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

by Peter Moskos

December 29, 2011

Favorite Books of 2011

One of Mother Jones's favorite books of 2011 is In Defense of Flogging.

It makes a fabulous Christmas stocking stuffer, for all you Old Calendarists out there (just 10 shopping days left).

December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

I hope everybody goes gaga when they find a nice new Victrola under the tree!

[thanks to Bob]

December 23, 2011

A Christmas Message From America's Rich

From Rolling Stone:
The very rich on today's Wall Street are now so rich that they buy their own social infrastructure. They hire private security, they live on gated mansions on islands and other tax havens, and most notably, they buy their own justice and their own government.

An ordinary person who has a problem that needs fixing puts a letter in the mail to his congressman and sends it to stand in a line in some DC mailroom with thousands of others, waiting for a response.

But citizens of the stateless archipelago where people [the very rich] live spend millions a year lobbying and donating to political campaigns so that they can jump the line.
Some of these people take that VIP-room idea a step further. J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon -- the man the New York Times once called "Obama's favorite banker" -- ... orchestrated a deal in which the Fed provided $29 billion in assistance to help his own bank, Chase, buy up the teetering investment firm Bear Stearns. You read that right: Jamie Dimon helped give himself a bailout. Who needs to worry about good government, when you are the government?

Dimon, incidentally, is another one of those bankers who's complaining now about the unfair criticism. "Acting like everyone who's been successful is bad and because you're rich you're bad, I don't understand it," he recently said, at an investor's conference.

Nobody hates them for being successful. And not that this needs repeating, but nobody even minds that they are rich.

What makes people furious is that they have stopped being citizens.

Most of us 99-percenters couldn't even let our dogs leave a dump on the sidewalk without feeling ashamed before our neighbors. It's called having a conscience: even though there are plenty of things most of us could get away with doing, we just don't do them, because, well, we live here. Most of us wouldn't take a million dollars to swindle the local school system, or put our next door neighbors out on the street with a robosigned foreclosure, or steal the life's savings of some old pensioner down the block by selling him a bunch of worthless securities.
As someone from a middle-class public-school background who has rubbed shoulders with the 0.1% (that's what happen when you go to Princeton and Harvard), what bothered me about the uber-rich I met in Princeton (you don't meet so many uber-rich in grad school) wasn't that they were rich... It was their absolute sense of entitlement! They never counted their blessing. They didn't need to. They knew the game was rigged and that were going to win it.

Now I benefited from the same game, and by most of the world's standards I'm uber-rich (something mostly due to where and to whom I was born, for which I'm very thankful), so I can't complain too much.

No, what bothered me about these people--our current masters of finance and industry--is that they somehow believed that they had earned their privileged position. And I'm talking about 18-year-old prep-school kids who at that point had never worked a day in their lives!

They had convinced themselves that somehow, because their parents were rich and they went to Princeton, that they had won a meritocratic game. They thought they were better--not just richer, mind you, but better--than working people, especially the janitors and cooks and service workers (students and professional alike) who took care of them (and had made the best of their life's situation). I saw it all the time. The rich really are different than you and me: they have no clue.

[thanks to Alan for the link]

December 21, 2011

The more things change... December 21, 1829

The Constables are not, in any instance, to ask for a Christmas-box from any of the inhabitants upon their beats; if any money is offered to them as a Christmas-box they must report the circumstances to their superior officer, who will ask permission from the Commissioners for them to receive it as in other cases.
What? No Christmas box?! Somehow it makes me think of the "no fruit cup" line from "High Anxiety."

Source: Metropolitan Police. Instructions Orders &c. &c. 1836. London: W. Clowes & Sons.

[I'm on break. Regular blogging will resume in February.]

Ron Smith, RIP

Ron Smith was a newspaper columnist and radio host on WBAL in Baltimore. He died two days ago.

Ron was a conservative and a libertarian. Suffice it to say, I'm not. We agreed on a few issues--like the stupidity of the war on Iraq and the war on drugs--but we disagreed on a lot more. And still he liked me; and I, him.

I was on his show maybe a half dozen times, sometimes by phone from New York, but whenever I was in Baltimore, it seemed like I could just drop by the studio for a chat. The discussions were simultaneously serious and lighthearted, and also much more intellectual than most anything found on commercial radio. His talk show was passionate (interrupted, unfortunately by far too many commercials) and based not on jingoism and ignorance, but on analysis, knowledge, and an keep understanding of history and current events.

