fingerprint alteration.

December 5, 2009

In Memory of Marcellus Ward

Ward was killed 25 years ago. His assassination and last dying breaths were caught on tape and haunted the memory of many Baltimore police officers, some of whom I worked with.

At a memorial, held where Ward was killed, Commissioner Bealefeld said that it is "not for us to judge the results of his sacrifice." And certainly a memorial to a slain officer is not the time and place for that.

But at some point we need to ask. Why are we risking our lives? What are we getting in return? If we don't ask these questions, more good men and women will die.

The block Ward give his life to protect has long since died. Like too much of Baltimore, it's vacant, boarded up, and abandoned. Here's the 1800 block of Frederick, odd side. Ward was killed upstairs in the Formstone house in the center with the potential window display:

By risking his life to protect others, Ward died a hero. That I do not doubt or forget. But it's hard to imagine that Baltimore or Frederick Avenue would be any worse off today if Ward had simply called in sick that day. And the world would certainly be a better place if Ward and other officers killed in the drug war were still with us. I've said this before (to the consternation of some). I don't want to see any other officers killed for a war we are not winning and cannot win.

When I put my life on the line every night for the men and women of the Eastern, I would often think about the fallen officers pictured on the walls. Ward always stood out for some reason. (I'm not making it up that his picture hangs in the Eastern, am I?) From what I heard he was a good guy. And from his picture, he just seemed more human than most other cops pictured.

Police Commissioner Bealefeld is a good man and the best commissioner Baltimore City has seen in a long while, certainly better than the previous five commissioners (I'll only vouch for worse commissioners as far back to and including Frazier). Maybe Bealefeld even gets it when he talks about the war on drugs and the "seemingly impossible task" of winning it? Who knows. But the war isn't his to call off.

Here is Peter Hermann's take and his story in the Sun with the sad headline: "At memorial, a new vow to wage war on drugs."

Uh, you don't have to go home but you can't stay here?

"Party is over, guys...."

Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to invite the neighborhood drug dealers to your place to watch the game.

The guests staying for three days, sold drugs out of his living room, and bound and tortured the guy by pouring boiling water and pennies over his naked body.

Boiling pennies?! Where do they think of these things?

December 4, 2009


From the Washington Post:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Nov. 26 article in the District edition of Local Living incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number.

December 2, 2009

In Defense of Huckabee

I like his Moxie. Seriously:
“If he were a white kid from an upper middle class family he would have gotten a lawyer and some counseling,” Huckabee said. “But because he was a young black kid he got 108 years.”

Huckabee said the sentence was “far disproportionate from any other punishment in Arkansas at the time for a similar crime.”

December 1, 2009

Maurice Clemmons shot dead

Good shooting. Good riddance. Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper has a good analysis:
Clemmons, nursing a two-day old bullet wound to the stomach, having killed four cops already and facing at least life in prison, frantically searching for a way out of the state if not the country, and packing one of the dead officers' sidearms, would have beyond a shadow of doubt murdered again. There and then.

He was denied that chance. Whether Clemmons was seeking cover to pull the gun and fire, or about to flee, the officer did precisely the right thing. It was not a "cold-blooded murder," as at least one reader has asserted. It was a courageous and necessary act.

Mayor Dixon Convicted of One Misdemeanor

She was acquitted of more serious charges. The jury deliberated 7 days.

A bunch of stories in the Sun.

"Dupe" badges

Seems like everybody in the NYPD is doing it.

And so what? The whole concept is strange to this former Baltimore police officer. So is the language.

I had three real badges when I was cop. They give you one, for your shirt or jacket. You need to pay for others. One other you need, for the wallet. I also got one more, one suitable for framing, a so-called plaque badge. The wallet badge is also a plaque badge (flat) with the pins cut and filed off. When I quit, I turned one of them in. You do the math.

But cops know that the badge isn't the big deal. It's the "credentials" that matter. I had but one of those. And I turned it in like a good boy.

November 30, 2009

"This is the day I've been dreading for a long time"

And it's the fault of the Republicans!

Imagine the conservative anger if Maurice Clemmons--armed robber, child rapist, messianic apocalypse believer, bad neighbor, and now cop killer--had been been granted clemency by some Democratic governor! Some criminal-loving cop-hating commie Democrat politician.

Maybe with proper mental health care this never would have happened. Clemmons is clearly a guy who needed to be confined in a prison or mental hospital. And maybe if it weren't for some of the other 2.3 million people behind bars (like the drug offenders), Clemmons would still be incarcerated.

Regardless, I'm happy that the governor who commuted his lengthy prison sentence "over the protests of prosecutors" is a Republican. Do I think Mike Huckabee is personally at fault? No. At least no more than Michael Dukakis was to blame for Willie Horton.

Had Huckabee been a Democrat, Republicans would be having a field day going after him. Would a Democrat have done something differently and prevented many horrible crimes? No. But at least now I don't have to listen to some dumbass Republicans blaming Democrats for these cops' deaths.

