About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

March 25, 2010

Dutch "coffee shop" fined 10 million euros

Ahhh, the joys of drug regulation and the strange wonders of Dutch drug policy.

The ultimate crime seem to be that this place got too big for its britches. But they nailed them for keeping a stock of more than 18 ounces of marijuana. That is a limit that most if not all coffee shops violate. But this place was busted with 440 pounds of weed in house.

I honestly have never heard of Terneuzen. But I am off to Amsterdam tomorrow for Spring Break to visit family (my brother, his wife, and kids), friends, and boats.

Stay safe. I'll try and stay out of trouble.

The Battery

I just finished a excellent book by Henry Schlesinger, The Battery: How Portable Power Sparked a Technological Revolution. You may remember Schlesinger as the co-author (with Joe Poss) of the wonderful non-fiction police story Brooklyn Bounce.

The Battery is all about, you guessed it, batteries. Turns out they have a fascinating history and Schlesinger tells it well.

One interesting police note:
In the late 1800s, Conrad Hubert ... [and] his American Ever-Ready Company teamed up with a David Missell.
Missell and Hubert's innovation was to house their product around what would become known as the D cell battery in a tubular design, making them lighter than square wooden or metal cases of bicylce lights and easier to carry.

Lacking neither ambition nor nerve, the partners promoted their flashlights by giving them away to New York City policemen and then collected testimonials from the patrolmen to use in advertising. The light was an unqualified success. (pp. 181-182)

March 24, 2010

A Whiff of Taser

From a reader: "So, following the memo to pick your targets carefully when employing the Taser, Taser invents a device to fire wildly into a crowd."

March 18, 2010

Police Priorities

Evidently, the MTA (New York's subways and buses) could raise enough money to prevent massive service cuts if they could only collect the fare from 27 million dollarsof fare evaders.

Meanwhile, the NYPD arrests more people for misdemeanor drugs possession (half of those for the lowest level of marijuana possession) than it does for fare evasion. That's an interesting take on our city's priorities.

I have a suggestion for Mayor Bloomberg and Mr. Kelly...

Police, Ethography, Sociology, Crime, and How Things Work

I always like academics who can explain things simply. I rarely find any greater knowledge or meaning hidden behind esoteric words and jargon-filled academic prose.

Here's Professor Jay Livingston on the difference between ethnography and survey research. While it's not a distinction that most non-academics give two-beans about, it's a great description. From A Shot of Ethnography:
Survey research shows the relation between variables. Ethnography tells you how things work. Ethnography is about knowing who the players are and how they think. I remember Robert Weiss saying that if you’re a survey researcher and you want to know about cars, you get a sample of cars, and you discover that a car has an average of 5.38 cylinders, 164.7 horsepower, etc. (this was so long ago that he also included something about carburetors). But if you’re an ethnographer, you get a car, you open the hood, and you try to figure out how all those parts fit together.
I might also add that a participant-observer would watch a car race.

A quantitative-methods person would try and tell you everything about cars, despite never actually having seen one in person.

A journalist would sit in the passenger seat go for a ride.

And to really understand cars? You've got to get in the driver's seat and go!

March 17, 2010

New Development in Rev. Ayers Case

Turns out that Billy Shane Harrison, the officer who killed Ayers, didn't (and doesn't) actually have police powers. He let his firearm training lapse. Oops (and from TV news).

Maybe if this drug officer had had proper training, oh, I don't know, he could have figured a better tactical way of stopping an innocent man for questioning without causing a situation where a good man gets killed while trying to get away from armed men he didn't know were police!

Now we don't need to get into another debate about the shooting. But all you fools (I mean folks) who think this killing was somehow justified, ask yourself this: Can you imagine any police-involved shooting that isn't justified? (short of cold-blood premeditated murder--which this was not.)

It's one thing to say, "Cops sometimes make mistakes. And sometimes a whole bunch of dumb-ass mistakes. And sometimes they comes together and, well, sorry. But mistakes aren't crimes and we always need to give police the benefit of the doubt." OK, fair enough. But if you go beyond that and think that all police-involved shootings are justified, then why even have this discussion?

[I can think of only one shooting that was as bad as this one. After doing nothing wrong and following the orders of one FBI agent, poor Joseph Schultz gets shot in the face by the agent's partner (a scared agent who probably never walked a beat, cleared a corner, or made a car stop in his life). And he got away with it, too! Turns out only the taxpayer got punished for their professional ineptitude.]

[Thanks to Peter Guither's excellent drugwarrant.com.]

It's back!