I liked the repartee Ron and I developed during our time on air, and he seemed to take me under his wings. At the end of yet another appearance promoting Cop in the Hood, as the show came to a close, he looked at me with a big smile and said, "All right, kid, I've done everything I can for you. Now get out of here!" A true mensch.

December 16, 2011

Back to the Future

Back in 1829 London, Robert Peel and Company said that every police officer, "should be able to see every part of his beat, at least once in ten minutes or a quarter of an hour." That's a pretty good "response time." Craaazy, I thought. But is it?

I think there are 6,000 miles of streets in New York City. I know there are about 8 million people, and 35,000 police officers. Could we not just give every police officer 1,000 feet of street and 230 people to be responsible for? For some beats this would be less than one building. Any crime that happens on your 1,000 feet or to or by one of your 230 people would be your responsibility.

Sure, make it bigger or smaller for population density and crime rate and whatever else you want. And I understand that while on duty each officer would have to patrol six beats to make up for officers not on duty. But with beats that small, is it too much to ask for? Or if you prefer, just work with existing patrol officers and double the size of the beats. Still doesn't seem like too much.

I know it's crazy and would never work.... but why not?

Seriously, where have all the officers gone? And wouldn't it better to have a police officer take responsibility for me and my block rather than have two strangers show up 20 minutes after I call 911?

December 12, 2011

RIP Peter Figoski

From the New York Times:
Officer Figoski, a father of four daughters and the brother of a retired city police officer, was shot with an illegal semiautomatic weapon, Mr. Bloomberg said. He had made over 200 arrests, nearly half of them felony arrests, Mr. Kelly said. He worked out of the 75th Precinct, one of the city’s most crime-ridden, where has has spent most of his career.
[The murderer] has five prior arrests and was wanted in North Carolina on a warrant for aggravated assault.

December 11, 2011

The more things change... December 11, 1829

Sick days and line-of-duty injury.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department has directed that, in future when a Police Constable is certified sick by the surgeon, from that day till he is again certified by the surgeon fit for duty, “a deduction of 1s. shall be made from his pay each day.” In certain cases, however, of wounds received in the execution of their duty, and certified by the surgeon to that effect, orders will be given for the amount of stoppages to be returned when the man returns to his duty.

Source: Metropolitan Police. Instructions Orders &c. &c. 1836. London: W. Clowes & Sons.

[I'm on break. Regular blogging will resume in February.]

December 5, 2011

More on UC Davis Pepper Spray

You can watch the 45 minute version here. This may not be the definitive version, but if you care about this issue, you owe it to yourself to at least take 45 minutes from your busy life and watch a version of the whole thing.

Some have said the cops are surrounded. That is after-the-fact rationalization (at best). Perhaps it was true in a technical sense, though I’m not even certain of that. The police seemed to be able to walk freely over the students. The police were certainly not acting as if there were surrounded; they made no effort, even after macing some of the students, of breaking out. I do not believe that police used force because of any perceived threat to their physical safety. And if there was a threat (I wasn't there), it wasn't coming from the people who were maced.

If you think police acted out of necessity here -- as opposed to legal, justified, or even acceptable behavior -- if you real believe it was tactically necessary for the safety of the officers to mace the people sitting down, you probably can’t ever conceive of a situation where police did the wrong thing. That’s your right, but... well... you've got nothing to add to any talk of bettering police.

Here’s my take:

Except for the use of mace, it all seemed to be handled pretty well. Seriously -- and I know it’s a bit like saying, “other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the show?” -- most police officers and most protesters deserve a star for staying cool in a potentially hot situation. This includes the initial police arrests.

Now whether the students needed to be dispersed and/or arrested is an issue I’m going to pass over because it’s not relevant to analyzing the behavior of the officers on scene following lawful orders. There were no students being clubbed. There were no bottles lobbed at police. There was no vindictive pepper-spraying of students on the way out. There was no riot. This was not Kent State. All that is good.

Everything was just fine until somebody made a bad (not illegal, mind you) decision to use O.C. spray against passively resisting non-threatening students.

In the end, the police retreated and the students chanted “you can go.” And police did.

It gets me thinking, people have been upset about the militarization of police for years. Seems like nobody listens or cares until a few college students get maced by cops in riot gear. I guess better late than never. But the smell of mace in the morning is so minor compared to what is going on elsewhere in this country. For instance, innocent people continue to get killed in drug raids.