[update: Huckabee is getting plenty of heat for this.]

November 29, 2009

Support for legal marijuana growing

Or so says the Washington Post.

"Seriously," said Bruce Merkin, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group based in the District, "there is a reason you don't have Mexican beer cartels planting fields of hops in the California forests."

Four Police Officers Killed in Ambush

Holy Sh*t! Talk about an unwelcome back to the ol' US of A.

Guns, folks. Guns matter. I wonder if four police officers have ever been shot and killed in England. Ever. There was one police funeral in England when I was there, just two days ago. An officer who was killed when a flood-weakened bridge collapsed on him.

November 28, 2009

Holiday (Criminal) Spirit

The Christmas crime season is the US begins. This story from the NY Daily News. [November 30 Update] And the Chicago Sun Times. Street crime really does up before Christmas. Keep that in mind.

I'm in a pub in York, UK, right now. Leeds, where I'm staying, and where David Simon said he might have set The Wire if he set it in the UK, has maybe 3 or 4 homicides a year (or so I was told). Population 440,000. Baltimore, population 630,000 has more than 200.

In answer to one burning question here in the UK: Are parts of the cities becoming "like The Wire"?


Baltimore (and most American cities) have more killings than the entire United Kingdom. Amazing how they manage to fend off all the anti-social drunks here without firearms. Somehow they manage.

November 26, 2009

'Ello Leeds!

Happy Thanksgiving.

No holiday here in England. I'm here in Leeds for a conference on The Wire. Good stuff. I gave a speech this morning. Now it's the evening and I'm hankering for a pint.

November 18, 2009

Just because you're paranoid...

...doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

The FBI spent 45 years keeping files on Chicago writer and journalist Studs Terkel. And to think this agent provocateur went unwatched for the last 18 years of his life!

More applicants, fewer jobs in the NYPD

The story by Michael Schmidt in the New York Times.

Police Officer Uses Taser On 10-Year-Old Girl

As a reader pointed out: "She was just too big and tough, I guess."

My point (again) isn't that cops violated their rules. It's that the rules are wrong!

Update November 19: The officer involved has been suspended for seven days (with pay, mind you). This is an example of the worst functionings in a police department.

If policy is policy, why punish the officer who executes the policy? Because the brass is trying to cover theirs by putting his out to dry. In this case they banged the officer not for using the taser but for not having a video camera attached when he did. Now I'm no taser expert, but that seems like a B.S. reason if I've ever heard one. But if they want to get you, they can.

November 14, 2009

Political Correctness Kills?


My buddy Ron Smith has a column with the headline: "Fort Hood massacre shows how political correctness can kill." (just for record, columnists don't write headlines.)

I'm not a fan of political correctness (though I like being polite) and don't consider myself very politically correct (though I try and be considerate). But I'm pretty certain that political correctness does not kill.

Just because shooter Major Nidal Hasan expressed some things that are now seen as warnings and just because he's Muslim... does that mean these signs were ignored because of "political correctness"? I don't think so. More likely nobody did anything because, I don't know, how can you know and what are you going to do?

If you're a cop reading this, ask yourself this: how many of the cops that you work with are, to some kind of scary degree, crazy? I don't know how you define crazy, it's entirely up to you. But perhaps you can use this definition: If you heard that he flipped (and I'm assuming it's a guy) and shot somebody--maybe an ex girlfriend or complete stranger or themselves--if you heard this would you think, "I guess that wasn't a complete surprise." How many of these people do you know? I'll bet it's more than one.

So what have you done with that information? Called 911? Told internal affairs? Of course not. You talk to your friends to make sure you're not the only one who thinks this. I mean, you want to make sure he's crazy and you're not, right?

You talk about it. You laugh about it. And then you do nothing. You do nothing not because you're afraid of liberals and the ACLU or the politically correct police. Since when did you care about these groups? You don't do anything because, well, who the f*ck knows?! There are lots of crazy people. Some of cops and some are soldiers. But most take the their meds and even more manage just fine.

And every now and then one does flip. And in hindsight the "signs" often seem clear. But now, for the first time in America, one of these crazy mass-murdering shooters is Muslim. And now people think that if only we're weren't so worried about offending Muslim, this would have been stopped? Since when we were so worried about offending Muslim?

Did officers mishandle this call?


And Peter Hermaan, a very good reporter, should really learn his 10-codes.

Here's the story.

The dispatch said she was notifying the Eastern, where the car was headed. The Southeast cannot drive around and look for a car at a location long since gone.

Marine reservist attacks Greek priest

Why? Because marine reservist Jasen Bruce said he "looked like a terrorist." He doesn't. He looks like a Greek priest.

Why? Because Bruce said he tried to rob him. He didn't. He's a priest.

Why? Because the man yelled "Allahu Akbar." He didn't. He's a priest.

