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by Peter Moskos

September 30, 2009

"Help us get others"

So says Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weiss. The Sun-Times reports. The police chief asking a bunch of high-school students to snitch? That'll go over well.

The sad part, at least to me, is that if it weren't for the video, this would have been just another death in the hood. Another dead black kid, little reported and quickly forgotten. And some people, myself included, would have assumed that Derrion himself was partly to blame, getting himself into this mess.

"Zero tolerance for what?"

Here's a great interview from Investigative Voice with Baltimore homicide detectives Irving Bradley and David Hollingsworth.
You had to be an actor. I had to convince you, what I was telling you to do was the right thing to do. Even though before I got you, you had torn out every window in the neighborhood, you had torn up somebody’s car, and threw a hatchet at somebody -- all of this prior to my arrival. I had to convince you that fighting me was wrong, and that it would be better for you to come with me and let me lock you up so I could solve your problem.

You see, we were on our own; the community is who you depended on. Those neighbors, they knew who the assholes were in the neighborhood. When they saw you confronting them, they would get on the phone and call the police and say, "Officer so-and-so is out there and I’m sure some shit is going to happen." And you would look around the corner and an officer would be coming for back-up, but that was initiated by the community. Because you protected them.

The worse thing they could have ever done is put everybody in a car and create this 911 system without proper instructions. Because what is an emergency to you is not necessarily an emergency to me. You call 911 and say, My cat is stuck up on the fire escape." And another guy calls 911 and says, "I have stabbing in progress and if someone doesn’t get here soon he’s going to die." Both are 911 calls.

But the officer in the car has got to go; he does not have the discretion to say, "Okay, that cat got up there, he can stay there.
You should know the players, you should know who is on your post. If you have a 64- year-old man on your post, I would know him. Like I said, it’s the basics that are lost.
"You really can’t arrest your way out of the problem," Bradley says.

When I was a cop, I met the mayor in 2001. One meeting. One-on-one. Nice guy, I thought. I remember telling him, "You know, Mr. Mayor, you can't arrest your way of the problem." He looked at me quizzically and said, "Why not?"

On Zero Tolerance, Hollingsworth says:
Where’s the crime? They have no idea what a tolerable crime is, and what an intolerable crime is. It depends on the neighborhood. Your dog, you're walking through Charles Village, and you have Foo Foo with you and Foo Foo craps on the ground, you put it in the bag and you keep walking. Well, on Mount Street, a guy is walking home with his bulldog and the dog craps in your yard... what are going to do, call a police officer and say, “He ain't pulled that poop up?’ It all depends.
Get out of the car. Walk in the neighborhood. They would see a world of difference if they could get out of that car. Get out of the car and you’ll learn real fast.
These are real police. And they were Broken Windows when Broken Windows wasn't cool.

Part I is here. Great stuff on community policing back in the old days. (But they're actually wrong--not morally, but legally--about the requirements for frisks. I could legally frisk almost everybody on my post. Reasonable suspicion and the Terry Frisk go a long way to get me touching your pockets).

(And I'm glad Lt Peel is still raising hell. I liked that goof when he was just a crazy sergeant with a dirty shirt. Oh and the things he read! I couldn't hang with him intellectually... and I was the Harvard Student! I got to send him my book. If you're reading this, LT, will you get in touch with me? I'd love to hear what you're reading this month.)

Part II is here.

[thanks to a Canadian reader]

September 29, 2009

A story of no story

The other night I had a minor but perhaps brilliant idea. What if there were a correlation between the number of prisons in a state and that state's incarceration rate? Perhaps the more prisons there are, the greater the political influences that play in a state, leading to more people locked up! Prison-Industrial-Complex shit I'm talking about!

Of course, bigger states would have more prisons, but that's the beauty of stats: they can take population into account and just compare the number of prisons with a state's incarceration, holding population constant.

So I found and put every state's incarceration rate into an SPSS file. Then I added the state's population. Finally I used wiki to get a decent number for the number prison institutions in each and every state.

Then a crunched the numbers and found... uh, there's no correlation. So I tortured the data a bit (maybe it only works for the highest and lowest levels of incarceration!). No dice. No brilliant idea. No publishable paper. Just a waste of a few hours that would have better been spent writing.

Oh well.

Fight. Don't Kill.

Thinking about the street fight in Chicago makes me think Frank Zimring and Gordon Hawkins' 1997 book, Crime is Not the Problem. They distinguish between crime and violence and argue convincingly that America's problem is not crime but violence.

Other nations have as much if not more crime, they say. They just don't kill each as much. Zimring and Hawkins emphasize guns as part of our violence problem. But I think there's something else. I've see some fights. Europe has their soccer hooligans. And a lot of drinking, too. And in Greece it seem like people are always yelling at each other. And there are even seasonal riots in Athens. But somehow it's all controlled, almost ritualized. Maybe subconsciously. Somehow, in the heat of the moment, when the adrenaline is pumping, people in much of the world know to restrain from issuing that lethal blow. People let off steam, they save face, they vent, they even hurt. But by and large they don't kill.

And here, for no good reason I can understand, some kids pick up giant pieces of wood and wack each other, sucker punching others, and then stomping a man till he's dead.

I don't buy the "it just don't make sense" refrain. I mean, of course it don't. But that's not the answer. Is it something about American exceptionalism? Do we not understand how easy it is to kill someone? Do we not value human life as much as people in other countries? Do we have less self-control? Do we have no other means of having fun? All these may be true. But none of these seem to provide a satisfactory answer.

How do you learn to enjoy stomping a defenseless guy for fun? I don't know. Maybe you learned it from dad. More likely you never learned anything from dad because dad got locked up a long time ago himself. And your mom, who very well may be an idiot, tells you you gotta fight. Better to fight than get punked. That's what you gotta do to be a mom.

Maybe stomping a guy to death actually is fun. It's easy to tsk-tsk others. Maybe there's nothing better than hitting a guy upside the head with a two-by-four. Maybe that's the dirty secret we who pass judgment from afar don't want to consider. I don't know. I've never tried.

Update: Worth quoting T. Coates at some length here:
I am aware of all the socio-economic forces at work they make black communities more subject to violence. I'm in all for trying to ameliorate those forces. In the meantime, I'm all for doing whatever it takes to protect the rest of us--particularly young black kids--from hooliganism.

I can't ever say this enough--there's nothing inconsistent about trying to understand the broad societal forces, and still holding people responsible for individual action. Being black and poor sucks. But most poor black kids aren't out smacking innocent bystanders with 2x4s.

If all is as it appears for these kids who were arrested, then heaven help them, because we can not. Compassion--like all resources--has limits. It's worth spending some time on what makes young boys do these sorts of things. It's worth at least as much time to try and protect young boys who are just trying to live right. I know from personal experience that there are more of the latter than the former. Don't ever forget that.

Nasty street fight in Chicago

One 16-year-old high-school honors student student gets sucker-hit with a large piece of wood, then cold cocked, and finally stomped and beaten to death. All this caught on video in front of a large screaming (and sometimes cheering) crowd. Finally some nearby adults carry try and rescue him and carry him away, but it's too late. Derrion Albert died.

Fox has video. The Sun Times reports.

The winner of the latest "Bad Parent Award"? The mother of one of the likely killer saying dismissively, "Gangbangers fight. That's what they do!" Like it's the natural order of things. Darrion, by all accounts, wasn't a gangbanger.

A few days later, in what seems like it could only come from a Monty Python skit:
Some people stood nose-to-nose, arguing over whether the gathering [at the makeshift memorial] should be in memory of Derrion or a protest of the violence that killed him.
Police responded.

September 27, 2009

New Heroin Addicts

“Believe it or not, as a high school teenager, [heroine] was easier for us to get than alcohol,” he said. “It’s cheaper than anything out there.”
That's because alcohol is legal and restricted and heroin is prohibited and unrestricted.

But I guess it's only newsworthy when rich white kids get hooked.

Here's the story in the New York Times.

Terrorist Plot to Destroy New York City

Some desperate [terrorists] decided to [destroy American cities]. The idea was to ... team up with disaffected [locals] to wreak havoc. For New York City the plans were particularly grandiose. [Terrorists] would infiltrate the country from Canada, make their way to the metropolis, and set off fires around town.
[Terrorists] would revenge the [destruction of their land] by ravaging [America], beginning with gay, rich, and carefree New York City. They would start by incinerating the opulent symbols of the city’s wealth, its glittering hotels. With luck, and a good wind, they might burn New York to the ground.

On the night of November 25, the conspirators set their fires in thirteen major hotels, chiefly along Broadway, including the Astor House, the Metropolitan, and the St. Nicholas... For good measure, the [terrorists] kindled would-be conflagrations in Barnum’s Museum, Niblo’s Theater, the Winter Garden, and assorted Hudson River docks, lumberyards, stores, and factories, before making good their escape to Canada.