People are actually fighting and dying for real freedom in other countries (Egypt comes to mind). I’m happy our standards are higher. But we should all be a bit thankful for the (mostly) civil society in which we Americans live. I can write this. You can disagree. And nobody is going to knock on our doors and arrest us. God bless America.

Finally, a few minor points:

Am I the only one, but chanting crowds always bug me. Something about the mindlessness of chanting always rugs me the wrong way. Is there not a certain dignity to silence?

And since when did college students start referring to themselves as “children”? What ever happened to “I am a man”?

And before some huffy cop corrects me, I know that police do not technically “mace” people. Police use O.C. (Oleoresin Capsicum) spray, which is a related to hot peppers (hence the “capsicum” of O.C.). I think mace is actually another chemical. But many people, including myself, always use mace as a generic term for anything that comes out of spray can and hurts like hell. Besides “stop or I’ll administer a chemical O.C. spray” does not have the same ring to it.

Finally, on the lighter side of pepper spray, of course there’s a tumblr blog.

December 3, 2011

The war on drugs and your police career

There's an article in the New York Times about officers who question the drug war... and get fired for it. LEAP, an organization I've been part of almost for almost nine years, is well featured.

Hard to imagine a cop being fired for questioning the rationality of any other law. But the war on drugs has always been a bit of an odd crusade that tolerates no dissent. Did officers during Prohibition get fired for saying it didn't work?

Police are asked all the time to enforce laws they don't agree with. I did. I see no problem with wanting to end the war on drugs and being a good police officer. I arrested drug dealing while wanted to see drug legalized... in which case public drug dealers would still be arrested (there would just be a lot fewer of them).

December 2, 2011

In Defense of the Straight Baton

I think I'm fighting a lost cause here, but I still like the straight baton. Expandable batons are all the rage. But let me explain why I think the straight baton is better.

When I was a cop, I had a 29-inch straight baton (think big stick or small baseball bat). I also trained with the expandable baton, which most cops like more. Not me. Here's why (from least to most important):

1) The expandable baton is more expensive (not my problem, but somebody has to pay for it).

2) The expandable baton is less intimidating when extended. I know they try and sell it by talking about the intimidating effect of whipping it out. But that is no greater than simple taking the straight baton out of its belt-grommet. I also believe a straight baton has a air of authority -- not intimidation -- when holstered that then expandable baton lacks. I suspect, but do not know, that officers with expandable batons use them more. As the expression goes, "once you open that can of whup-ass, it's hard to put it back in the can."

3) The straight baton does not get in the way of anything (except, for some reason, climbing through a window) if worn properly, at the side. And it fits nicely in the space between car seat and door.

4) Yes, officers have to remember to take it with them. I never found that hard (but it can be an argument in favor of the expandable).

5) The straight baton has more stages of escalation (and deescalation). You can take it out, hold it flush with the arm, hold it in front, and so on. When you pull out the expandable, there's no middle ground. You can't "activate" the expandable without escalating the scene. You can access the straight baton and almost do it secret like. This is important. You can also put away the straight baton easily while it's a bit more of a show to holster up the expandable.

6) The straight baton has more uses defensively. It is better at parrying a blow.

7 and 8) The straight baton both looks better, in use, and is better. You strike two-handed with a straight baton. It is powerful. And you strike, generally, at the thigh. You strike one-handed with the expandable and you strike repeatedly in a downward motion. The head is too close. It will get hit. On video the expandable baton looks like Egyptian security repeatedly beating somebody in the head. It looks (and kind of is) brutal. Wack wack wack wack wack. And a cracked skull is not the goal.

With the straight baton you use it once and that is it. Threat is gone. In many ways the expandable is more about pain compliance, something best avoided both for tactical (it doesn't work that well) and PR (looks horrible) reasons. The straight baton better removes the threat. One good wack (I believe the technical term is "strike") in the leg and the person goes down. Game over. Time for coffee and paperwork.

I'd love to hear from those who disagree.

Christie speaks some sense

I know as a liberal Democrat I'm not supposed to like Chris Christie. But I do admire that he speaks honestly. [I say the same about Ron Paul on war and drug policy, but Paul is a little too extreme on everything else, being a through-and-through libertarian.]

I disagree with Christie on a lot of the issues, but the guy does seem to have a fair amount of common sense. Coming from a politician, it's incredible refreshing. (Even if I am setting the bar too low.)

Here's Christie on drug policy. Is it to much to ask for Republicans (and Democrats, but it seems to be a more of an issue now with the Republicans) not to be loony, ignorant, or completely flip-flop based on the political expediency?