Why? Because the man grabbed Bruce's crotch and made sexual advances in perfect English. He didn't. [But feel free to insert priest joke here... they make the same jokes in Greece.]

The priest was lost.

The marine is an idiot and should be jailed. But the priest is forgiving.

Here's the story in the St. Petersburg Times by Alexandra Zayas and Demorris Lee:
A Greek Orthodox priest named Father Alexios Marakis, speaks little English and was lost, police said. He wanted directions.

What the priest got instead, police say, was a tire iron to the head. Then he was chased for three blocks and pinned to the ground — as the Marine kept a 911 operator on the phone, saying he had captured a terrorist.

Dude, do you really think a terrorist just walked down the street and happened to pick on you, the one patriotic American ready to defend himself and his country by beating a man of God with a tire iron?
Bruce is a sales manager for APS Pharmacy in Palm Harbor. His blog entries tout the benefits of increasing testosterone and human growth hormones. He was charged with misdemeanor battery in 2007...

Online photo galleries depict him flexing big muscles wearing little clothing.

An exterior surveillance video of Tuesday's chase captured the two men in motion, said Tampa Police Department spokeswoman Laura McElroy:

"You see a very short, small man running, and an enormous, large muscular man chasing after him."
What a f*cking idiot. It's sh*t like this that makes me a little more sympathetic to the Flying Imams.

Here's Bruce's mugshot:

And also reminds me of one of my favorite jokes. It ends like this: "For you it's a tragedy. For me it's a mistake!"

Update: In the case of the marine reservist who attached a priest for looking like a Muslim terrorist, all charges were dropped. The priest didn't stick around America to press charges. To rehash, this idiot chased a Greek priest for three blocks and beat him with a tire iron while telling a 911 operator (listen to the call here):
I got a guy who's trying to mug me. … He just grabbed my f------ b---- when I got out of my car. … I just hit him with a tire iron and he's trying to take off. He said he was going to f------ kill me. … This guy's not gonna come back. I wanna knock him out.
He looks like a Middle Eastern guy, a Taliban guy. … He straight up looks like he came from Afghanistan … knows where I live and knows what I drive and I'm not letting him come back. I'll kill him. I got a wife.
So let me get this straight. This priest, who says he was lost, looked like he was from Afghanistan, tried to rob the idiot, then grabbed his balls, and then yelled "Allahu Akbar."


The prosecuting lawyer called this 'roid rage noting the attacker is "a 220-pound pharmacy manager who blogs photos of himself flexing his muscles and had worked as a drug informant for police."

The attacker, after charges were dropped, says he forgives the priest. Gee, that's mighty Christian of him.

Here's a picture of the attacker.

He's not gay at all.

November 12, 2009

Eminent Domain

After winning one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in my lifetime, Pfizer is pulling out of New London, Conn. They're leaving a vacant lot where they worked hard to destroy a neighborhood. Of course it's not just Pfizer's fault. Who knows what shady deals got the local city officials behind it?

The court decision, Kelo v. New London, said basically that the the government can take your property and give it to a private developer. It greatly expanded the right of eminent domain.

The good news is that in response to the court case many states have passed laws against such egregious abuse of government power. Too bad my state (NY) isn't one of them.

Here's the story in the New York Times.

Detective Accused of Providing Tips to Informers Is Acquitted

Drugs is a dirty world.

Too bad we put police into a battle they can't win.

November 6, 2009

Greek Police Attacked in Terrorist Attack

Six shot. The AP story by Derek Gatopoulos: "Gunmen on a motorcycle fired on a suburban Athens police station with automatic weapons late Tuesday, wounding six police officers."

Update from Seattle. Funeral of Officer Tim Brenton.

Seems like they got the guy! Right in the middle of the police funeral. "Largest regional response to a scene ever."

The story in the Seattle Times and from a comment left below:
Today, was a very long and emotional day starting at 9 AM with a 1500+ LE, fire, emergency vehicle procession from the UW to the Key Arena to memorialize Officer Tim Brenton.

It was probably the largest LE funeral procession in recent memory.

It took 3 hours for the entire procession to reach and fill the arena. The memorial service started at 1 PM, and ended at apprx. 3:15. The entire process was covered end-to-end by all 3 local news networks.

At 3:30 PM - all networks broke news that an officer-involved shooting had taken place. LE cars from throughout the region converged on that spot. Largest regional response to a scene ever.

Seattle detectives were following a citizen lead on a possible car linked to the officer's death. Person of interest encountered; fled, brandished a weapon and detectives responded, bringing down the person. Wounded but still alive, he was airlifted to the hospital.

It's an irony and providential occurrence if in fact this person turns out to be the main suspect - just in timing (funeral), LE presence and response, and the incredible pall this awful officer death has cast over the many hearts of this community.

We, the entire community, hold our collective breaths a little longer until more and final info is known and verified.

"3 George 13, Officer Timothy Brenton, 9:50. 'Gone but never forgotten'".

Thanks for posting this thread.

