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by Peter Moskos

March 3, 2017

"The corrupt and brutal ones always work together as if pulled by some magnetic force"

"The corrupt and brutal ones always work together as if pulled by some magnetic force." (Perhaps said by a Chicago cop, but I can neither cite nor verify.) I think the reason why, might be as simple as the fact that nobody likes to be given the stink-eye by their colleagues. So if most people disapprove of what you do, you eventually get drawn like-minded folk who appreciate your work ethic and style. In the police world, for the more aggressively inclined, this means a specialized unit that focuses on arrests for drugs (and guns and maybe vice). And then, in precious semi-isolation, you feed and build on the habits of those most similar to you.

I wrote about the federal indictment of seven Baltimore City police officers yesterday (the actual indictment is here) and said: "This is about bad apples. But it's not just about bad apples. There's the barrel that allows these apples to rot."

Who else is to blame? How do we prevent this from happening again? Who said, "Crime is up! Get me guns! And take all the overtime you need"? Who ignored complaints because the "numbers" were good?

I don't have the answers. But these are sincere questions. Because true organizational change best happens from within. Things sure didn't improve when innocent Baltimore cops were criminally charged after the death of Freddie Gray. And the solution sure won't be found in some faddish mandatory training course in implicit-bias or gender-based stereotypes. Bad reform does more harm than good. Good cops will work less; bad cops work harder.

Last year I spent a fair amount of time criticizing the DOJ's report on the Baltimore City Police Department. And for good reason. The DOJ report was anonymously written, horribly researched, and basically per-ordained boilerplate designed to document just enough systemic bias to activate the legal trigger needed to implement a federal consent decree while simultaneously absolving current political and police leaders of any and all accountability for the current mess Baltimore is in. These so-called investigators went to Baltimore while this crap was going on and the worst they could find were some poorly written arrest reports from five years ago?

But I also wrote this:
Mixed in with questionable methodology, intentions, and anecdotes, there's some of God's awful truth in this DOJ report. Yes, the department is a dysfunctional organization that keeps going only because of the dedication of rank-and-file who do their best, despite it all.
I tried to highlight what the report got right. I hoped things would get better, but I didn't think they would:
Maybe this DOB report will improve the department despite itself. Though I might be wrong, I doubt it. I suspect people will ignore [what's wrong with the organization] and just focus on eliminating discretionary proactive policing that saves lives. If policing has taught me anything, it's that things can always get worse. Or, as has been said: "I have never seen a situation so dismal that a policeman couldn't make it worse."
It did get worse.

I also wrote this about the DOJ report:
Accountability ends above the civil-service ranks. Why is that? Where is the leadership and accountability on high? Nobody blames the bosses -- the mayor and police commissioner in particular -- for the dysfunction of the department they control.
You think cops like working with (the very small minority of really) bad cops? Hell, no. But the system has no way to get rid of them. So you make do. You have to.
I defend most police officers because I've been there. ... I've had to work with cops I wouldn't trust as far as I can throw.

So fix it, dammit. Good cops want to, but they can't.
And then we get to a failed discipline process.

[From the DOJ Report:] The system has several key deficiencies.
It is clear that the Department has been unable to interrupt serious patterns of misconduct. Our investigation found that numerous officers had recurring patterns of misconduct that were not adequately addressed. Similarly, we note that, in the past five years, 25 BPD officers were separately sued four or more times for Fourth Amendment violations.

You might call that a red flag.
How much do you want to bet that one or more of the just-indicted officers are on that list? But did anybody do anything?

You know what might help: figure out who didn't do the wrong thing. What you have here is an inadvertent integrity sting. Now I know you're not supposed to get credit for doing what you're expected to do. But you might find something out from who (if anybody) in that squad didn't abuse overtime. Whose name didn't come up in a wire tap? Who entered the squad, had a look around, and left right away thinking, "maybe uniform patrol isn't so bad after all"? But that's not the way these things work.

[Update: According to Justin Fenton in the Sun these seven were the entire squad. As to spending your career "risking your life" to protect others as a defense, this clip from Scott and Bailey comes to mind.]

It's not that good cops cover for bad cops as much as they stay the fuck away from them. Why? Because if you know enough to rat somebody out, you're already in way too deep. And if you don't know enough, well, what are you supposed to do? Go to Internal Affairs and say, "I've heard rumors"? And what if some of the rumors happen to be about Internal Affairs? Nope. What you do is put on blinders to cover your ass. Why? Because when the shit hits the fan, you don't want to be anywhere near it. This is not a Blue Wall of Silence as much as a Blue Cone of Silence. And when the bad cops are off segregated in their own unit, it makes it so much easier to see no evil. If your Spidey Sense tingles, you stay the hell away.