As blazes broke out all along Broadway, terrified crowds poured in the street. Police wagons and fire engines fought their way through dense crowds of people screaming, “Find the rebels! Hang them from a lamppost! Burn them at the stake!”
As you can tell, I’ve selectively changed a few words from this passage. The “terrorists” were not crazy Muslims but Confederates agents. This wasn't last week but 1864. Despite extensive property damage, the fires were extinguished and the city didn’t burn down.

A year later, just one conspirator, Robert Kennedy, was caught, tried as a spy, and hanged. The other conspirators escaped justice. I had never heard of this plot to destroy New York. It goes to show that modern-day terrorism is not just some new-fangled Islamic invention.

The passage is from pages 902 and 903 of Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace’s excellent (and pre-2001) Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. This book is shocking long (I don't think I've ever been on page 900 of a book before) and amazingly good.

“At some point we got numb to the violence”

After a couple weeks of extreme violence, including one night with a fatal accident, three shooting, the homicide of a 9-year-old as he slept in bed, and another suspicious death, the religious community is challenging Saginaw's citizens to become angry about violence.

I am sure this message is full of good intentions. The problem is that I have, over the past 16 years, heard it all before. The demanding of public outcry, marches for peach, rallies, old-fashioned, outdoor church revivals, public forums on violence - they are all great, but when you have them over and over and over, year after passing year, it all becomes lost on deaf ears.

I guess, as sad as it is, my personal opinion is that when you have to demand public outcry against violence, it's too damn late -- apathy has already taken hold and the words, at that point, are just words -- they are not followed up with tangible action.
In an email, so writes Saginaw Police Officer Michael S. East. He's the author of Beyond Hope? One Cop's Fight For Survival in a Dying City. Go buy a copy. You'll be happy you did.

September 26, 2009

More from Mexico

The BBC has a good video reportage on the latest gun battles between the drug mob and police. This time in the port city of Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacán.

The complete disrespect the drug people have for law enforcement is shocking. They engage in gun battles with heavily armed police and expect to win. Sometimes they do.

September 25, 2009

Crime Control

A reader of mine read John Seabrook's story in the New Yorker, about John Jay Professor David Kennedy. He send me these thoughtful comments:
I'm still turning the article over in my head. This may come off as a rant but I don't mean it as such. The piece was thought provoking for a host of reasons. I'm fairly certain you know Kennedy, and I'm certain he's sharp and a nice guy, so my criticism isn't directed at him.

That said, is this the best the field of criminology can offer urban policing? Anthropologists hawking come to Jesus meetings with the police? I present these questions to you because you've lived in both worlds. Two of my degrees are in criminal justice and I spent almost 10 years on the street, yet it's almost impossible to reconcile the two endeavors. The law enforcement academic education that grew out of the 60's has had two generations to ferment, yet we aren't seeing much in the way of results. I'm wondering if it isn't because the academic world has never been honest with itself about how the streets works.

From the article: “Rational men, faced with the choice between pleasure and pain, freedom and incarceration, and benefits and sanctions, will make the choice that yields the greater happiness. This assumption is one of the foundations of the American criminal-justice system.” How's that working out for us?

You and I both know the rational man thesis is bullshit. If you haven't already, give Dan Ariely's
Predictably Irrational and Peter Ubel's Free Market Madness a look. There's a growing body of evidence that's chipping away at the idea of man as purely rational. When I try to explain criminals to people the analogy I use to explain their outlook is Hawthorne's short story Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street. They're offered every chance to join society but the refrain is always, “I would prefer not to.”

I started an intellectual exercise in reaction to the peace. In trying to understand what it was that bothered me about it I've been concocting my own list. Feel free to ignore, comment, or call bullshit at your leisure:

1) There is no off season for police. There is no finish line. This will go on as long as humanity does. Get rid of the zero sum mentality. Get rid of the ideal of a decisive end state. You will never conquer or win. The best you can hope for is to manage effectively. Make peace with that.

2) Zero tolerance policing is to a city what carpet bombing is to insurgency. There is a time and place for it, but those instances are limited. It's guaranteed to get results you can measure and quantify, but it doesn't mean you're fixing the problem.

3) When you surge they know you're surging and they're waiting you out. They also know if you had the resources to really and truly control the chaos you would have by now.

4) Try the revolutionary step of asking the beat officers how to fix the problems.

5) Get out of your car. Very little effective policing can be done behind the driver's seat. What is more, you will never be respected until you do.

6) What works in one neighborhood won't always work in another. Anybody who tries to sell you a solution for all your problems is more interested in selling than solutions. Intelligence and analysis are good and have a definite place, but are usually oversold.

7) Don't think of it as crime control but forestalling entropy. The latter incubates the former. If we keep viewing it as crime control then every time there's a crime there is the implication that we're losing.

8) Regardless of how good you are, there's probably going to be an upswing in crime when you're processing a youth bulge.

9) Making the drug trade the focus of your efforts will lead you into a cul de sac.

10) Code enforcement and the health inspector can be powerful cohorts in your efforts. They can be more effective in one fell swoop than weeks of criminal enforcement.

11) You can't count on making arrests as a solution. There is a military adage about counterinsurgency: You can't kill your way out of the problem. A corollary for criminal justice is that you can't arrest your way out of a problem. Also, as any cop will tell you, courts have a stunning ability to find reasons for arrestees to not remain in jail or go to prison. There are simply too many points of failure downstream from arrest to rely on it as a solution. The streets are a multi-spectrum problem. Trying to force a solution through a logic gate of Arrest/Don't Arrest will produce limited and suboptimal results.

PATRIOT Act used for drugs, not terrorists

Ryan Grim reports in the Huffington Post that only 3 of 763 "sneak and peek" requests involved terrorism cases. A sneak and peak is when the government searches your home or office without telling you. It was supposed to keep us safe from terrorists.

But most sneak and peaks, not surprisingly, were for drugs. Also worrisome, only three requests were denied.

"Sound Cannon" used in Pittsburgh

In the afternoon, protesters who tried to march toward the convention center where the gathering was being held encountered roaming squads of police officers carrying plastic shields and batons. The police fired a sound cannon that emitted shrill beeps, causing demonstrators to cover their ears and back up; then the police threw tear gas canisters that released clouds of white smoke and stun grenades that exploded with sharp flashes of light.

City officials said they believed it was the first time the sound cannon had been used for crowd control. “Other law enforcement agencies will be watching to see how it was used,” said Nate Harper, the Pittsburgh police chief. “It served its purpose well.”
That's from this story in the New York Times.

The Washington Times reported back in March, 2004:
The equipment, called a Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD, is a "nonlethal weapon" developed after the 2000 attack on the USS Cole off Yemen as a way to keep operators of small boats from approaching U.S. warships.
Now the Army and Marines have added this auditory-barrage dispenser to their arms ensemble. Troops in Fallujah, a center of insurgency west of Baghdad, and other areas of central Iraq in particular often deal with crowds in which lethal foes intermingle with civilians.

Baltimore police officer shot in robbery

And the apparent robbery walks into a hospital with a gunshot wound.

The off-duty officer, a 16-year veteran, was shot in the abdomen last night outside his home and is in serious condition after surgery.

Was moved Tuesday morning from Sinai Hospital to Maryland Shock Trauma Center and has been downgraded from serious to critical condition, police said.

Detective Aaron Harris, 39, has had at least five surgeries as he slowly recovers from a bullet wound to the stomach, police said.

Two teenagers accused of shooting Harris were denied bail Monday. Kevon Wilson and Craig Tillett, both 16 and charged as adults, will remain in custody. Police said they attempted to rob Harris as he entered his home.
Harris was shot three times in the abdomen and lower left leg, and he returned fire at his attackers, according to police.

Everybody must get stoned

Raționalitate asks a very good question: How much marijuana is consumed in the US?

Of course, thanks to drug prohibition, we really have no idea.

Some 100 million Americans would admit to having smoked marijuana, but that is most certainly a low estimate.

The New York Times cites a congressional report stating that Mexico seized around 9.3 million pounds of marijuana in 2007.

Raționalitate then, out of necessity, plays a bit fast and loose with the numbers, but the end result boils down to this: let's assume that marijuana seized in Mexico represents 1/4 of total U.S. consumption.

If US consumption is 37.2 million pounds or 2.38 billion quarter ounces. Raționalitate says a quarter is enough to get one person high about 15-40 times, depending on quality and tolerance (does that ring true?). Let's go with 20.

That's 144 highs for every American man, woman, and child. Duuude... That's just gotta be too high. Right?

So perhaps the Mexican figures are bogus.