This was taken down for a while but is now back up. The funniest YouTube video I've ever seen. Maybe it's only hilarious if you are or were a cop and don't speak German. But I think it's probably funny regardless.

NYPD Stop and Frisks

Lenny Levitt poses an interesting question is his weekly column:
From 2004 through 2009, [New York City] police have had nearly three million stop-and-frisk encounters, which involve patting people down or questioning them. Virtually all of those stopped are black or Hispanic. In 88 per cent of the cases, the people searched or questioned were innocent of wrongdoing. [ed note: I think innocent is too strong a word for not arrested or given a citation. But regardless, many if not most of those frisked turn out to be guilty of nothing more than living in a neighborhood where police stop and frisk a lot people.]

Stop-and-frisk had been the tactic of the department’s former plainclothes Street Crime Unit, which prided itself on getting guns off the streets. After four improperly trained Street Crime cops shot and killed the unarmed Amadou Diallo in 1999, Police Commissioner Howard Safir put the unit into uniform, in effect destroying it. Upon taking office in 2002, Kelly abolished it entirely.

For the record, nobody wants a return to the random violence of the early 1990s. But is the current crime decline, which has continued for the past 15 years, in any way related to Kelly’s aggressive stop-and-frisk policies, which began in 2004?

Fewer State Prisoners

Barely. And the population of federal prisons grew 3 percent.

But still... "Fewer State Prisoners" is a headline that hasn't been seen since 1972.

March 8, 2010

Isn't killing people a crime?

I have lots of smart readers.

Can someone please explain to me why it's not a crime to kill somebody if you're driving. If it were any other situation, it would be crime, right?

Hell driving drunk safely is a crime. But killing somebody sober isn't? I don't get it.

Here's just the latest example.

Foot Patrol Working in Philly

It's always tough when you know something but can't convince others.

I know foot patrol works. At least I think I know. I've done it.

But there's so little research out there. There's no reason we should all still be quoting a study from 30 years ago (which did show that foot patrol reduced public fear).

Foot patrol has worked in New York (it would work better without quotas). And now there's some research by Jerry Ratcliffe coming out of Philadelphia. As reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Temple's study, which covered three months, showed a 22 percent drop in crime in areas covered by the foot patrols. Arrests were up 13 percent.

As in other major cities, crime has been on a decline in Philadelphia. Violent crime - down in all but three districts - dropped 7 percent citywide in 2009 compared with 2007, with homicide down 23 percent and aggravated assault down 4 percent.

March 6, 2010

I got a plan. It can't go wrong.

This story blows me away both in terms of chutzpa and stupidity.

Say you're NYPD and need some extra money. Work overtime in the three-four? Naw. You don't play that game.

Instead... rent five vans, hire 16 day laborers, and then go to a perfume warehouse in Jersey where you have a connection. Then wave your real badge and gun around while yelling, "NYPD! Hands up!" Tie up eleven employees. Three hours after the start of the robbery, one of victims, says the Daily News, calls 911. According to the Times:
When the police arrived, two of the rental trucks were at the scene. Officials traced those to a rental agency and found that Officer LeBlanca had paid $205.79 for one of the trucks with a Visa debit card, which was subscribed and billed to his home in Manhattan, the court papers said. He and Officer Checo had also provided information from their driver’s licenses, the court papers said.
Really? That was your brilliant plan?

What would do with a million dollars of perfume anyway? You sell it for what, twenty cents on the dollar? Minus expenses and divided by a crew of six, that comes out to about $33,000 per person. I guess it wouldn't have been bad money for a few day's work... if you weren't so stupid.

Off Duty and Black in Montgomery County

I recently received this from a (black) Baltimore police officer:
If you want to know what an Eastside drug dealer feels when confronted by Baltimore Police, show BPD ID to Montgomery County police. They tossed me out of a restaurant in Bethesda because my shirt rode up and my holstered weapon with the badge adjacent were visible.

According to the manager, several patrons were "uncomfortable," and I was told by "security" that I couldn't be in the establishment while armed. When I didn't leave, police were called and I was escorted out by MCPD, told "not to make trouble," and threatened with "difficulty" if I didn't cooperate.

After securing my weapon and voluntarily offering to let a MCPD Lieutenant pat me down, I was told that I was making it more difficult than it had to be, threatened with arrest, and again refused entry into the establishment by police. No public intoxication, no disorderly, no assault, no nada! Apparently BWB (breathing while Black) is an arrestable offense in Montgomery County.

Amazing how Whites, both Hopkins oncologists and crackheads from Harford Co. pass through the Eastern District. As a police officer, I maintain the ability to discern which is which. How convenient it must be to work in Mont Co. where this skill is obviously not needed.