~A SPD officer's proud sister~

Lack of Gun Control

Nice to know that all those places with right-to-carry and relaxed gun laws, like military bases and the state of Florida, are safe from gun violence.

Florida, for some strange reason, is often held up by gun-righters as an example of a good state. Yet Florida is violent and has become more so since gun control was relaxed.

Here's my logic:

The problem with people who don't believe in gun control is that Cell #2 is impossible to achieve so they choose to live in Cell #1.

Gun haters believe that Cell #4 is theoretically possible (and desirable), but it isn't politically possible in this country.

So we're left with either Cell #1 or Cell #3. And either way we're left with some gun carnage.

And though it certainly may seem that Cell #1 the better of the two ("if criminals and crazies have guns, better for us to, too!" ...Assuming we're not crazy, of course).

The problem is that there is a correlation between the general availability of guns and the odds that a criminal or crazy carries a gun.

I'd prefer to live in Cell #3 than Cell #1 because they'll be less carnage and I'll be safer, even though I would have to give up some feeling of control over my environment. That's why we have police.

Speaking of which, can somebody tell me why it takes a civilian police officer on or near an army base to shoot somebody? Don't the soldiers have guns?

Three Cheers for Police Sergeant Kimberly Munley

She did her job. And then some. And more.

Update (November 12, 2009): Seems that Senior Sgt. Mark Todd did a lot of what was first credited to Munley. Oh, the fog of war.

Regardless, three cheers to both of them.

Oh, the stink!

If an adult is missing, there's little for a police officer to do. Adults are adults; they don't have to come home for bed time. And if they're drug addicts, they might just choose to "disappear" from prying family members. And besides, the last thing you want to do as a cop is serve as some stalker's private dick.

But 11 adults killed and decomposing in a house and backyard in Cleveland? This is a failure of the system.

Here's the story in the New York Times and the by Mark Puente in the Plain Dealer.

I'm more skeptical of officers who went to that house and smelled death. Officers know that smell and while the first reaction may be to get far away, the second reaction should be, "why does the house of a convicted sex offender smell like dead bodies?"

Probably every officer who took a call for a missing women did a minimally proper job. Each one got a 911 call for a missing adult drug addict. Each one had little sympathy and besides, what can you do? They're adults. What should you do?

But where was the neighborhood beat officer? Where was the officer on foot that neighbors could talk to? Where was an officer who was in a position to put two and two together? One missing adult addict is a non-event. A half-dozen might just make you go, hmmmmmm. Eleven missing addicts and house smelling like death? This seems like a puzzle that shouldn't have taken Sherlock Holmes to figure out.

But apparently nobody was ever in a position to see the big picture because the police department isn't set up that way. In a rush to handle incidents, nobody ever noticed the problem.

So the public saw an uncaring police department while police saw an uncooperative public. This is inevitable when a system wants cops in cars instead of on foot and favors rapid response over slow deduction.

Police can zoom to an incident (not that you would zoom to a missing-person call) but to see the big picture, to recognize the problem, you need the insight and community input you'll never find inside a patrol car.

November 4, 2009

Foot Patrol: The Colonel Speaks

Continuing my conversation with Colonel (Ret.) Margaret Patton of the Baltimore Police department, I recently received this email:
I read your added chapter [the new chapter in the paperback edition of Cop in the Hood]. You should be a police chief. The term "Policing Green" is very catchy and, more important, very smart.

Foot patrol is a key to addressing crime and working with the community in a positive manner. The idea of using a monetary carrot for the officer and linking it with the reduction of the use of gasoline was brilliant.

My husband, before he made sergeant, was a foot officer in south Baltimore before it was a trendy place to be but he loved his foot post. Cross Street Market was on his post and he still remained friends with many of the people he met during that time. I remember meeting the "Chicken Man" who sold chickens (of course) at the market soon after we married. Several of his friends from his foot post came to his funeral as well as his fellow foot officers from "way back when".

My husband always said that he was sorry that he ever took the sergeant's test because he enjoyed his foot post so much. He said that a foot post was one of the department's secret gems ("gems" may be my word but you understand).
We speak, but who listens?

CIA agents convicted in Italy of kidnapping

The story in the NYT.

November 3, 2009

The family that robs together...

Marc Perrusquia in the Memphis Commercial Appeal has a good story about the extensive criminal activities of one very criminal family.
Over seven decades, Porterfield and several members of his extended family have been a violent, drug-peddling, thieving scourge on Shelby County. They've been involved in at least 14 shootings, four murders and countless break-ins and assaults.

In all, 407 arrests.
Breaking the cycle is a daunting, and costly, proposition. Yet, given the alternative -- states are spending $50 billion a year to imprison offenders -- it's a challenge worth taking on, said Oregon social scientist J. Mark Eddy.

November 2, 2009

Officer Down: Seattle cops ambushed in car

It's amazing how defenseless you are sitting in a police car. I'm happy this doesn't happen more.