So what other figures are out there? In 2004 the 1.1 million kilograms of marijuana were seized at the border. And in 2005 there were 4,046,599 plant seizures in the US. And let's also assume that you get 2 ounces of smokeable marijuana per plant. (oh, web research, how easy and unreliable you make data!).

So we got 157 million quarter ounces at the border seized and about 32 million quarter ounces of plants destroyed. And let's say that these seizures represent, I don't know, 20% of total consumption? Do we have any idea? It could be 25%. It could be 2%. More likely to be the latter. But let's say 20%, because it makes the figures more conservative. That means there are about 1 billion quarter ounces of marijuana consumed in America each year. That's 3 quarters or 60 highs for every American per year.

Duuuude, that's still a lot of weed!

Tasers Kill

Rogueregime sent me this link to Electronic Village documenting 36 taser-related deaths in 2009. That's far more than I suspected.

I repeat my position: the taser is an excellent less-lethal weapon, an alternative to lethal force. The taser is not acceptable as a "less-than lethal" weapon because it, well, kills.

September 24, 2009

Terror Case Serious

The New York Times reports:
Documents filed in Brooklyn against the driver, Najibullah Zazi, contend he bought chemicals needed to build a bomb — hydrogen peroxide, acetone and hydrochloric acid — and in doing so, Mr. Zazi took a critical step made by few other terrorism suspects.
“The ingredients here are quite scary,” and the government’s statements have had none of the bombast and exaggeration that accompanied some previous arrest announcements.
“You don’t manufacture homemade TATP explosives unless you want to kill people and destroy infrastructure.”
In some earlier investigations, federal officials seized on what were widely viewed as marginal cases in an apparent effort to show results and justify aggressive steps being taken in the campaign against terrorism. As a result, people in and out of government have become dubious about assertions of the grave danger posed by any particular group of defendants.


John Jay College pretty much closes for nothing (Jewish holidays excepted). We've never had a snow day since I've been there. I'm not even certain if classes were canceled on Sept 11, 2001. So this came as a major surprise.

Classes in North Hall are canceled. Luckily, I rarely enter North Hall. My classes continue as scheduled.

Bedbug are a big problem here in NYC. I've never had them (knock on wood), I'd like to keep it that way.

Officers Down

Four officers shot, one very seriously. In a "no-knock" drug raid in New Jersey.

Wayne Parry of the A.P. reports:
Lakewood Patrolman Jonathan Wilson was shot in the face during the raid, and was in critical but stable condition at a local hospital. Authorities said they were cautiously optimistic he would survive despite being grievously wounded.
As soon as they got inside, a suspect identified as Gonzalez opened fire on them from atop a staircase, striking the four officers, authorities said.
Gonzalez was also shot. Many times.

Balto Murders

Baltimore is number two in murders, after Detroit. (Brings to mind that old t-shirt... you Baltimore cops know the one I'm talking about.)

Peter Hermann writes:
The 107 people charged with murder last year had accumulated a combined 1,065 prior arrests - 380 related to guns and 99 related to drugs.

The 234 people killed last year had a combined 2,404 prior arrests - 162 related to guns and 898 related to drugs.

That's an average of 10 arrests per suspect and 10.3 arrests per victim.
Police repeatedly complain that the people they put in handcuffs only return to the streets to do more harm. Here are the number of times some murder suspects and victims from last year had been arrested: 74, 71, 49, 40, 38, 34, 29. ... The list goes on.

These numbers don't say anything about conviction rates, and there's a sad tale behind each case, a book-length reason why someone can get arrested 74 times before dying on a street corner or get arrested 71 times before being charged with murder.

Many are hopelessly sick addicts arrested on petty charges, such as loitering, or involving small amounts of drugs, which tend to pile up but don't result in much jail time. Cases fall apart in Baltimore for a myriad of reasons that include an overwhelmed court system, distrust of police, jury nullification and witnesses and victims who are too scared or just don't care to testify.

Dirty money

Cops stealing from a drug house. Too bad the FBI was watching. Now one is going to the Federal Penn for a couple decades. Such cases are inevitable with the war on drugs. All drug cops are not corrupt. But almost all corrupt cops deal with drugs. It's just too easy to rationalize stealing dirty money.

26 pending major-felony cases have been dropped as a result.

Jon Murray has the story from Indianapolis.

A gun bill and state sovereignty: A two-fer

At least for conservative in the Tennessee legislature. For me it's just a one-fer. I like states' rights. And though I don't like guns, I think the gun folks here are absolutely right.

Perhaps those who support medicinal marijuana and other states' rights issues should appreciate the parallels.
"An effort by the federal government to regulate intrastate commerce under the guise of powers implied by the interstate commerce clause could only result in encroachment of the state's power to regulate commerce within its borders."
Richard Locker writes in the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
"This bill simply asserts that if a firearms and/or ammunition is made totally within the state of Tennessee, then the federal government has no jurisdiction over that item in any fashion, so long as it remains in the state and outside of interstate commerce," Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, the bill's sponsor, said on the Senate floor when it passed there in June.
[The ATF says no:] "It's analogous to a speed limit. If the speed limit on the interstate is set at 70, a city along the interstate can't come along and say there is no speed limit on the interstate through our city. The highway patrol could still enforce the speed limit," he said.
Er, that's a horrible and unfortunate analogy, since it actually makes the opposite point. The feds don't make speed limits. States do. That's the 10th Amendment. Plus there's the 2nd Amendment, which says nothing about driving speed.

Realistically, though, the interstate commerce law is viewed so broadly that it covers everything. At least in the war on drugs.

I love a parade!

Two police officers who chased and Tasered a 76-year-old man driving a tractor in [Glenrock, Wyoming's, annual Deer Creek Days parade] have been fired.
Police say Grose, who was driving an antique tractor in the parade, disobeyed Kavenius' traffic command. That led to a short pursuit and the Taser use.
Grose, a retired truck driver, said he's unlikely to participate in future parades. "I think I probably have retired from parades," he said.
Read the whole story by Matt Joyce here. And Joyce has more details here:
The fracas at the annual Deer Creek Days arose from confusion over whether members of the tractor club could deviate from the parade route shortly before it ended.

Grose wanted to head directly to the town park for a tractor pull like in previous years. But the police department had a different plan, which apparently was not communicated to the tractor drivers.

As a result, Grose encountered a Glenrock officer attempting to direct the tractors along the regular parade route. Grose said he drove around the officer. The officer said he was struck by the tractor and injured his wrist, according to a state review of the incident.

"He, for some reason, said no, and I, for some reason, thought to myself yes," Grose recounted.
[thanks to Sgt. T]

The Day the Police Came Crashing Through His Door

In the Washington Post, Cheye Calvo, the mayor of Berwyn Heights, MD, writes about his experience:
I remember thinking, as I kneeled at gunpoint with my hands bound on my living room floor, that there had been a terrible, terrible mistake.
In the words of Prince George's County Sheriff Michael Jackson, whose deputies carried out the assault, "the guys did what they were supposed to do" -- acknowledging, almost as an afterthought, that terrorizing innocent citizens in Prince George's is standard fare. The only difference this time seems to be that the victim was a clean-cut white mayor with community support, resources and a story to tell the media.

What confounds me is the unmitigated refusal of county leaders to challenge law enforcement and to demand better -- as if civil rights are somehow rendered secondary by the war on drugs.
As an imperfect elected official myself, I can understand a mistake -- even a terrible one. But a pattern and practice of police abuse treated with utter indifference rips at the fabric of our social compact and virtually guarantees more of the same.
You know what they say: a liberal is a conservative who's been raided (actually I just made that one up).

September 23, 2009

NYPD Confidential

Leonard Levitt writes a good column. He has some harsh words for the NYPD Intelligence Division and the recent NYPD/FBI/terrorism case.
The Intelligence Division under Cohen and his crony, Assistant Commissioner Larry Sanchez, is operating as a mini-CIA with no accountability and with no model to guide it.

Now it appears that these lone wolves appear to have mishandled the investigation into the city’s first known major terrorism threat since 9/ll.

One can only wonder how many other terrorism suspects were the subjects of NYPD conversations with Afzali--and how many of them he alerted.
Here's the latest in the Times.

Lex Market Utz man guilty of gun sales

Peter Hermann has the story and Nicole Fuller reports:
Papantonakis, whose family has run the stall since 1970, admitted to The Baltimore Sun in a jailhouse interview in May that he sold guns to make ends meet but denied that he sold them to gang members, as alleged in the indictment. He also said that he did not sell the guns from his counter, though he acknowledged doing cash transactions there.

70 cars down

There are only about 130 cars on patrol at any given time.
City officials say an unusually high concentration of ethanol in the city's gasoline supply contributed to the breakdown of more than 70 police cars over the weekend, most of which had been repaired and returned to service Tuesday.