In the interest of fairness, when I made a formal IAD complaint, I specifically mentioned the Lt. and the Corporal, instead of the officers who were following their lead. They even sent a communication to BPD about it taking four of them to escort me out of the establishment. My chain of command just laughed it off. So far, but with IAD, you never know. You know, the last LOD death in Mont Co was run over by a fellow officer during a foot chase.

Talk about "Black and Blue"...This shit is depressing!

PLEASE make sure your students understand that when you REALLY need back up...you don't give a damn WHERE it comes from!

Thx for letting me vent,

March 5, 2010

It's Baltimore, hon!

Lest people think Baltimore is all ghetto, I'll link to a Sun feature showing some of the homes in nice neighborhoods. [The low prices listed for these neighborhoods almost make me want to move back!]

Funny that Greektown, where I lived, didn't make the cut.

March 3, 2010

Fewer Prisoners, Less Crime

While the prison population keeps going up, not many know that in some states it's going down. Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York have reduced their prison populations by five to twenty percent since 1999 (without any increases in crime) while the national prison population increased by another twelve percent.

The Sentencing Project explains.

March 1, 2010

The Homeless, Broken Windows, and Quality-of-Life Crimes in San Francisco

Since there's no good newspaper left in San Francisco, I guess it's up to the Washington Post to report stories like this.

Today, in 2010, the difference between New York City and San Francisco (or Santa Monica) is amazing. I'm always a little shocked out west and think, "Wow, I thought we figured out how to deal with this problem years ago."

I've noticed there is generally more aggressive begging in "nice" neighborhoods than there is in any poor neighborhood. Rich neighborhoods are safer. And in the ghetto, people have less money to give. Plus it's easier to play off white liberal guilt in "nice" parts of town.

In the past 20 years, homelessness has not gone away in New York City, but it's gotten a hell of lot better for both the homeless and normal residents.

Police need to pay attention to "Broken Windows" quality-of-life urban issues. Homelessness is one of these issues. But, some say, the link between "Broken Issues" issues and violent crime has never been proven. True. It may or may not exist (though I suspect it does).

But homicides have gone way down in San Fransisco without any obviously corresponding drop in quality-of-life issues. But quality-of-life issues matter for their own sake. Those who think that public urination, for instance, doesn't matter probably have never had anybody piss on their stoop.

Homeless people have problems. No home, for one. Unemployment, for another. And, more often than not, mental illness and substance abuse. Too many homeless advocates (though not all) seem to advocate for more homelessness rather than less. Aggressive begging helps neither the homeless nor the city.

San Francisco, in terms of homeless and aggressive begging, is like NYC 20 years ago. It doesn't have to be this way. While walking down the street, people have a right not be harassed while walking down the street. Period.

Idiots, like one guy quoted in the story, say that anti-homeless laws, "unfairly targets the poor, homeless and people of color. 'If you illegalize sleeping, camping, lying, sitting, congregating, then what's left: Walking?'" Oh, please. That attitude is so 1980s!

Homeless is a problem for both social services and police (yes, solving the problem does cost money). One without the other won't work. But without the police "or else" of arrest, some people will always "choose" to live on the streets. In my block, that's not an acceptable choice.

If you think thank that homeless should be allowed to live on my block or on my subway, I invite you instead to welcome them to camp in your yard or commute in your car.

Flint needs police!

You may know Flint, Michigan, from "Roger and Me". In many ways, Flint is typical of America's struggling small cities. It's 2000 population, just over half African-American, was 125,000 (so it's probably down to about 110,000 right now). Flint has about 35 homicides a year, disproportionatly concentrated in its north side ghetto. Thirty-five homicides puts Flint in the same league as Baltimore, at least when it comes to murder.

Michael East, Saginaw, Michigan police officer and author of the excellent Beyond Hope?, sent me this link responding to the mayor's plan to lay off police officers.

Now I don't know Flint Mayor Dayne Walling from Adam, and I've never been to Flint, but if the police officer in the video is being straight with us, that tow deal sounds shady.

What I find more amazing is the fact that Mayor Walling wants to reduce the police force to 120 officer. That's a rate of 109 per 100,000 citizens. By comparison (don't hold me to these numbers, they're rough and corrections are welcome), New York city had about 410. Baltimore 450. Chicago 500 (Does Chicago really have more officers per capita than NYC now? That's news to me). Los Angeles, always on the low end, has about 260 officers per 100,000.