[update: seems like they got the guy]

Dorm Room Dealers

There's a great new academic book out by A. Rafik Mohamed and Erik D. Fritsvold: Dorm Room Dealers: Drugs and the privileges of race and class.

Too many books (my own included) treat drug crimes like it's some black thing that whites wouldn't understand unless some kind-hearted interpreters explain to "us" those strange things "they" do.

Well it ain't like that. Most drug dealers are white. Most drug users are white. It just doesn't make the news (or get police attention).

And yet, you may be thinking... if most drug crimes are committed by white people, and whites are just as if not more likely than blacks to take and sell drugs, then why do I think of drug criminals as black and why are most people in prison for drug crimes black?

As they say: Ah-hxaaaaaa!

We don't fight the war on drugs against rich college-educated white folks.

Most prohibition violence in the drug trade happens in non-white neighborhoods. So there's a reason we focus on crime more on drug crimes in some neighborhoods than others. To me it's the public drug trade that is so brutal.

But what about all those college drug dealers? Why do we never hear about them? Well this book answers that. I might write a proper book review later, but for now let me say this: I mean, I went to college. Anybody who has gone to college knows you can buy drugs in college. It's like these college drug dealers have no fear of ever getting caught.


These dorm-room dealers sell drugs like they're dorm-room posters. Everybody can see them. They have no fear. You see, the rules are different for them. College drug dealers get in the game, make some cash (or support their habit), and then graduate and get a job, maybe in daddy's firm.

Am I oversimplifying? Of course. You should buy the book. If for no other reason than it makes a great ethnographic counterpart to Cop in the Hood. Here's how the other half deals drugs. There's a good lesson there for all us all.

A Tale of Two Cities

The Sun is starting a nice little feature where a reporter from London and Baltimore switch places.

Bratton and L.A.

Everywhere Bill Bratton goes, crime seems to go down. Since 2002, homicides in L.A. decreased by more than 50%. And yet so many professors are unwilling to accept that good policing has a major impact on crime. In the academic world, Bratton still seems to get little credit and respect. Why is that?

Here's an article by Scott Gold, Catherine Saillant, and Joe Mozingoin in the L.A. Times about Bratton's success.

There's a chance that Bratton will return to NYC. I hope so. Bratton is pro-cop and generally maintains good relations in high-crime communities. It's a tough act to balance.

November 1, 2009

‘Flying imams’ settlement

Seems to me a request for a not-needed seat-belt extension alone is grounds for suspicion. Here's an account in USA Today.

Police Bribes in Mexico?

Strange question, but have any of you ever paid a bribe to a Mexican police officer in, say, the past 10 years? If so, when, where, why, and how much?

There was an article in the New York Times the other day about Cancun police extorting people, in this case a Minnesota state senator. My wife, cookbook and travel writer extraordinaire, thinks this is yet another undeserved example of U.S. anti-Mexico propaganda.

Mexico is a lot less third-world than many Americans think. Sure we wear rose-colored glasses, but our experiences in Mexico have been pretty rosy. I've sped through thousands of miles in southern Mexico and my wife has been stopped for driving the wrong way done a one-way street (it's easier than you'd think) and been in a minor accident that was entirely her fault. And yet neither of us have ever been in a situation where we've been presented with any bribe possibility.

We think it happens very rarely. If it does happen to you, don't pay! Now of course there may be reasons you want to pay (like paying $10 is quicker and easier than going the legal route), but the Times article says they coughed up $300 when the maximum fine was $50. And it is a crime to bribe police officers. Some rental car companies even offer a voucher to pay any traffic fines. Clever!

It's also interesting what happen after word got out of this state senator's experience (especially compared to what might happen in the US). The police officers were fired, the mayor got involved, and the city of Cancun reimbursed the Americans for the amount of the bribe.

Here's the story in the Yucatan paper.

For non-Spanish speakers (like me), here's the gist: car rental agencies say they get an average of 50 tourist complaints a month about bribe attempts by cops in Cancun. Typical amounts are US$10 to $20. (Which, for the record, is cheaper than paying for the ticket, usually about US$50.)

It also says that this is about double the rate of complaints last year. Which the car-rental group rep attributes to the economic crisis. Although what isn't, these days?

October 30, 2009

Ghetto Reading List

In a footnote (p. 215) in Cop in the Hood, I list what I consider essential books in urban sociology (they're not all about the "ghetto").

Somebody was nice enough to take the time to put this list on Amazon. It's nice to see all these books in one place.

A visit to the medical marijuana doctor

A story in the LA Times by Steve Lopez showing how easy it is to get medical marijuana.

October 26, 2009

Get Ready to Ruuuuuummmmmble!

NYPD cars are getting a low-frequency device to supplement their lights and siren.

Why do I have the feeling I'm not going to like this.

I think sirens should be quieter, not louder. We don't need to escalate noise in the city. The problem isn't that people don't notice lights and sirens, it's that they don't care. I don't see the Rumbler changing that.