More than 200 police cars fueled up at a 24-hour, city-run gas pump by the Fallsway before cars started showing problems, and nearly one-third of the Police Department's patrol contingent was sidelined with engine trouble.
Justin Fenton has the story in the Sun.

Update: Peter Hermann says that the B.P.D. has about 1,200 vehicles in their fleet? Is this true? If so, where the hell are they hiding all these cars? And why do patrol officers so often have to beg and steal and duct-tape a working police car together? There are only about 135 posts in the city, for Christ's sake.

Lawsuit filed by skateboarder against Baltimore police officer thrown out on technicality

Justin Fenton reports in the Sun:
A lawsuit against a Baltimore police officer who was famously recorded on a YouTube video yelling at young skateboarders at the Inner Harbor for calling him "dude" has been thrown out by a city judge.

Circuit Judge Evelyn Cannon granted a defense motion for summary judgment to dismiss the case.... after Cannon determined that it was filed outside the 180-day time frame to bring legal action, reversing an earlier decision by a different judge.
Do you think there's any relation between the fallout from that youtube clip, less aggressive policing in the Inner Harbor, and the recent spate of shootings there?

September 22, 2009

Tasering a Unarmed Legless Man in a Wheelchair

RougueRegime sent me a link to this story in which a legless man in a wheelchair was tasered.

This tasering could very easily have been "by the books." And that's what bothers me. The man didn't comply. He got tased. The taser should be banned as a compliance device (except perhaps in situations where an officer is alone and backup is unavailable). And maybe it takes an unarmed legless man to make this point.

This man, who may or may not have hit his wife (Let's assume he did. Since cops went to arrest him, it's a fair assumption that his wife had obvious signs of injury).

There is no reason an unarmed legless man should ever be tasered.


Arresting and searching a man in a wheelchair is not something any officer looks forward to. There was once a drug dealer who used roll around Wolfe St. in a wheelchair. Cops generally refused to go near him, for fear of a harassment complaint from a handicapped black man. They don't teach wheelchair arrests or search-incident-to-wheelchair arrests in the police academy.

So here's a domestic violence situation where, thanks to ineffectual mandatory arrest laws for domestic violence, and officer is required to arrest a legless man in a wheelchair.

What would I do? Key up my radio and get my sergeant. And then I would ask him what to do and how to do it. It's called passing the buck. For the patrol officer, it's about the only good thing to come out of the police chain-of-command structure.

And if worst came to worst, instead of tasering him, couldn't you just wheel guy away?

September 20, 2009

Amazon Mysteries and How Much I Make From My Book (II)

I like Amazon.com. I buy a lot of stuff from them. I don't have a good local independent bookstore. Plus Amazon brings stuff right to my door. For free. But Amazon is a strange a mysterious place.

Authors have no website to logon to and check out how many copies they've sold. So I got a good feeling I'm not the only author who checks out Amazon's mysterious "sales rank" to see how things are going (right now I'm at #13,100 -- down 2,000 since the first draft of this post). But Amazon doesn't tell you how many copies you've sold, just how your book is selling in relation to every other book they sell. So ultimately it's very frustrating because it doesn't tell you anything concrete.

For instance, my wife's book had a serious jump in "sales rank" last week. And the book isn't even out yet! Was this the start of good things to come? Well... maybe... until we found out my mom bought 15 copies though Amazon, thus single-handedly cornering the Forking Fantastic market.

Here's an author's dirty secret: unless you write pulp fiction or the New Testament (or a great cookbook), your book won't sell much. My book, considered a decent success, has sold about 6,500 copies through June. From that I've made (including my advance) about $13,000 since I signed a contract in 2005. I'm not complaining, but it's not like I can quit my day job and live on $3,250 a year.

[Just FYI, since I believe people should talk more about how much money they make, I make 10% from paperback sales. But that comes from the price the press sells the book wholesale, and not the price you buy book. So if you really want to help me, buy 1,000 copies straight from the publisher!]

Cop in the Hood was selling for $12.20 on Amazon (what a bargain!!!). That was a nice low price. Then about one month ago Amazon stopped discounting my book and jacked the price up to $16.91, a full four cents off the cover price. So I asked my press to ask Amazon why and they basically said, "mind your own business."

I couldn't help but think my book, as a required reading, probably sells more at the start of the school semester (always be suspicious of professors who assign their own book). So they jacked up the price.

Well now that the semester is underway and students have mostly bought their books, Amazon has resumed their full discount.

I guess that's their business.

At least by next semester there will be lots of used copies out their for students to buy.

Baltimore, My Baltimore

9 shot in 24 hours. 2 die.

September 18, 2009

Cost of Incarceration: NYC

In 2008, New York's Department of Correction's budget was $978 million ($939 million of which is paid for city tax dollars). "In Fiscal 2007, the Department handled over 100,000 admissions, managed an average daily population of 13,987 and transported 326,735 individuals to court." The average length of stay is 47 days.

That's $70,000 per inmate per year. Or $190 per person per night. I think it's safe to say that Rikers Island is the world's most expensive jail.

You could say that Rikers gives you and a friend a double room for $383 night. But you don't get to pick your friend. Meanwhile I can get a double room tonight at the Holiday Inn on 57th Street in Manhattan for $268. But the Holiday Inn doesn't have the coveted LaGuardia view.

You can see the DOC budget here.

Murder down in NYC

Colleen Long has the story in the Washington Post.

Homicides are down. They're on pace for 457 this year, which would be lower than the many-decade low of 497 in 2007. Very impressive. Thank you, NYPD!

This is all the more impressive since, as Patrick McGeehan reports in the New York Times, unemployment hit 10.3% in New York City, a 16-year high. Sixteen years ago, in 1993, there were 1,960 murders in the city. Take that, "root causes."

September 16, 2009

1.7 Million Drug Arrests in 2008

LEAP says:
A group of police and judges who want to legalize drugs pointed to new FBI numbers released today as evidence that the "war on drugs" is a failure that can never be won. The data, from the FBI's "Crime in the United States" report, shows that in 2008 there were 1,702,537 arrests for drug law violations, or one drug arrest every 18 seconds.

"In our current economic climate, we simply cannot afford to keep arresting more than three people every minute in the failed 'war on drugs,'" said Jack Cole, a retired undercover narcotics detective who now heads the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "Plus, if we legalized and taxed drug sales, we could actually create new revenue in addition to the money we'd save from ending the cruel policy of arresting users."

Last December, LEAP commissioned a report by a Harvard University economist which found that legalizing and regulating drugs would inject $77 billion a year into the struggling U.S. economy.

Today's FBI report, which can be found at http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2008/arrests/index.html, shows that 82.3 percent of all drug arrests in 2008 were for possession only, and 44.3 percent of drug arrests were for possession of marijuana.

Pointing to the collateral consequences that often follow drug arrests, LEAP's Cole continued, "You can get get over an addiction, but you will never get over a conviction."

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) is a 13,000-member organization representing cops, judges, prosecutors, prison wardens and others who now want to legalize and regulate all drugs after witnessing horrors and injustices fighting on the front lines of the "war on drugs."

September 15, 2009

Good Cops, Bad Cops… and Bad Emmys

Randy Cohen writes in his New York Times blog:
The Emmys will be awarded this Sunday, Sept. 20. As ever, among the nominees are various police programs (“C.S.I.,” “Life on Mars,” “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” “The Closer,” “Saving Grace”) built around the Hero Cop. It might be a Hero Cop with a flaw — a drinking problem, a disdain for the rules, an alarming tendency to travel through time — but the quintessence persists, one so fantastical as to constitute a fundamental falsehood. Does according special praise to these shows endorse and hence promulgate a lie?
Read the answer here (I'm quoted in it).

Vote, please!

Who reads this thing? And how many? I'd love to know (I'd also like to know how this correlates with the more general stat counter).

If you're reading this, please do me a favor and pick one of the categories below, then click vote.

Please vote once (but just once... this isn't Chicago). Actually, it's supposed to only let you vote once. Thanks!

Survey Results - GlowDay.com

Update September 24: I have at least 100 readers, about 85% male, 22% law enforcement, and 20% academics.

John Hopkins student kills intruder with sword

"A Johns Hopkins University student armed with a samurai sword killed an intruder in his garage, Baltimore police said Tuesday." The AP story by Ben Nuckols. [Thanks to DJK!]

Sept 20 Update: There's a story by Justin Fenton with new info here.

September 13, 2009

War on Massage

I talk a lot about the war on drugs and why it's messed up. But can I also mention that the fight again prostitution is pretty absurd, too. Shouldn't we regulate prostitution and worry about health issues, human trafficking, and quality of life concerns instead of wasting police resources arresting people for committing consensual acts?

