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

by Peter Moskos

May 29, 2015

David Simon and the Code

This interview with David Simon is well worth reading in its entirety. Does he get some things wrong? Sure. Is he a little too believing that cops with the best stories are representative of the entire police department? Sure. (Among other things, drug-free zones were never used to arrest people. Too much paperwork. But that change the horrible concept of a "no-rights" zone.) Still, as usual, Simon gets a lot more right than wrong. And when it comes to the big picture, he's very very right.

Simon also explains why, when it comes to crime stats, I only really trust homicides:
In the beginning, under Norris, he did get a better brand of police work and we can credit a legitimate 12 to 15 percent decline in homicides. Again, that was a restoration of an investigative deterrent in the early years of that administration. But it wasn’t enough to declare a Baltimore Miracle, by any means.
[Q: So they cooked the books.]

Oh yeah. If you hit somebody with a bullet, that had to count.... In the Southwest District, a victim would try to make an armed robbery complaint, saying , ‘I just got robbed, somebody pointed a gun at me,’ and what they would do is tell him, well, okay, we can take the report but the first thing we have to do is run you through the computer to see if there's any paper on you. Wait, you're doing a warrant check on me before I can report a robbery? Oh yeah, we gotta know who you are before we take a complaint. You and everyone you’re living with? What’s your address again? You still want to report that robbery?
I mean, think about it. How does the homicide rate decline by 15 percent, while the agg assault rate falls by more than double that rate. Are all of Baltimore’s felons going to gun ranges in the county? Are they becoming better shots? Have the mortality rates for serious assault victims in Baltimore, Maryland suddenly doubled? Did they suddenly close the Hopkins and University emergency rooms and return trauma care to the dark ages? It makes no sense statistically until you realize that you can’t hide a murder, but you can make an attempted murder disappear in a heartbeat, no problem.

But these guys weren't satisfied with just juking their own stats. No, the O'Malley administration also went back to the last year of the previous mayoralty and performed its own retroactive assessment of those felony totals, and guess what? It was determined from this special review that the preceding administration had underreported its own crime rate, which O'Malley rectified by upgrading a good chunk of misdemeanors into felonies to fatten up the Baltimore crime rate that he was inheriting. Get it? How better than to later claim a 30 or 40 percent reduction in crime than by first juking up your inherited rate as high as she'll go. It really was that cynical an exercise.
Mayor O'Malley personally showed me that binder of reclassified stats in 2001. I couldn't analyze it of course. But yes, O'Malley -- right or wrong -- did reclassify the crime rate up after he took office.

And Simon continues:
We end the drug war. I know I sound like a broken record, but we end the fucking drug war.... The drug war gives everybody permission. And if it were draconian and we were fixing anything that would be one thing, but it’s draconian and it's a disaster.
You didn't ask me about the rough rides, or as I used to hear in the western district, "the bounce." It used to be reserved — as I say, when there was a code to this thing, as flawed as it might have been by standards of the normative world — by standards of Baltimore, there was a code to when you gave the guy the bounce or the rough ride. And it was this: He fought the police. Two things get your ass kicked faster than anything: one is making a cop run. If he catches you, you're 18 years old, you've got fucking Nikes, he’s got cop shoes, he's wearing a utility belt, if you fucking run and he catches you, you're gonna take some lumps. That’s always been part of the code. Rodney King.

But the other thing that gets you beat is if you fight. So the rough ride was reserved for the guys who fought the police, who basically made — in the cop parlance — assholes of themselves.
I’m talking in the vernacular of cops, not my own — but even in the vernacular of what cops secretly think is fair, this is bullshit, this is a horror show. There doesn’t seem to be much code anymore – not that the code was always entirely clean or valid to anyone other than street cops, and maybe the hardcore corner players, but still it was something at least.
Now I never heard of "the bounce." Granted I didn't work in the Western. But Simon best knows an earlier era of policing than I experienced. What's always, in police circles, looked back on as the "good ol' days: the "rough ride," the "beat-and-release," the barefoot drop-off, the street corner mass macing? They all had their time. But times change.

I do not believe that the wagonman gave Freddie Gray a "rough ride." And there was another prisoner in the van who said as much. Cops knew Gray as low-level hustler and occasional C.I. He didn't fight cops. He did what he had to do to get by. That's not the worst crime in the world. But here's what interesting, as told to me: Gray wouldn't resist arrest, but he would go limp every time he saw the wagon: "I think he was an undiagnosed claustrophobic. I could arrest him with no problem. But he would go limp when he saw that wagon. He didn't like the wagon."