Use of Force, eh?

A reader sent me this link:

Here's the news story. Abbotsford, by the way, has been labeled "the Murder Capital of Canada" [insert scary music here]. Abbotford, the Murder Captial of Canada," has a homicide rate of 4.7 per 100,000.

Abbotford, the Murder Captial of Canada, has a homicide rate lower than the U.S. homicide rate.

Think about that.

As Yakov Smirnoff used to say: "What a country!"

I have no problem with the force used in this video. In fact, I think it's a very good use of force (and I'm not saying that just to provoke anonymous insults). Every bit of force is justified, in response to actions the suspect takes, and stops when the suspect complies.

That guy on the ground had two things to do: 1) keep his head down, and 2) not move, especially his hands. Those are very fair requests. Mr. Brown Jacket complies and has no problem. Mr. Slow Learner keeps looking up and trying to move his hands to a place where 1) he could reach for a weapon or 2) get up. Neither is acceptable. The officer responds appropriately.

To me, the greater issue (outside the war on drugs) is the limitations of the gun. Once you're pointing a gun at somebody who doesn't do want you want, you kind of lose your power. I mean, if you can't shoot the guy, what can you do? So the gun, if you call its bluff, only serves to take the officer's hands out of the equations. That's not good. But as long as the gun is out (and yes, I'm assuming that officer has a good reasons to suspect the suspects may be armed), all you've got are your feet.

There was one time I got out of my car and drew down on two people fighting in the middle of the Monument Street (I had reason to believe, falsely it turned out, that one had a gun). I ordered them to stop fighting. I will never forget as they both, in unison, turned to look down the barrel of my gun, then turned back to each other and re-starting slugging each other again. All I could do was put my gun away. By this time I could see they were not armed.

I did end up macing one of them when the other, unilaterally, listened to my commands to stop fighting. At the request of their father, they both went to jail. Turned out they were brothers.

Everyone would have been happier had I never been there.

October 25, 2009

Why 911 is a Joke

I love any story about how f*cked up 911 is. This one at Pepper Spray Me is a good one.

And here he reminds you why grammar is important.

Taser risks

According to one study, which claims to be the only somewhat large-scale study, the risk of serious injury from a Taser is 0.25% Now mind you the sample size (1,201) isn't that large so there were only three cases of serious injury which makes the 0.25% figure a bit dodgy. But still. Let's assume that is the case. That means one in every 400 people of Taser is seriously injured.

Is that an acceptable risk?

And of course the study only looks at the near term effects. There was an interesting comment to this post:
Several years ago, my department received Tasers. During the training, we were given the option of receiving a Taser blow to the chest, a drive stun to the back of the leg, or none at all. Within the months that followed the training, among those officers who opted for the prongs to the chest, two died of heart attacks. They were 35 and 38 years old. As many as ten (aged late 20's to late 30's) sought emergency treatment for chest pain and heart palpitations.
Remember, the real reason police department brass likes the Taser is that they're seen to lower expenses related to line-of-duty injuries (since the Taser is an alternative to going hands-on). If lawsuits start eating away at P.D. money, they'll drop them in a flash.

Speaking for the Defense?

I don't talk much about the death penalty. It's not my passion.

On one hand I think it's wrong to kill. On the other I have very little sympathy for those put to death (except for the innocent ones, 'course).

But get a load of this (found here):

Regardless of what you think about the death penalty, regardless of whether his client was innocent or guilty, should any man be convicted, much less put to death, when this guy serving as his defense attorney?

I didn't go to law school, but isn't your defense attorney supposed to defend you?

October 23, 2009

From Amsterdam: Lessons on controlling drugs

Hot off the virtual presses, here's an article I wrote appearing in this coming Sunday's Washington Post. I talk about the difference in policy and police attitudes toward drugs in Amsterdam and in the U.S.:
In Amsterdam, the red-light district is the oldest and most notorious neighborhood. Two picturesque canals frame countless small pedestrian alleyways lined with legal prostitutes, bars, porn stores and coffee shops. In 2008, I visited the local police station and asked about the neighborhood's problems. I laughed when I heard that dealers of fake drugs were the biggest police issue -- but it's true. If fake-drug dealers are the worst problem in the red-light district, clearly somebody is doing something right.
History provides some lessons. The 21st Amendment ending Prohibition did not force anybody to drink or any city to license saloons. In 1933, after the failure to ban alcohol, the feds simply got out of the game. Today, they should do the same -- and last week the Justice Department took a very small step in the right direction.
Read all about it!

The Curious Case of Barry McCaffrey

General Barry McCaffrey was the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (the "Drug Czar") from 1996 to 2001.

I can't say much about his military career (1964-1996). I think it was just and honorable. He commanded a division in Operation Desert Storm and later the U.S. Southern Command. Wikipedia also says he created "the first Human Rights Council and Human Rights Code of Conduct for U.S. Military Joint Command." Seems damned decent.