Why do white people commit so much suicide?

One of the first things I ask in my criminal justice students is, "why do people commit crime?" Students are pretty well trained to talk about social and environmental factors. After agreeing with all that, I like to add, "I thought people committed crime because they're criminals!" Everybody laughs, but there's a basic truth there, too. People do make choices. Some make better choices than others.

This is an old debate: Free will and choice versus structural conditions. Nature versus nurture. Conservative (aka: classically liberal) versus liberal. Classical versus Positivist. Punishment versus prison. You could even go back to Old Testament versus New Testament.

So do people commit crime because they're criminals or because society made them? The wishy-washy answer, alas, is: yes.

Sociologists emphasize "root causes," the idea that racism, poverty, unemployment, poor school and housing--the social and environmental factors--cause crime. This doesn't ring true to cops and non-criminal poor. And nothing makes "root causes" seem more suspect than talking about in front of students who, at least according to the "root causes," should all be criminals but aren't.

But there is a basic truth to "root causes," especially if you replace "caused by" with "correlated with." You certainly will not be mugged on the street by a rich man (yeah, I know the boardroom is something else).

This was all inspired by Jay Livingston's post on David Brooks. Compare your beliefs about crime with your beliefs about suicide. Is suicide just a matter of choice and free will or is it caused by the "root causes" of sadness, depression, and rough times? Livingston, building on Durkheim, writes:
Explanations of individual facts (like who gets ahead and who doesn’t) often aren’t much help in explaining social facts (like the overall degree of inequality and poverty in a society).

In explaining suicide at the individual level, sadness is a pretty useful concept. People who commit suicide are, no doubt, sadder than those who don’t. The surest way not to commit suicide is to be happy, not sad. But does knowing about these individual differences help us understand why the US has a rate of suicide nearly triple that of Greece? Are Americans three times as sad as Greeks? And within the US, are whites twice as sad as blacks?
Nobody makes you kill yourself. But clearly suicide--one of the most personal, selfish, and inwardly directed choices a person can make--is influenced by social and cultural factors beyond one's control. Why is crime any different? Read the above but replace "suicide" with "violent crime" and "sadness" with "poverty" and things get deep... or at least confusing. Oh, the real world... she is complicated.

But if you believe in police and crime prevention, you really have no choice but to emphasize the power of choice and free will. It's part of the premise behind Broken Windows and the crime drop in New York: root causes matter, but because there's nothing we (as police) can do about them, we're going to focus on what police can do: order maintenance, compstat-based deployment, hot spots, outstanding warrants, situational crime prevention, anything but sitting back waiting to respond to crime after the fact.

Effective crime prevention is a bit like like a suicide barrier on a bridge: a piece of metal won't get to the root causes or make people any less sad, but it might stop them from killing themselves.

Houston police beard ban legal

"U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal determined the policy violated no state, federal or constitutional rights and dismissed the lawsuit Sept. 3."

That may or may not be true. But I've never understood why beards are banned by most police departments. Why do police departments care? Are we still living in 1960? Are people with beards inherently untrustworthy? Are we afraid that sideburns will lead to long-haired-hippy freak police officers dropping acid? Just what is it about facial hair that means you can't be a good police officer? I think it's just a way to keep the P.D. closed and conservative.

This mindless conservative pseudo-military B.S. bugs me. It serves no purpose other than helping ferment an us-versus-them attitude among police and the public. And I think it also helps keep otherwise good people from wanting to become police officers.

God forbid cops have whatever hair and sideburns they want. I mean, the public might think police are... er... normal?

Here's the A.P. story.

September 12, 2009

Comments moderation activated

Alas, because of my disagreement with one reader, I have now activated "comment moderation" (see the preceding post and the comments to the post below that.

What this means is that there will be a delay between when you post comments and when they will appear. I'll try to keep this delay to a minimum.

But don't worry, you can still accuse me of "douchebag move[s]" or whatever else you want.

And please do comment.

I had a nice talk on the phone yesterday with an NYPD sergeant who got in touch with me to talk about my book, police blogs, and policing in general. It was a nice talk and great to get feedback on my blog.

Writing a blog is strange. Because things just go out there and I have no idea who if anybody reads it. And since you're all reading this for free, I don't get paid for it. I always wonder if it's worth it to keep blogging. I could be doing other things. But most of the time I enjoy it or else I wouldn't be doing it.

Stat counters tell me that I have about three- to four-hundred "unique visitors" a day. But in my mind my blog readership consists of the dozen or so people who comment. So please keep the comments coming! Imagine I'm a goldfish who can't see out of the fishbowl. Comments are like flakes of delicious food magically floating down from above. Feed me and I'll keep swimming!

Dear "Frequent Poster"

This is a letter to just one person who posts by the name "Frequent Poster."

Dear Frequent Poster,

You are the first and only person whose comments I have deleted. The first from hundreds of comments and thousands of readers. I suppose it is a coming-of-age experience for a blogger to have to delete a comment. But it is unfortunate.

You obviously have deep feelings about police issues. And I respect the depth of those feelings. But I do not like the style in which you express your feelings nor the certainty in which you believe you are sole possessor of the truth.

You wrote in one comment I deleted that I have been "dishonest and disrespectful to [you]." So please do not subject yourself to this disrespect. The problem could very well be me and not you. But still, it is my blog (you could always start your own).

Nobody pays me to write this. So when keeping this blog is more trouble than it's worth, I will stop. And you are making this experience much less fun for me.

I am kindly asking you to stop commenting to my posts. Commenting anonymously does not change the fact you are still commenting. I wish you would stop.

I am kindly asking you to stop reading my blog.

My next step would be to disallow anonymous comments and/or moderate all comments. I do now wish to do this. I am kindly asking you to do the honorable thing and respect my wishes and go away.

Peter Moskos

911 is a Joke

But not usually when police are under fire.
Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis on Friday denounced as "reprehensible" -- and demanded severe punishment against those responsible for -- a 911 dispatch delay that left an off-duty police officer to fend for himself while being shot at from a car filled with alleged gang members.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that Orozco has launched an internal investigation to find out why up to eight minutes went by before police were dispatched to assist the off-duty officer.
The story by Fran Speilman in the Chicago Sun Times.

September 11, 2009

Wrigley Field

Oh, look! The Onion did a feature story about me.

Just for the record, I do not have a Cubs jacket nor do I bring my transistor radio to games. But, uh, yeah, I do have a little radio shack transistor radio. And I like keeping score when watching a baseball game. Is that so wrong?

September 10, 2009

More on Jonathan Ayers

As time goes on, I'm liking this shooting less and less.

I love how some conspiracy anti-police folks were saying there was never a woman in his car and the police made all that up.

There was.
Stephens County court records now indicate the woman riding with Ayers the day he was shot was Kala Jones Barrett, whose home is listed as a Relax Inn in Toccoa. Warrants say she was wanted for coke peddling. Her father, Joseph Jones, has also confirmed his daughter was in the car that day. But she says Ayers was only giving her a ride and providing ministerial advice.
That's from the Village Voice and their True Crime Report.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports:
Ayers was able to drive away from the Shell station but crashed into a utility pole a short distance away. It was there that Ayers, according to Carpenter, asked paramedics “Who shot me?”
The store owner, Joe Joseph, said he didn’t know the agents were law enforcement officers and it looked like they were firing at each other.
The agents were assigned to a task force that investigates drug cases in Stephens, Habersham and Rabun Counties. Ayers caught their attention because he was with a woman who twice sold drugs to the officers, said Bankhead.

“What they saw was indicative of drug transaction,” Bankhead said. “They didn’t know the guy. They followed him to the convenience store and tried to arrest him.”

The woman’s name has not been released because she is still being questioned about the shooting. She is being held in the Stephens County Jail on drug charges.

Carpenter [Ayer's brother in law] said people often called the Shoal Creek Baptist Church for help.

“She was asking for cash and he brought her some cash to help her out,” Carpenter said. “Jonathan sought to do exactly what God wanted him to do.”
Gulp. What if that's the truth?

Steve Huff on a CBS-news blog says: "According to investigators who spoke to the TV station, no drugs were found on Ayers’ person or in his vehicle."

The cop in me is always suspicious. I first assumed Ayers had bought drugs or was getting a little something on side. That doesn't necessarily defend the shooting, but still, it matters.

But one thing I tried to do as a cop was always keep open the slight possibility that somebody was actually, God forbid, telling the complete truth. Granted I can't remember a single case where that actually happened. But I always liked to keep that possibility open. Maybe that meant I bought into a lie for an extra five minutes. I like to think it made me a better cop.