Flint's 120 police officers for a city of 110,000 is scarily low! Especially for a city with a lot of crime. Remember, as a rule of thumb, at any given time 1/6 of officers are working and 1/2 of those are on patrol That's just 10 officers for any given shift!

Flint needs more cops. That's clear. But of course, given their dire straights (and it's not like I'm giving Flint any money), perhaps this a great opportunity for something truly radical!

How about unplugging Flint's police force from the 911 system? Alas, the mayor says he can reduce response time, so I don't have much hope.

A dozen officers on the street simply cannot answer 911 calls and do anything else. Period. So what is more important? Chasing the radio or real police work. I say real police.

What if one city would let polices officer actually be police officers, free to patrol and prevent crime (mostly on foot or bike) instead of being slaves to the radio, serving as glorified report writers, and chasing every last prank call to 911. Response time matter for fire and ambulance. Very rarely for police.

Why not try it? It's not like Flint has much choice.

Why you never chase

Karen Schmeer, a friend of a dear friend, was killed on January 29 while carrying groceries home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. She was killed by a speeding car filled with drug-shoplifting hoodlums fleeing the police. The impact knocked her out of her boots and flung her through the air, half a city block.

Karen’s death is more than a simple tragedy. Karen wasn’t just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Karen might be alive if police did not bend or break the exact rules put in place to prevent this kind of senseless death.

Let me be clear: the police did not kill Karen Schmeer. Criminals did. Let them rot. But their guilt does not absolve the police of responsibility.

While it is the job of police to catch crooks, it’s not always their job to chase crooks. Not in cars. Cars are dangerous.

Police say they weren’t in pursuit at the time of the crash, but witnesses, according to the Daily News, “saw the car weaving in and out of traffic going north on Broadway with a squad car with lights and sirens blaring in hot pursuit.” Why the discrepancy? Because police should never be chasing suspects up Broadway at 8pm.

You don't need to pull the trigger to be guilty of murder. You don’t have to want to kill somebody. You do need to accept the likely consequences of your actions. This is what moral responsibility is about.

New York, like most cities, forbids car chases “whenever the risks to [police] and the public outweigh the danger to the community if the suspect is not immediately apprehended.” That’s pretty much all the time unless it’s Osama Bin Laden himself at the wheel.

Car chases aren’t worth it. They often end in some crash. And the pursued car does not have the emergency lights and sirens to warn people out of the way. The car that killed Karen didn't even have its headlights on.

The NYPD pursuit policy is based on the only effective way to reduce the danger of a car chase: don’t do it. For police, it's as simple as it is unsatisfying.

Police love a good chase, and there are informal rules to keep your supervisor from stopping the fun. Don’t “chase.” Instead, “follow.” Don’t get on the radio unless your voice is calm and your siren is off. When the suspects bail and run, the one you catch is the driver. If, God forbid, something really bad happens, say you lost contact before it happened.

We all know that driving is dangerous--especially so for police--and we all know people who have been hurt and killed in car crashes. When I was a rookie cop on the streets of Baltimore and driving too fast to some call, I was confronted by my partner: “Do you know anybody [out there]!? Would you cry if anybody died?!” My sergeant put it another way, “I think of my wife or children in a car. They may die. For what?” This was the wisdom of experience. The message was simple: slow down.

Still I couldn’t resist the thrill of the chase. I remember one fondly, on small empty city streets in the middle of the night. A guy with a van was speeding, ran a red light, and wouldn’t pull over. It ended OK. The guy bailed and didn’t crash. I caught him. Nobody got hurt. I had a blast.

Three months later, when the judge saw my suspect in court, he said, “I know you! You’re a drug dealer.”

Taken off guard, the young man replied meekly, “I used to be a drug dealer.” Then he requested a jury trial. When I talked to him later, he said, “That judge doesn’t like me. I used to deal, but I don’t play that no more.”

“Then why did you run?” I asked.

“I didn’t have a license... And I was little drunk.” He was also backing up five years of prison time. He got off with a $500 fine for a suspended license.

I didn’t need to chase that guy, but I did it for the thrill. When I look back, I count my lucky stars nobody was killed. I made a dangerous situation worse by going the wrong way down one-way streets and pushing another driver past his limits.

Had Karen Schmeer walked in front of the car I was pursuing that night and been killed, I would have tried to cover my ass with the exact words a NYPD spokesman used in this case: “Cops tried to pull over the suspects minutes before the crash, but they lost the car momentarily. When they caught up with the vehicle, it had already struck Schmeer, as well as several other vehicles.” Maybe that’s true.

But I’m at least willing to say I was wrong.

[Reprinted from New York's West Side Spirit]