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by Peter Moskos

March 6, 2010

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,


Meh said...

Give me a break. Sure the restaurant acted poorly in this case but you can't blame the police. A private business has the right to refuse service to anyone at anytime. While they can't refuse to allow an armed on-duty officer inside if they are there for police business, it is within their rights to ask an off-duty armed officer to leave.

I disagree with the reasoning of the business but if the off-duty officer refused to leave and on-duty cops are called, they have an obligation to enforce the laws in an impartial manner.

The way it works is if a business asks you to leave and you refuse, you can be arrested for trespassing. The disturbing part is that this letter writer seemed to think that a PD ID card would get him special treatment. He put the county officers in a bad spot and I bet they did their best to handle the situation gently. I would love to see how the writer handled himself during this incident.

I think the letter writer gives police a bad name and shouldn't drop the race card so quickly. I wonder how he reacts when he doesn't get what he wants in his department.

PCM said...

A private business has the right to refuse service to anyone at anytime. Not because of race they don't. You really think this would have happened to a white officer? You probably would have been offered a discount.

Seems to me the only "special" treatment this officer wanted was to not be treated like a criminal for being an armed off-duty police officer.

[Besides, there's a whole movement out there (not that this officer is a part of it) that involves people bringing guns to restaurants, customer comfort be damned. I don't see police bothering them.]

Meh said...

I think it happened because officer was careless and let his gun be seen. Some people don't feel comfortable about weapons. I think it is stupid but there it is.

I remember once I was doing an investigation and I entered a private hospital to pick up some records. I was a detective and was wearing a shoulder holster with no jacket. I had my badge pinned next to my gun and my agency ID around my neck.

One of the hospital administrators had a security guard try to escort me around the hospital because he thought my gun was upset people. I have no doubt that he would have requested I leave the gun outside if I had been off-duty.

There is no accounting for some folks being anti-gun. The police do bother those folks bringing guns into restaurants if the owners request them. Once again, private businesses are allowed to serve or not serve anyone they please. The police were simply following the criminal trespass laws.

Anonymous said...

I think Johnny Law may be correct on this one. I guess the only way to tell would be to send in a white open carrier customer and an unarmed African American customer at about the same time and compare how each gets treated. I wouldn't assume that race was a large factor, even though it is possible.

This kind of reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where one of the characters got all indignant about the large bosomed waitresses at a particular restaurant.

PCM said...

Leave it to white folks to rationalize race away and think, "I wouldn't assume that race was a large factor." [And Buddy, your methodology is horrible.]

I got five friggin' words for you: "Black man with a gun."

Is there a single instance in the history of these United States where an off-duty white cop made people "feel uncomfortable"?

Anonymous said...

Look, from the restaurant owners perspective, the other customers don't know whether it is an off duty policeman or not who is carrying (sort of) concealed.

Is there a single instance in the history of these United States where an off-duty white cop made people "feel uncomfortable"?

Absolutely. This is a slightly off example, but it shows the principle involved. This week one morning I had breakfast at a restaurant called Denny's. There was a (presumably) on duty cop in full uniform eating there with a pretty blonde woman who was wearing what appeared to be pajama bottoms and a lot cut shirt. She was trying to cuddle and play footsie with the policemen. People were inclined to look at the little scene because it was semi-absurd. But the policeman was staring daggers at anyone who looked at them. The mood in the dining room was one of mild discomfort. That was palpable. It felt like being in a bar where everyone was drunk, but I don't think anyone was drunk.

Now, don't get me wrong. I like semi-absurd things. I like slightly uncomfortable scenes, like bars full of drunken strangers. Personally, I found the whole thing interesting and funny. But there was definitely discomfort. And it was clear that the discomfort was increased because the most uncomfortable person of all was wearing a gun. Even though he was white. Even though he was in uniform.

Frankly, and all other things (like demeanore) being equal, I would rather have a non-police open carrier wearing, at least from a safety standpoint. A non-policeman knows that he will get in serious trouble for shooting you and will probably refrain at the margin. I don't want to end up a Rachel Silva.

I can say that if I personally owned a restaurant, I would forbid all guns, open carry or not. Race would not enter into it. So, could it be something other than race? You bet. Or maybe not. No way to tell, but probably not fair to presume racism when an innocent explanation is possible and plausible.

Anonymous said...

And, insofar as the badge goes: (i) customers can't tell a real from a fake; (ii) especially if the exposure is as fleeting as your correspondent claims.

David said...

Is there a single instance in the history of these United States where an off-duty white cop made people "feel uncomfortable"?

I'd feel pretty uncomfortable around Anthony Abbate.

PCM said...

I can't believe that guy didn't get jail time.

But would you really feel uncomfortable around him, if you didn't know who he was?

IrishPirate said...

Johnny Law,

you is wrong, babee.

A private business does NOT have the right to refuse service to anyone at anytime. They do have a right to enforce certain standards of behavior or dress. Think "no shirt, no shoes, no service."

You've been working in that nightlife beat you write about too long. There were some recent stories here in Chicago of bars trying to keep black patrons out in the Division Street nightlife district. White guys show up in polo shirts and dockers and are admitted. There black friend shows up dressed similarly and is denied admission.