Now I'm starting to think Ayers was 100% innocent. He let the woman out of his car. If he had bought drugs, we would have had some on him. Maybe this really was an honest man of God trying to help somebody.

Why's it so hard to imagine that guys jumping out a car with guns drawn scared the bejesus out of him? Why's it so hard to imagine that plainclothes cops don't look like cops?

Why isn't this bigger news?

I guess there's no Al Sharpton for white people.

Drug Tests

I wrote about my drug test a few days ago.

Tonight I asked my students if they had ever been drug tested. Approximately 2/3 of my masters students (n ~ 55) and all of my undergraduate students (n ~ 30) have been through a drug test. Every single one. That shocked me.

It also bothers me. It also bothers some (but by no means all) of my students.

Police Suicide

Buried in a story about an LAPD narcotics officer killing herself is this information: "Between 1998 and 2007, 19 LAPD officers committed suicide." That's a lot. More, in fact, that the 11 LAPD officers who have died in action.

This Modern World

Tom Tomorrow's "This Modern World" is my favorite political comic. He's liberal. And it's better for me to read his comic and laugh smugly than bash my head into a wall over conservative hypocrisy. Here's his latest winner over at Salon.com.

Not that you asked, but my other favorite comics are Doonesbury, Pearls Before Swine, Monte, and Get Fuzzy. Hard to imagine starting the day without them. Well, them and a frappé.

September 9, 2009

Officer Down

Sometimes you get criticized for shooting too fast. Sometimes you don't shoot fast enough.

Here's to North St. Paul police officer Richard Crittenden. While protecting someone else, Officer Crittenden was killed with his own service weapon.

Rest in Peace.
Crittenden reportedly pushed the woman out of harm's way but in the process left himself vulnerable for the man to ambush him, grab his handgun and shoot him, the source said.

A Maplewood police officer was slightly wounded but shot the suspect dead during an exchange of gunfire moments later inside the North St. Paul apartment.
Court records reveal Dockery had a history of crime — and two of his biggest targets were his estranged wife and the mother of two of his children.

Terry, who had known Dockery for 11 years, had filed four orders for protection against him between 2000 and May.
Here's the story in the Pioneer Press.

Undercover Cops Kill Jonathan Ayers

In an off-topic comment to another post, "Badge Licker" (is that like Holster Sniffer?) wrote:

"Undercover narcotics agents take out the trash this week."

I clicked on the link and realized this was talking about Jonathan Ayers. That got me thinking.

Here's a later report [dead link removed] from the same Fox News station.

[dead link removed]

I replied to Badge Licker:
I assume by "trash" you mean "Christian" and by "taking out the the trash" you mean "undercover officers killing a man who thought he was getting car-jacked because the cops weren't in uniform?"

I'm actually shocked that Pastor Ayers is white.
Maybe Ayers was involved in a little something something. But maybe not. We don't know. But we do know he wasn't the target of the raid. And the woman who was, was charged with (gasp) cocaine possession.

Badge Licker said:
The undercover narcotics officers announced, so that automatically means Reverend Ayers heard and understood and believed they were police and knew that it was not a car jacking as you implausibly suggest, PCM. Because Reverend Ayers knew they were police and tried to run them over anyway that means that Reverend Ayers was involved in some type of crime. Ergo, trash was taken out by them. The video shows how undercover narcotics officers help keep Georgia safe.
A guy with gun yelling police isn't necessary convincing. What is convincing is a guy in a police uniform yelling police.

PCM said:
It is certainly not unreasonable to consider the possibility that that Ayers thought he was being carjacked.

We don't know how clearly the officer announced they were police. And we certainly don't know if Ayers understood. The owner of the gas station said he had no idea they were police. So they didn't announce themselves *that* clearly. This is a problem that happens again and again with undercover. Sean Bell comes to mind (and Bell was less innocent that Ayers). So does the killing of Agent Michael Cowdery.

And what justifies shooting at the car as it's driving away (this is after the officer pulls the very cool roll-off-the-car-and-land-on-your-feet move)? Ayers was no longer a threat and, at least according the police department, he was not a suspect in their investigation.
Perhaps others also have thoughts on this shooting?

Above link is dead. But this one still works.

And without the news-broadcast audio:

Deep Undercover

Kristina Goetz of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has this story about an officer doing "deep undercover."
She also had to restrain her police instincts to break up a fight at a convenience store or call social services if she saw a dealer hit his child because being caught would compromise the larger goal.
And what larger goal was more important than preventing physical child abuse? I would sue the police department if I were an assault victim and a police officer present did nothing.

But such is the nature of the war on drugs. Locking up a drug dealer (not preventing drug use) is more important than preventing injury or the beating of a child.

All the evils she saw? Those weren't caused by drugs. They were caused by bad people in bad conditions. And people who commit bad crimes should get locked up.

So let me get this right. All the crimes you saw, the poverty, the desperation, the tricks, the violence, the child abuse? You saw people in f*cked up situations doing bad sh*t. And you were a police officer and you let it happen? You let all that slide because you were fighting some bigger fight? You rationalized that you needed to let some crimes slide so that you could go "up the ladder" and maybe even lock up some "kingpins" and win the war on drugs?

Did you?

In a year's time, this officer's work "resulted in more that 280 arrests -- from low-level drug peddlers to big-name dealers." And is Memphis safer? Have murders gone down? Has drug use gone down? By being "deep undercover," you ignored your oath as a police officer to defend the laws and the Constitution of our land.

Look, it's not like this officer didn't give her all. So did LEAP founder Jack Cole. They just gave it for the wrong reasons. Like Jack Cole, perhaps she too will speak out against the war on drugs. Maybe she'll wonder if some of the people she locked up weren't really that bad. Maybe she'll feel bad that some people are in prison because they were in bad situations and they trusted her. They thought she was their friend. And for all I know, she might have been their friend. And then she ratted them out.

That would be a heavy weight on my shoulders.

Alaskan Privacy

I've been a little fuzzy on the topic. But thanks to a reader, I've learned a bit.

Remember when marijuana used to be legal in Alaska? What ever happened to that?

Well here's the story, best I understand it.

In May, 1975, in Ravin v. State, the Alaska State Supreme Court ruled that possession of weed by an adult, at home (in small quantities) is protected under the a privacy clause of the state constitution.
It appears that the use of marijuana, as it is presently used in the United States today, does not constitute a public health problem of any significant dimension... It appears that effects of marijuana on the individual are not serious enough to justify widespread concern, at least as compared with the far more dangerous effects of alcohol, barbituates, and amphetamines.
The Alaska state troopers said the ruling was "horrendous" and vowed to keep enforcing drug laws under federal statutes.

Of course the sky didn't fall.

But in politically conservative Alaska, where alcoholism, "creeping" and incest are more major problems, the legislature re-outlawed marijuana in 2006. Of course you can't "outlaw" a supreme-court-decided right any more than you can legislate for slavery or against the First Amendment. Here's to the right of privacy! I wish it were in the Bill of Rights.

So more recently the 2006 Alaska law was appealed... but without a victim (has nobody in Alaska been arrested for such a crime?). It's a rare legal strategy, but one that makes sense to me. Why should you have to arrested before the court decides a law is unconstitutional? But no matter. The Alaska Supreme Court punted the decision on the grounds that it isn't "ripe." But regardless, the Ravin case decriminalizing marijuana still stands.

Scott Christiansen of the Anchorage Press writes:
The Alaska Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the Ravin decision, even to the point of limiting a law passed by a vote of the people, instead of the state legislature. In a 2004 case, Noy v State, the court explained that even though ballot initiatives can make law, those laws are on par with laws made by the legislative branch and still subject to constitutional tests in court. (And a collective, “Well, duh” was heard throughout the north.)

September 8, 2009

Piss On This!

I hate drug tests. I think they're dumb and ineffective as policy. But mostly I object on moral grounds. I don't think it's your boss's business what you do at home. I don't think it's the government's business what you do at home.

And I think it's a shame that the least harmful illegal drug is the easiest to pick up. Somebody drinks a bottle of whiskey and takes LSD and smokes a little weed on the side. And all we detect and care about is the joint?

I don't think police should be buying illegal drugs and I don't think surgeons and airplane captains should be high at work. But I don't think drug testing prevents any of that. Tests can be beaten. But it's in nobody's interest--certainly not those who profit from drug tests--to advertise that fact.

I also object because there's something unfair about requiring drug tests for low-level jobs. It's not right. Good forbid a stocker at Home Depot smoked weed and watched TV on his day off! I'm sure Home Depot's corporate board isn't drug tested. Corporate boards are never drug tested.

When I ask my students if they've had to pee in a cup, the majority--the vast majority--answer yes. Drug tests are now a normal part of most people's lives. Is that the country we want to live in?

