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by Peter Moskos

September 16, 2014

"Write your own damn book!"

Occasionally, really surprisingly rarely, some crusty old cop takes an instant dislike to me because I write and teach about policing even though I wasn't a cop for long. I've never pretended to have as much experience as somebody with 20 years on the job, but I still find something pathetic when a police officer refuses to read what I have written -- which, more often than not, is on his side -- on some B.S. matter of principle. (Usually that principle being he's a dumbass).

The other week I got into a argument with a cop at a bar I like going to. The bartender asked him if he had read my op-ed in the paper. The cop said it didn't matter because I was never real police (of course didn't use those Baltimore words, but that was his gist). Generally I like talking to cops; usually we get along just fine. But after trying to hear him out and conceding much of his basic mistrust (there is a lot about policing I don't know), I mentioned that perhaps he should judge me on what I actually do, say, and write rather than call me a dick for what he thinks I might be writing.

But logic wasn't working. Oh well. I don't need him to like me or read my book. Now I know I can't win a whose-d*ck-is-bigger argument based on my time on the job (two years). But given where I policed, given a few too many damaged and dead friends, I don't take kindly to people asserting I was never there. So after telling him to go f*ck himself, I went on the offensive and questioned his policing credentials (and, while I was at it, his military credentials as well, since by his own ignorant logic, he had only served in Iraq for less than two years).

I also know he's never policed in a neighborhood as violent as where I policed, because such neighborhood don't exist in New York (perhaps the 75 in the late 1980s came close.) I know he's never patrolled alone. So I asked him how many drug corners he's single-handedly cleared? Perhaps I laughed when he doubted the number of arrests I had made. In the end, though my memory is a bit hazy, perhaps I alluded to him and his partner stroking each other off while other cops are out there doing real police work. See, I don't really care what you think about me, my writing, or what I know. But to say I never policed? Go f*ck yourself.

Anyway, it was all drunk stupid macho swinging-d*ck shit. Nobody got hurt. But here's what it all comes down to: if you think you know so much more about policing than I do, write your own goddman book!

Well, every now and then, somebody does.

A short while back I got sent a promo copy of 400 Things Cops Know: Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman. I put it on the back burner. There actually are a fair number of "I was a cop and this is what the job is really like" books. A few are good. Most aren't. Some cops write better than others. Some police act too macho while others are not macho enough. But I wish cops would write more. At least more than police reports and texts to their lovers.

When I finally got to reading 400 Things Cops Know, I couldn't believe how good it was. I teach a lot of students who want to become police officers, and I can't think of any other single book that would so well prepare them for what the job is actually like.

Plantinga, a sergeant in San Francisco, seems to have both a pretty level head (though who knows? I've never met the guy) and he can write. He was an actual real English major (and a currently employed one, it's worth point out). Evidently, he can write fiction and non fiction. This is non fiction. These are anecdotes. Good ones. It's not heavy on the theory (which some will see as good), but it's a nice combination of this happened and these are my thoughts on those matters. Plantinga is both perceptive and able to articulate the, er, totality of the circumstances. Now I don't agree with him 100 percent of the time. But I do most of the time. Besides, what the hell do I know?

Anyway, with permission from Plantinga, I'm going to publish a few excerpts from his book. They're well suited to blog form. In fact in 2008, when I started this blog, I myself published a little pithy series of "Officer Pete Says".

So here's what I'm thinking: I'll print one of these every few days. It gives me material to keep copinthehood.com active, and you'll tell your friends about this great new policing book. I want to help get the word out and help Plantinga sell a few copies.

So this is my first excerpt from Adam Plantina's 400 Things Cops Know (Quill Driver Book). Available for less than $12 from Amazon. This is my numbering order, not his, but let's call this #1:
The job will change you. It changes everyone, for better and worse. You will become far more alert to your surroundings. You will keep your gun hand free even when off-duty. You will become hyper-aware when taking money out of ATMs, day or night. You’ll look inside convenience stores and banks before you enter to make sure you aren’t walking in on a hold-up in progress.

If you didn’t curse before you became a cop, you probably will once you have six months in on this campaign. You will curse like a dockworker. You will also become angrier. More disillusioned. Far more skeptical about the inherent goodness of humankind. The constant exposure to toxic social conditions and dealing with people at their hopeless worst solders an extra layer onto your skin. You see too much darkness and it becomes part of you in ways you may not fully understand. Some describe this condition as compassion fatigue, the main symptom being a vague sense of loathing for human frailty and for one’s self. Maybe this extra layer is good. It keeps you from being emotionally invested and affords you the detachment you need to be an objective investigator. It acts like a suit of armor against the elements. But part of you may want to be, well, illusioned again. Part of you wishes that guy you used to be, the one in the police academy with the fresh haircut and the extra-shiny shoes wasn’t such a stranger to you now. You know that for the most part, it’s good that guy is gone. He meant well, but he wasn’t an effective street cop. He was too hesitant, too trusting. He’s been replaced and you don’t expect him back.

But once in a while, you sort of miss him.


Anonymous said...

Will the job make you racist?

A friend of mine works for the Toronto Fire Department in a very busy fire hall. When he first joined his hall one of his superiors casually asked him "So are you a bigot?" My friend sincerely denied it of course. His superior's response was "Well, after a while you will be."

Over the years I suspect my friends world view has been challenged by the realities of by working as a firefighter in a very diverse city. I think it bothers him.

-From Canada

Collegecop said...

About the 1st part of this post: I've been in that situation, but magnified because I'm "just a campus police officer". I wasn't always a campus cop and did 2 years with a small city (in a rural county making less money with worse hours and a 20 minute for nearest back up from another town or if you're lucky a State Trooper). Many of my fellow officers are ex or retired military or retired from other police agencies or (like me) came to this current job from a small town PD that paid less than an Urban Campus PD and came to this job because it's easier to support a family.

But to some, none of that matters. To our local city police, 'You're just a campus security guy' and don't know anything (I've even heard this IN THE JAIL while delivering and processing a prisoner lol). One of our officers is a retired Chief of Police from a mid sized suburb and he gets it from city cops who don't know that.

Funny thing is, in my experience It comes less from the old timers and more from the 'not too long out of the academy' crowd.

I'll be checking out that book you mention.

Adam Plantinga said...

You're right about that. I started out as a campus public safety officer at a mid-sized university and some of the city cops we interacted with looked at us with only thinly disguised disdain. To them we were "flashlight cops." But there can be a lot of talent and experience on campus public safety departments. Ex-cops, military vets, people who have the KSAs to be municipal law enforcement but for whatever reason choose not to be. Like in all aspects of life, it's best for everyone not to judge so quickly or be so sure you've got people figured out solely based on the type of uniform they wear.

Jeremy said...

Bought on your say-so. So far, FANTASTIC.

Sincerely, a former employee of your brother Andrew

PCM said...

At Boom?

Jeremy said...

That's right. All my enforcement work was in trying to make sure drunk people didn't yell, "proctologist."

PCM said...

Ha. "Dildo!" I worked there too, you know. From 1994 for a few years.

Jeremy said...

I was there in '96, and filling in for a few weeks in '98. Now I design slot machines. It's pretty much a straight line.

Great blog, by the way. I've followed Greg's links to it so often, I finally stuck it in my 'check regularly' folder. One of these days I will read your books... unfortunately, with two young kids and a merger, I'm pretty much a paragraph at a time guy these days.

PCM said...

I was there, too, on the Lijnsbaangracht! I guess by then mostly doing boat stuff. Or maybe 1996 was the year I wasn't there. But I was there before and after...