I don't know if the off duty cop was acting badly. He may have been. I'd be pissed off if I was a cop and it happened to me.

Just like I'd be pissed off if I was a college professor and I came home and some city cop arrested me for "contempt of cop" in my own house. If ya get my point.

The County Cops should have suggested to the restaurant manager that the off duty cop was within his legal rights to carry a weapon and that it would be best to just let it go. The most important word in law enforcement is "discretion".

Just because you may or may not have a legal "right" to do something as a cop does not mean you should do it.

The truth is it's likely that a white cop would not have gotten the same treatment from the patrons or the management. Just because we have the first White Sox fan in the White House doesn't mean we are post racial.

As for Anthony Abbate he is on probation and just pissed "hot" for opiate use on a drug test. Perhaps there is a God.

Meh said...


There is more to this case than just skin color. The fact is the officer had a gun and was off-duty. From reading his letter it is obvious that he had a chip on his shoulder.

There was no white off-duty cop there so we have no idea what the business would do. My department requires that when we carry off-duty we keep the weapon concealed so we don't alarm the public. That rule is for a reason as shown in this case.

IrishPirate said...


the truth is we don't really know what happened here. We only have one side of the story.

The off duty cop may have acted like an idiot. He may not have.

IF what he is saying is true, I think the on duty cops could have and should have handled it differently. They had the discretion to tell the restaurant management that they were not going to intervene. Just like you use your discretion nightly with the drunks demanding arrests.

I suspect, but can't prove, that the off duty cop's race played a role in the complaint by the customer and the action of management. I might be wrong.

In any case it's Friday which means if you're working you have a weekend full of drunks to deal with.

I hope it's "uneventful".

Meh said...

I am afraid the on-duty officers don't have discretion in that type of incident. If a property owner insists that a person leave the premise, we have to assist. I can't imagine telling the owner that we weren't going to help in this situation. It's a little different when you have a drunk demanding you arrest someone for a misdemeanor not in your presence.

In this case, the crime is occurring right in front of you when the party refuses to leave when requested by property owner. I can see the store owner complaining on the officers and the department hammering them because they refused to enforce the law against an off-duty officer.

IrishPirate said...

I'd argue that no crime occurred here.

A business owner does not have an unlimited right as to whom to choose to serve.

The on duty cops were in the trickbag. If they escorted the off duty cop out they opened themselves and their department up to a lawsuit. The hassle and consequences of which would likely be worse than the owner complaining. Headline: Off Duty Balto cop sues restaurant and suburban department for racial discrimination.

If they don't escort him out they open themselves to the owner complaining.

You're potentially fooked if you do and fooked if you don't.

Remember Charles Moose the Maryland PD Chief who headed up the DC sniper investigation? I'm afraid to even type his name as he might sue me. Just do a google search and add the word lawsuit to see his trail of legal suits. He reportedly received $200,000 from Marriott corporation because a security guard asked him and his wife to leave an employee only area. One of many suits he has been involved in.

Here's a link I found at National Review.


Unfortunately, Bill Buckley is still dead and National Review now sucks, but the link is informative.

Anyway, it's St. Patty's weekend. I don't know how that is celebrated in your jurisdiction, but in Chicago "tings go wild".

Be safe.

Anonymous said...

This story smells a little, but I'll play along.

As a white cop who was once berated by a court officer for having my gun and shield exposed while in plainclothes in a courthouse, I have a hard time swallowing the racial aspect of this sob story. The fact is that some people are uncomfortable being around armed men, be they black or white. If I were running a restaurant, I'd be sensitive to anyone making my customers uncomfortable. Judging by the tone of this guys letter, he wasn't too cooperative with management when alerted to the fact that his gun was hanging out.
But Peter, let's be honest, when wearing your firearm, especially off-duty, you are highly aware of its presence, location and whether or not it is visible to people around you. I have worn a firearm on and off-duty for many years and have always known if it was visible for my safety and for tactical reasons. I don't believe "officer tight shirt" didn't know his gun was hanging out. I think he may have wanted to show it (as some knuckleheaded cops do) and was embarrassed when he was called on it, leading to this encounter and another chapter of 21st century race politics.
Everything after the manager asked him to leave was up to the cop to handle properly and he failed to do so. Would you really "secure" your firearm in your car and then go back into a restaurant? (I smell B.S.)
I'm sorry Peter, you bought into a racial fairy tale on this one.

BTW- That was relly sweet of this "cop" to complain to Internal Affairs about the Lt. and Cpl. but not the cops. IA usually doesn't look at everyone involved in the incident. OK.

Anonymous said...

I know the Baltimore City officer (I use that term loosely) was attempting to vent, but the parting shot about the last LOD death in Montgomery County being run over by a fellow officer was completely uncalled for. Firstly, that has absolutely nothing to do whatsoever with this event. Secondly, it did not involve any kind of racial controversy. Thirdly, a very similar incident occurred in Baltimore City where one officer struck and killed another with a vehicle in 2006. Finally, using that event to incite anger among the MoCo officers that read this simply demonstrates the utter lack of class of the writer.

PCM said...

It is kind of low blow. But keep in mind that it was originally written just as a private email me to.

He did agree to let me post his email, but perhaps if he had intended it for more public consumption, he might have phrased it a bit differently (or deleted certain parts of the vent).