And the solution -- and this is always the case -- needs to focus on the wrongdoers rather than be collective punishment on the majority, who are good. From my book, Cop in the Hood:
Some officers enter the police department corrupt. Others fall on their own free will. Still others may have an isolated instance of corruption in an otherwise honest career. But there is no natural force pulling officers from a free cup of coffee toward shaking down drug dealers. Police can omit superfluous facts from a police report without later perjuring themselves in court. Working unapproved security overtime does not lead to a life in the mob. Officers can take a cat nap at 4 a.m. and never abuse medical leave. There is no slope. If anything, corruption is more like a Slip 'N Slide. You can usually keep your footing, but it's the drugs that make everything so damn slippery.
As to overtime, from 15 year ago:
To control overtime pay, superiors also discourage late discretionary arrests. While a legitimate late arrest may result in a few extra hours of overtime pay, the sergeant signing the overtime slip is likely to ask details about the arrest to confirm the legitimacy before adding an extra hour or two and giving very explicit instructions to "go straight home."
This "rounding up" of overtime was pretty common. And I'll even defend it as one of the only carrots a boss has to reward somebody for doing a good job. Regardless, it is a far cry from what seems to have happened here.


Daniel said...

Peter, are you involved at all in working with departments on these things? Has anyone reached out to you? I feel like Baltimore, for instance, could use your wisdom.

Moskos said...

Nope. Not at all.
But thank you.

IrishPirate said...

Years ago before the orange darkness set over a dystopian American landscape,another pretentious quote alert, a cop in MY hood commented on a blog about the following piece of police stupidity or maybe another one. We've had a few in Chicago.

Basically two on duty cops found a drunk young woman near Wrigley Field and drove her 3+ miles to her house and had sex with her. She reported it and the then former Superintendent/Chief, who was temporary Sup/Chief, immediately made sure an investigation ensued. No cover up. No waffling when Terry Hilliard was in charge. One of the two decent Superintendents Chicago has had in the past 35 years. The other was Fred Rice. The rest of the superintendents have been ineffective, flat out stupid, corrupt, drunks or some combination of the those wonderful qualities.


Cop also made some comment about good cops not wanting to work with the bad ones. He may have said something regarding supervisors should have kept these two mopes apart, but I might be conflating his comment with a comment somewhere else. There was also a situation around that time frame of a cop from the Wrigley area who had a reputation for getting in off duty fights in Wrigleyville pulling some crap in a suburb and getting arrested and later fired. He had some clout as his dad had been a high ranking CPD cop, but his clout didn't go beyond the city limits. Irish mope who now works at his families Irish bar on the NW side.

aNanyMouse said...

Peter, great stuff about the Blue Cone! How can the Media not know of this?
On your point about top City bosses, it's crucial that the probes go ALL the way up the chain. How many City Councils have been asking (e.g. about the Laquan mess)"what did the mayor know, and when did he know it?" I'll bet ranch that part of the "Ferguson Effect" owes to cynicism that the cops are the easy targets, while Pols/Brass still get to rake in glory and $$. Who in the Media is asking about this?

And it would sure help if guys like Flynn, Hillard, and Rice got credit from the media for stepping up in fair ways, and if Pols got credit for backing them up on their fairness.
If only the Media were worth jack sh*t! The collapse of standards there (incl. the straw men at Gore on "inventing the internet", and at Trump on "calling Mexicans rapists") is digging this country into a bunch of holes.

aNanyMouse said...

How can the Media not know of the Blue Cone, seeing as it's probably been around for generations? It's a function of human nature, which hasn't appreciably changed in quite some time!

Moskos said...

To give proper credit, the words "Blue Cone" came from a reporter I was talking to when he misheard me saying something about "blue wall of silence" being vastly overblown. "Blue cone of silence?" he said, confused. I said, "No, but that is a great concept!"

Charles G. said...

This isn't about bad cops but about what I perceive as bad policy: I'm reading the story in the NY Times about warranted no-knock entries (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/03/18/us/forced-entry-warrant-drug-raid.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0). More misery over the War on Drugs. Makes me wonder too about the sense of armed home protection. What happens when your house is mistaken as a crack house by authorities with the right to enter unannounced?

Unknown said...

Um, no. These guys went way beyond no-knock warrants. Not to say the article you cited is off base, it highlights some real issues. However, at least the no-knocks are issued by a judge and have the rule of law (misguided as it is) behind them.
This squad was beyond the pale. Protection scams, shaking down dealers, OT abuse(odd how the loudest cries are about the overtime. In my opinion these are the least of the allegations). These were dirty no-good cops whether or not they used no-knock warrants.

Charles G. said...

Well said, David Madden. You're right. I get it.

Unknown said...

This is crazy Moskos to think so much corruption, i think you should try to contact the department and try to help solve this issue and sorce out the "bad" cops.