I was drug tested many times in the police academy. I didn't like it. But fine. It does seem somewhat more reasonable to test police officers. When I quit the police department, I assumed I'd never be drug tested again.

Last week I started volunteering at a certain museum here in New York that takes out old boats. I like historic boats and I like being on the water.

They're making me take a drug test!

I was thinking of taking and passing the test and then quitting on principle (because if you just refuse to take the test, everybody assumes you're just on drugs). But I got a little less huffy when I learned it's not the museum's stand. It's a Coast Guard requirement. If a boat has paying customers, all boat crew (paid or not) has to be drug tested. I still think it's dumb, but I don't see my moral righteousness affecting Coast Guard policy.

Tomorrow, for the first time in nine years, I get to pee in a cup and hand my urine to some stranger. And for this I have to pay $45. Only then will I be allowed the privilege of volunteering my (drug-free) labor.

If I get stage fright, perhaps I can relax myself by thinking about what it means to live in the land of the free.

Update: September 9

I was on time for my 5pm appointment. Of course I drunk a lot of water before, both so I could piss and also to lessen the chance of a false positive. So my bladder was bursting when I got there. And then I waited. And waited. So I decided I needed to relieve some pressure. A "demi-pee," as my friend called it. That's always fun. I had to do this twice by the time I was seen at 6:15pm.

The toilet bowl was filled some magical blue substance that prevents dilution with water from the toilet bowl. I'm also told not to run water from the tap.

I could have easily brought in a fake sample. I could have easily turned the water tap just a little bit. It's not like the nurse really cares.

But I don't cheat. I fill the open cup above the 60mm line (you don't actually need much urine) and leave the bathroom and hand the sample to the nurse. She poors my piss into two vials, seals them, and makes me sign the form I get a receipt and I'm good to go.

It's all very degrading and time consuming. I guess that's why those that can only make those under them take the test.

September 5, 2009

Trouble for the Greek

John Paterakis Sr., the baker and well-connected developer who bankrolled Harbor East, pleaded guilty Friday afternoon to two misdemeanor campaign finance violations and will pay $26,000 in fines and be barred from donating to Baltimore politicians until his probation ends in January 2012.
The story by Annie Linskey in the Sun.

September 4, 2009

A Mugging on Lake Street

A reader pointed out a good article in Chicago Magazine by John Conroy, "A Mugging on Lake Street." It's a bit heartbreaking to learn that John Conroy, whose name I recognize as a quality journalist, doesn't have a regular gig. But at least he got this assignment. Too bad it all started with Conroy getting jumped while riding his bike home through the West Side of Chicago. (Actually Conroy was "banked" more than "jumped," but only those in Baltimore will understand that subtle distinction.)

The story that follows is all about crime and race and punishment. It's worth a complete read.
I was ambushed on the West Side last year, an attack that on its face made no sense. I’d never seen my assailant before; he’d never seen me; no words were exchanged; nothing was taken. Like many crime victims, I wanted the incident, which changed my life for the worse, to have some meaning. I’m white, he is black, and in time it was hard not to wonder if race had something to do with it.
I stopped by the 15th District police station, at 5701 West Madison Street, hoping to thank the officers who’d helped me. Looking for help in finding them, I asked for an acquaintance, T. C. McCoy, an African American officer who lives in the district and has worked there for 24 years. When he heard my story, he said, “It’s a hate crime.”
Conroy wants to meet his offender. He does. He wants to interview him. He doesn't.

But in the process Conroy learns what it's like to be a victim in our f*cked-up criminal justice system. It's not good and Conroy ends up being had. But read the whole article because I can't do it justice in excerpts. And it's far deeper than a simplistic tale of a naive liberal who got mugged (though there's some of that, too. I wonder if he'll becomes conservative, as the old cliche goes).

His article hits home with me for many reasons.

1) I was born in Chicago.

2) I bike around cities in all neighborhoods at all times. I've never been the victim of violent crime (or been hit by a car), on or off a bike. I hope to keep it that way.

3) My father grew up less than two miles from where Conroy was jumped. I drove through this area coming back from my father's funeral last year. Before my father died he liked to say that his block on N. Avers Avenue (the eight or ten-hundred block?) looked basically the same as it did when he was a kid, except now everybody is Mexican and Puerto Rican.

My in-depth knowledge of Chicago basically ends in 1989 when I went to college. I still call L lines by their destination and can't get over the fact that yuppies live around Cabrini-Green. Cabrini-Green was a no-go area when I was a kid. So was the West Side.

So my first thought when I saw Conroy's piece was, "What the hell is a white boy doing biking down Lake St?" In my slightly dated mind, the map of Chicago turns to dragons and winds west of Greektown and Halsted Street. My how times have changed; Conroy was biking home.

Of course sometimes sh*t just happens. But it usually takes sh*ts to do sh*t. And most people choose to live as far as possible from sh*t.

You could say that Conroy was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But some neighborhoods have more wrong places and wrong times than others. The corner of Lake and Laramie is a wrong place. There's a liquor store, a check cashing store, a phone store, a Chinese take-out, loitering people, and a vacant lot. Presumably it was the vacant lot from where Conroy was attacked.

I learned that from google earth's street view. You can learn a lot about a neighborhood from google earth. If you like google earth (and who doesn't?), zoom in on the intersection of Chicago and Pulaski, north of Garfield Park in Chicago and cornering a big industrial zone.

To the northwest you get row upon neat row of Chicago bungalows. All's well there. That's probably what Conroy's block looks like.

To the northeast is where my father grew up. Things still look OK. You have homes and trees. But a few vacant lots are very worrisome. Still, you can even see nice block party / church festival being set up by Our Lady of Angels. That's where my father went to school (before the horrible fire) until the family moved out to Albuquerque.

But go south on Avers past Chicago and things start to git grim. Now you're in the rough black West Side. From above, you can see fewer trees, more vacant lots, roofs in disrepair, trash in backyards, and abandoned cars littered to and fro. The street view shows boarded-up buildings next to well kept-up homes.

It's always the abandonment that strikes me. Entire city blocks empty. And just a short distance from where people pay half-a-million dollars for a "tear-down" lot. Crime, fear of crime, and race matter so much that in just miles property goes from being worth millions to being worthless and literally abandoned.

Ta-Nehisi Coates comments on Conroy's article here and here. As usual, he's insightful, bold, and more often right than wrong (and who can resist the title, "The Logic Of The Bumrush").
I was struck by Conroy's quest to find a deeper meaning in what happened to him. This may be more about me than him--but my sense of what always makes the hood so dangerous is the actual lack of real meaning, the random nature of violence, and how it pervades everything.
Put bluntly, it's not that they treated [Conroy] like a honky--it's that they treated him like one of their own, like a nigger.
Eventually you tire of the whole dynamic. At least those of us who aren't built like that, do. And make no mistake, most of us aren't.
One thing I learned policing in Baltimore is that I can handle tough streets. I just don't want to. Luckily for me, I don't have to.

I love it. Maybe I *should* move there

Here's an interesting website about my brother's home of Amsterdam. It's specifically in response to Bill O’Reilly's lies about Amsterdam. In case you think everyone is always wearing orange and dancing, Queens Day only happens once a year. But it is a pretty impressive day. And the boat-ride video makes me kind of homesick. I know those canals well. But I particularly like American tourists discuss Amsterdam. I also know American tourists well.

How's that drug war going?

Not so well, according to Pete Guither. Specifically with regard to the 17 people killed in a rehab clinic in Juarez. At least they'll never take drugs again.

Catching the small fry

"'Come here,' Rags told John. John refused, earning himself a time out in handcuffs. And a ticket for littering.... There are bigger fish in the sea of criminality. But sometimes, the little fish make themselves hard to toss back into the water." That gem of a line is from Pepper Spray Me.


Baltimore experiments with new smart phones.

Good Cops

Most Baltimore cops are clean. The vast vast majority. But of course there are dirty cops. We know so because they get caught. Too bad the record of prosecuting dirty cops in Baltimore isn't too good. Peter Hermann reports.

September 3, 2009

Maryland Morning

Along with Neill Franklin, I'll be broadcast on Baltimore's "Maryland Morning" tomorrow (Friday) at 9:05am (Eastern Time). In Charm City WYPR is 88.1 FM. Or you can listen to live streaming here.

Why'd they have to write a story 'bout her?

The R.O.X.A.N.N.E.

The whole Roxanne's Revenge story? Rap teen took advantage of a minor clause in her contract to have the evil record company pay for all her education up to an including her Ivy-League PhD?

Reported in Blender and more recently the Daily News? The feel good story of 2008 for the old-school hip hop world? I didn't post about it, but I did all my classes. It never happened. [sigh]

It's still a great song.

But I think, 25 years later, that UTFO is the winner of this rap battle by technical knockout.