But the Barry McCaffrey I know, the Clinton Drug Czar McCaffrey, is either a bald-faced liar or delusional. Until last night, I assumed the former. But when you talk to a man who steadfastly denies the truth with vigor, I wonder.

Exhibit A:
The "Unmitigated Disaster"

In 1998, McCaffrey told CNN's "Talkback Live" that the murder rate in Holland was twice that in the US. "The overall crime rate in Holland is probably 40 percent higher than the United States," said McCaffrey. That's drugs." He called Dutch drug policy, "an unmitigated disaster."
The Dutch government's Central Planning Bureau poured scorn on McCaffrey's figures. Official data put the Dutch murder rate at 1.8 per 100,000 people in 1996, up from 1.5 at the start of the decade. The Dutch say the U.S. rate is 9.3 per 100,000.

"The figure (McCaffrey is using) is not right. He is adding in attempted murders," a planning bureau spokesman said.
Confronted with reality, McCaffrey denied it.
Instead of apologizing for the error, McCaffrey's deputy, Jim McDonough, responded, "Let's say she's right. What you are left with is that they are a much more violent society and more inept [at murder], and that's not much to brag about."
A month later, McCaffrey defended himself:
There was a huge uproar (in Holland) over murder rates and crime stats, and was I right or wrong?... For an American to suggest that their crime rates were higher than the U.S. absolutely blew their mind
Actually, what blows their mind is that a man of such importance could lie. Though McCaffrey did finally admit that Dutch drug policy may just be a "mitigated disaster."

That whole bit is classic good ammo for the anti-drug-war cause. But it's 11 years ago now. And I don't like to hold grudges. So imagine my surprise last night.

Exhibit B: Conant v. McCaffrey

After being kind enough to tell me good things about my father (before we were on the air), McCaffrey whole-hoggedly denies what happened when he was Drug Czar. "Nonsense!" McCaffrey says. The Cato Institute's Tim Lynch sets him straight.

You can read more of Lynch's excellent take on McCaffrey here:
Whatever one’s view happens to be on drug policy, the historical record is there for any fair-minded person to see — and yet McCaffrey looked right into the camera and denied past actions by himself and other federal agents. And he didn’t say, “I think that’s wrong” or “I don’t remember it that way.” He baldly asserted that my recounting of the facts was “nonsense.” Now I suppose some will say that falsehoods are spoken on TV fairly often--maybe, I’m not sure--but it is distressing that this character held the posts that he did and that he continues to instruct cadets at West Point!
The court case, Conant v. McCaffrey was in McCaffrey's name, for crying out loud! [though the decision was renamed Conant v. Walters by the time it became law of the land in 2002.]

Does McCaffrey not remember it? Does he believe it never happened? I'm tempted to believe the general at his word. Which means... well... I'll leave you to decide. Here's what the court ruled in 2000:
On December 30, 1996, less than two months after the Compassionate Use Act [Medicinal Marijuana] took effect, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy [that's McCaffrey] ... stated “that a practitioner’s action of recommending or prescribing Schedule I controlled substances [that's marijuana] is not consistent with the ‘public interest’ ... and will lead to administrative action by the Drug Enforcement Administration to revoke the practitioner’s registration.”
The Administration’s Response stated that the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services would send a letter to national, state, and local practitioner associations and licensing boards, stating unequivocally that the DEA would seek to revoke the registrations of physicians who recommended or prescribed Schedule I controlled substances.
Now over time, the administration backed down a bit from the hard line. But that doesn't mean it never happened. The court ruled unequivocally against the government.

October 22, 2009

18-Year-Old Charged With Murder in Death of Woman, 92

“I don’t care about sob stories, bad background, poverty — none of that. As an adult, you know the difference between right and wrong. You have a choice and he made the wrong choice.”

Well said. Too bad it's from the daughter of an 82-year-old woman shot and killed.

Me and Lou Dobbs

I was on Lou Dobbs today.
I didn't have the heart to tell him I love immigrants.
You can read more (and see the video) here.

Five shot in Baltimore

Five shot during four-hour span.

And the mayor wants to cut police pay.

October 21, 2009

The Open Case

If you like my blog (and why would you be reading this if you don't?), you'll love The Open Case. Not only are all my posts mirrored there, but they have other good stuff as well. It's like Cop in the Hood, but more. Check it out.

Anonymous tips don't give police probable cause

Not to stop drivers. Nor to search pedestrians. David Savage reports in the L.A. Times.

But they told me it was safe!

The maker of Taser stun guns is advising police officers to avoid shooting suspects in the chest with the 50,000-volt weapon, saying that it could pose an extremely low risk of an "adverse cardiac event."

The advisory, issued in an Oct. 12 training bulletin, is the first time that Taser International has suggested there is any risk of a cardiac arrest related to the discharge of its stun gun.
Robert Anglen reports in the Arizona Republican.

Gunshots or Firecrackers

Justin Fenton writes about a gunshot detection system in the Eastern. An interesting concept. Mixed results at best.