Jeremy said...

I dunno if you saw this, but here's an article that will call homicide stats into question from here on out:


Essentially, some homicides are being reclassified as "noncriminal death investigations." There's a followup article here:


bacchys said...

Claustrophobia causes a crushed voice box how?

Moskos said...

Unknown, bacchys, unknown. I still haven't spoken to anybody who has any idea how his neck was destroyed.

Moskos said...

Jeremy, I wrote something about that when it came out. I think. But I can't find it. Maybe it was just in comments. But I did read that piece. And I didn't like it. That article struck me as bullshit.

Though I can't remember exactly why. But I do remember, that as to the homicide fudging, even if the article were true (which I do not think is a given) we were still talking like 10 percent or something.

Something that really doesn't matter, statistically, when we're taking about homicide stats.

The other problem with fudging data is you have to keep doing it. Every month. Just to tread water. So it can't go on forever.

Moskos said...

I did find something. Comments presented here without context or comment:

From the Sun Times version, it doesn't seem like that big of deal. The UCR always did (strangely) classify incidents rather than victims. So they changed the definition a few years ago? I'd be surprised if any police department didn't lag behind.

Regardless, this is why I only look at homicides (and shootings) to judge crime trends. Those counts tend to be pretty good (though I see shootings have the same issue... and shootings stats are always harder to come by).
I read that. The fudging they may be doing is more a political thing. So they can say "lower than last year!" But it's pretty insignificant statistically, something like 5%.

Still, I've *never* heard about attempts to fudge murder stats (outside of The Wire, of course), so it is an interesting story, regardless.
Not last weekend, however:

At least one of those comments is from this post:

Unknown said...

Peter, thanks for sharing. It is obvious you really care.

David Woycechowsky said...

Probably not a good idea to give a nickel ride with multiple suspects in back of wagon. It would be tough to argue later that both prisoners are clausto, and this is understood when the second prisoner is loaded in.

bacchys said...

It might be "unknown" (at least by everyone not involved in the actual incident itself) how his voice box was damaged, but it definitely throws a wrench into the gears of the theory he "done it to himself."

IrishPirate said...

You almost have to live in Chicago and be a local newsjunkie to understand what's going on with crime stats. Simply put Rahm and his NYPD bred Comstat Commando Superintendent McCarthy will take any positive spin possible on crime stories.

For example let's say homicides end up higher in June 2015 than they were in June 2014, but lower than May 2015. They will state that the trend is down. Which is true and false depending on how you want to measure it. They will find the one police district where homicide is down and "forget" the other districts. They will literally say well on May 15 201? we had X number of homicides and on May 15th this year we had none. They will use whatever period of time and whatever geographical boundaries they can that best suit their PR agenda. It's almost Orwellian. Almost.

They will spin and spin and spin and put whatever BS they can to make themselves look good. One case from last year is a man was randomly beaten and robbed by bangers on Fullerton Avenue in Lincoln Park. Random stupidity. Initially the police tried to spin it as a fight between acquaintances and for months the homicide was classifed as a "death investigation".


Now I agree statistically "juking" the stats about a handful of murders doesn't "move the needle", but when you keep changing the definition of what the needle is it obscures the truth. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on individual district(precinct) commanders to turn in "lower" crime stats.

About the only crime stat I relatively believe from the CPD is homicides and even there they manage to "massage" the number down a bit. The other numbers are almost totally useless with the exception of the running count they are taking on gunshot victims. Since hospitals are involved in those counts it may be harder to manipulate the stats, but I have great faith that with great pressure from "on high" some method will be found to lower the gunshot victim number. Someone is shot on a Chicago expressway? Let's not count it because the state police have jurisdiction. Someone is shot in a forest preserve......same thing.

Someone is shot on the Evanston/Chicago border? Roll him across the street and hand it off to the Evanston cops.

Andy D said...

wasn't there a report a few years ago about the OCME in Baltimore reporting an *extremely* high number of deaths from "unknown" causes? I remember hearing a number like 50 extra probable homicides a year that were being classified as "unknown" cause of death possibly to keep the murder rate down. This was 5 or 6 years ago when they were touting how they were keeping the murder rate under 300 which was for a while a big deal.