Do Not Murder

Ta-Nehisi Coates has an interesting post about the death penalty and "innocent" people on death row. I assume it's inspired by this story in the New Yorker.
I feel the need to highlight the case of Roger Keith Coleman, a man claimed innocence to the end, and whose case was murky enough that it garnered this cover story from TIME back in the 1992. Coleman was executed anyway.
The DNA test came back and proved the state was right. Coleman had done it. You must understand what this meant. There were people who had devoted their lives to proving Coleman's innocence, and they almost did. They were played by Coleman while he was alive, and he continued to play them from the grave.

I bring this out to make something clear. I don't have any doubts, first and foremost, about what, exactly, lies behind prison walls. There are evil people in this world. And there are, even more so, reckless people in this world who don't much care about human life.

I think there's this presumption that people who are anti-death penalty get there out of some sympathy for criminals, or some wide-eye naivete. Maybe some people get there that way. I came up in an era where young boys thought nothing of killing each other over cheap Starter jackets. I don't have any illusions about the criminal mind. I don't believe in the essential goodness of man--which is exactly why I oppose the death penalty.
I'd love a little followup on that last line. But it's thought provoking.

Drug Violence? Gang Violence? Idiot Violence?

This isn't new. But it happened in the Eastern and only know did I discover (thanks to a colleague of mine) the Time article.

September 2, 2009

"The trouble with the world..."

"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." -- Betrand Russell

September 1, 2009

Cost of a Car?

I've always wondered and never been able to figure out exactly how much police cars cost to operate. Somebody in motor-pool must know, but nobody has told me.

Here's an article in the New York Times about a fleet for OTB. No doubt cheaper than cop cars. The vehicles cost an average of $6,700 each per year. They have 87 vehicles. And no doubt they're cheaper to run since 1) they're not being used much (that's the point of the article), and 2) they're not cop cars.
It has employed three automotive mechanics, seven drivers and a motor vehicle supervisor, who, combined, earned $500,000 a year. In addition to those salaries, the state comptroller found that gas, insurance and outside repairs cost $585,000 a year.
By my calculations that's $12,471 per car per year. Anybody out there know more than me?

In my Policing Green concept, I propose that cops would walk foot for an extra $20 to $50 a shift, with that money coming from gas not burned. Maybe I'm thinking too low.

A Radical Solution to End the Drug War: Legalize Everything

Esquire.com just published a nice piece by John Richardson about my op-ed co-author, Neill Franklin, on violence in the drug war.
We've heard a lot about the terrible death toll Mexico has suffered during the drug war — over 11,000 souls so far. This helps to account for the startling lack of controversy that greeted last week's news that Mexico had suddenly decriminalized drugs — not just marijuana but also cocaine, LSD, and heroin. In place of the outrage and threats that U.S. officials expressed when Mexico tried to decriminalize in 2006 was a mild statement, from our new drug czar, that we are going to take a "wait and see" approach.

Still, we've heard nothing about the American death toll. Isn't that strange? So far as I can tell, nobody has even tried to come up with a number.

Until now. I've done some rough math, and this is what I found:


To repeat, that's 6,487 dead Americans. Throw in overdoses and the cost of this country's paralyzing drug laws is closer to 15,000 lives.

Read the whole article here.

Those Slippery Stats

Somebody tried to do to me what I tried to do to the Heritage Foundation. I was accused of playing fast and loose the numbers in my Washington Post op-ed.

In the old days I could have just challenged him to a duel. I'd feel pretty confident going into that battle! Instead I have to defend my honor with a written reply to this:
"In many ways, Dante Arthur was lucky. He lived. Nationwide, a police officer dies on duty nearly every other day." [emphasis added]

Let’s see – 365 days a year. That makes nearly 180 such deaths each year.

I’ve been out of the crim biz for a while, but that number sounded high to me. So I went to the UCR. Sure enough, in 2007, 140 police officers died in the line of duty. As Moskos and Franklin say, nearly one every other day.

But 83 of those officers died in accidents, only 57 were homicide victims – one every 6 days. Still a lot. But how many of those were drug-related? The UCR has the answer:


Nor was 2007 unusual. In the decade ending 2007, 1300 police officers died on the job. About 550 of these were in felonies, not accidents. And of these, 27 were drug-related. Three a year is still too many, but it’s a far cry from one every other day.

Maybe I should have looked at a DVD of The Wire instead of the UCR.
Moskos and Franklin argue that federal laws should allow states to make the manufacture and distribution of drugs legal and regulated rather than criminal. The authors make several good arguments against current drug laws, which have created many problems that legalization might ameliorate. But I’m skeptical as to whether legalization would make much of a difference in police safety.

You can read the whole post here.

The Wire line is ironic since both Franklin and I actually policed the streets of The Wire.

I replied with this:
I take my numbers seriously and I criticize others for exactly what you’ve criticized me for. So I feel I need to defend myself thoroughly. You’re not being fair to me.

As is often the case, a little qualitative insight is needed to round out the quantitative data. The numbers aren’t showing the real picture. You have too much faith in the UCR numbers. For what it’s worth, I was in the unique position of actually putting data into the URC for a year before analyzing the same data coming out the other end. Sort of a unique position for a researcher (conflict of interest?), but I can actually identify some of the UCR homicides in 2000/2001 as “mine.”

First the non-disputed part.

The best source for info on officer deaths is The Officer Down Memorial Page. It’s much more detailed than the UCR (and probably more accurate, too). Over the past four years, the average deaths per year is 162.5. Not half of 365, but close enough to say “nearly one every other day.” But you grant me that.

But Dante Arthur wasn’t killed. He’s not a UCR or officer-down stat. And of course we’re all happy for that. But his life-changing war-on-drugs injury (he got shot in the mouth) all but disappears from the public record after a few days in the Baltimore Sun. It would be great to have a database on prohibition violence, but we don’t have one.

But the real issue you’re getting at is the circumstances of deaths and injuries. Fair enough.

It’s a generally accepted figure in Baltimore that 80% of homicides are drug related. How do we come up with that. Well... yes, to some extent it’s just made up. But it’s based on experience and common sense and made up by homicide detectives. And it rings true. So grant me that 80% figure for Baltimore homicides if you will.

Go to the UCR homicide supplement for 2006 (you could pick any year, but I just happen to have that file handy). There are 270 homicides listed for Balto. There were actually 276 murders that year, but that’s another issue.

Run a frequency table for “Offender 1: Circumstance.” Narcotic drug laws are listed as the cause in 3 murders, or 1.1 percent of all homicides. 1.1 percent?! That’s a big difference from 80%

At this point one of my favorite lines comes to mind, “What are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes.”

I think it’s safe to assume that a similar under-representation exists for the drug-related circumstances of officers killed.

If two drug dealers are fighting and one kills somebody, that’s not listed in the UCR as drug-related. It’s an “argument over money or property.” If a cop is killed in a car crash responding to the scene, it’s listed as a motor-vehicle death. If another drug dealer is found dead along the way with no witnesses, the death is listed as “circumstances undetermined.” But it’s all drug deaths. The UCR doesn’t tell the whole story.

If the UCR listed officers injured, Arthur Dante’s injury would not be listed as drug related. It would be listed as “arrest” or “other arrest.” And I simply don’t believe the UCR data on officers assaulted. I think they’re worthless (but that’s not for this post).

I like your pie chart, but you’re not looking at the meaning of the data correctly. Of those 103 “traffic stops,” how many of those are drug related. I don’t know. But I’d guess 80-90%. Man wanted a drug warrant. Police trying to conduct a discretionary search of a car for drugs. Officers don’t get killed pulling over my mom.

“Disturbances”? I’d guess about 1/3 with the rest being domestic violence (though probably 1/3 of those are drug-related as well). “Other” and “Other Arrest”? Probably half. “Ambush”? Maybe 25% (I keep thinking of those crazy white kooks killing people. Those are not drug related.)

And I’d guess probably 10-15% of traffic deaths are drug-related. My friend Crystal Sheffield died in such an accident, trying to backup another officer involved in, yes, a drug-related dispute. But you won’t find that in the UCR.

So put it all together and what do you have? A lot of prohibition and drug-related deaths. And there are multiple times more injured than killed in similar circumstances. We don’t put a number in the op-ed because we don’t have a number (maybe you and I could keep that database?)

But from our experience and my participant-observation research, we both know (often personally) officers hurt and killed in the drug war. We both have a pretty good idea about how it fits into the total picture. So UCR data be damned!
Writing a 800-word op-ed is different that writing an academic journal article. But I wasn’t and don’t play fast and loose with the numbers. It just so happens that the UCR numbers themselves play fast and loose with the facts.

(and I do graciously accept apologies.)