Cops, after a little while, get pretty good at telling the difference between gunshots and firecrackers. They're very similar, but gunshots are kind of a shorter, tighter bang. It's kind of hard to describe. But you would think a computer could better tell the difference. They can't yet.

Hard Core in Brazil

Just a week or two after Jon Lee Anderson's excellent article in the New Yorker on drugs and favelas in Rio de Janeiro, drug gangs shoot down a police helicopter. That's hard core. I mean, I've thought about shooting down police helicopters, but luckily I lack the .30-caliber anti-aircraft gun used to bring that baby down. Three police officers were killed. All together, 21 or so died in related chaos.

I can't think of a worse combination than drugs being illegal and the government giving up to control to drug gangs in the ghettos. It's one thing to fight a war on drugs. It's another to start a war on drugs and then give up large parts of your city away to the criminal drug gangs.

There are close to 5,000 murders a year in Rio de Janeiro. That's a rate about twice as high as Baltimore and about 10 times as high as NYC.

“Rio is one of the very few cities in the world where you have whole areas controlled by armed forces that are not of the state.”

Here's Anderson's latest update. And his audio slide show. Good stuff.

October 20, 2009

Good news for states' rights...

...and stoners. The Feds say they'll lay off medicinal marijuana enforcement in states where it's legal. This seems like a no-brainer.

US Marshals: TV

I've got nothing against US Marshals. Or maybe I do.

I just got off a flight from San Francisco to New York on my favorite airline. Why do I like Jet Blue? Because they have TV. I love TV. And Satellite TV turns a 6-hour flight into a dream.

I mean, I love being in a seat with nothing to do but drink and watch Anthony Bourdain, the Dog Whisper, and whatever else is on all the pseudo-educational channels. Man lights fire in the wild after eating raw Zebra? Useful survival skills. Dan Zimmern eats bugs? Delicious! Fisherman pulling the ocean catch? Keep it real! Fox News is still pushing the Obama/Ayers connection? Hell yeah!

Today I didn't have as much time for all those gems because I could watch not one but two good baseball games. Yeah, I was the dork keeping score in seat 3F. But it makes me happy so I don't care what you think.

Between innings and pitching changes--I love baseball, but there's no reason for a game to be longer than two-and-a-half hours--I watched, among other things, US Marshals: Operation Falcon. The show bothered me.

It's a show that shows nothing but a bunch of heavily armed government agents coming out of military vehicles and busting into homes. There's always drugs involved. And the Marshals are mostly white and the criminals mostly black. But OK, reality isn't always politically correct. That's not what bothers me. But I notice it.

The show never asks the big question. Why? Who are we doing this for? How many of these warrants really need to be served by a SWAT team? Is this something that the local police can't do? Do the non-criminals in these neighborhoods really want the US Marshals busting down doors, throwing in flash grenades, and treating everybody like wanted criminals?

The questions certainly don't come from the deep-voiced narrator that treats such police actions as normal, standard, and necessary to protect "us" from "them." Maybe that's what bothers me most.

The militarization of police is something to be questioned, not glorified. Sometimes QRTs and SWAT teams are needed, no doubt. But the image (and the reality) of soldier-like-police busting down door after door simply to serve warrants? I don't like it.

I don't like the rationalization of the US Marshals talking about how good they are for the community. I don't like how they act and talk like they understand the way "they" work and the way "they" talk. I've assisted in some of the raids. Mostly by standing out back, using a telephone pole for cover, hoping the bad guy wouldn't make a run for it. But hell, if I were wanted and I saw them busting in the front door and me standing out back, I'd make a run for it.

No, the Marshals and the FBI don't know the neighborhood or the people. Hell, I didn't know the neighborhood of the people all that well. But I knew it a whole lot better than them. At least I was there eight hours every night. They just roll up, make jokes about how horrible it must be for poor fools like me to police there, do their thing, and leave.

Marshals are hard working men and women (mostly men) doing a dangerous job. As a former cop, I appreciate that probably more than most. But the overuse of military tactics shown in the show is one of main reasons non-criminals in crime-ridden communities hate the police. Sure, sometimes they catch the bad guy (and sometimes they don't), but in the grand scheme it doesn't work. I can't help but see the futility in all that effort to take one guy, one gun, or one kilo off the streets. Another man in prison; another criminal job opening in the hood.

I don't root for the bad buys. I'm happy when I see them in cuffs. But I also know that when the Marshals roll away, 20 deep, the neighborhood isn't suddenly going to be a better place. It's going to keep on being the same place, a dangerous place. But now with one more person in prison and more boarded up front door.

There has to be a better way.

October 15, 2009

No doctor without a police officer's note

I just heard on the radio that Nigeria has changed its law that required a police report from the victims of gunshot injuries before these same victims could be treated for their wounds in a hospital.

Apparently one of the factors leading to this change was a high level of gun deaths.

Imagine that.