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Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing…

Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore's Eastern District

by Peter Moskos

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A sociologist got hired by the Baltimore PD as part of his research. He concluded that there was “no culture of corruption or brutality among Baltimore City patrol officers,” which makes me side-eye his account a bit. (He quotes one officer who says that his pension is worth $1-2 million, and that he’d be a fool to risk that—but people do dumber stuff all the time.) He does talk about the culture of CYA policing, staying in a car rather than walking a beat and getting to know people, as well as about superiors more concerned with arrest statistics and avoiding having an officer caught on camera doing something wrong than with preventing crime. “Arrests decrease when the hassles of arrests—lack of departmental support, citizen complaints, the burden of court, an ineffective court system—make putting away the bad guys no longer worth the trouble.”

Police like cars because they’re safer, don’t involve walking, and are shielded from the weather; supervisors like cars because they can keep track of officers more readily and can dispatch them more quickly, even though quick police response is rarely very important to solving a crime and walking a beat would be better. Residents, he reports, often conclude that all cops are either “incorrigibly corrupt or completely apathetic.” But Moskos concludes that it’s mostly the latter, along with aggressive arresters/searchers who stretch the truth in an arrest report but don’t graduate to full-scale beatings and planting evidence, yay? Police officers arrest people for trespassing, “but people want the suspect to believe that the real crime is failure to obey.” Arrest is also used to make sure people will comply with future orders and to punish bad attitudes. “Officers gain compliance from a suspect and control of a situation by implying that [the] arrest decision is based entirely on personal—even extralegal—discretion rather than some legitimate but mundane and extremely minor or technical violation of the law.” (I don’t know why Moskos contrasts those—that’s why having lots of laws it’s easy to violate enables abuse.)

Gone are the days, Moskos says, where police officers might offer suspects a hit or two in order to avoid a troublesome night in jail—perhaps, he suggests, to those suspects’ detriment. Force “no longer defines the core of policing,” and is now backup. But he doesn’t exactly connect the dots: because of the volume of policing, that can be true even while force itself remains at horrific levels.

Training too was more about surviving a dysfunctional institution than interacting well with the public; the key concern was officer safety, but no one was trained about de-escalating conflicts or dealing with troubled people who don’t respect authority. I believe that every profession occasionally hates/jokes cruelly about its clients, but it’s still pretty troubling to read a quote Moskos gets: “Junkies don’t have rights. They’re not even people. Who gives a flying fuck about a junkie!?” Moskos concludes that a focus on drug addicts hurts police—leading them to seek arrest statistics rather than other measures of success, and reinforcing their ideas that the public is the enemy. Given the car-based culture, every additional step “from stopping the car to exiting the car to questioning people on the street … is a form of escalation on the part of the police officer…. Police officers always assert their right to control public space.” There are only three possible outcomes, Moskos says, to a suspect’s interaction with the police: arrest, departure, or “deference.” In 1999, Baltimore police shot 32 people and killed five; they killed 23 people from 2004-2007. Police officers, meanwhile, were more likely to die or be injured in car crashes—police officers often refuse to wear seatbelts.

Moskos claims that police have little incentive to break the law in big ways or perjure themselves, though that’s in large part because the law is already so favorable to many tactics police use to get “consent” or to justify searches (he doesn’t exactly put it that way). Yet he also discusses common arrests for “loitering” even though the people targeted didn’t meet the legal requirements; the point isn’t to convict people, but to show them that officers must be obeyed. Shocking statistics: 45,000 residents of the Eastern District, and 20,000 arrests, most of them drug-related. 56% of black Baltimore men in their twenties are on probation, on parole, in jail, or in prison. More than 10% of men in the Eastern District are murdered before they reach 35, Moskos says, though there’s a big division between men who aren’t involved in the drug trade and those who are. Moskos blames drug criminalization for a lot of policing’s problems—along with its direct effects on minority neighborhoods, the drug war also encouraged the Supreme Court to limit suspects’ rights. When a 75% drop in world opium production (after the Taliban took over Afghanistan) didn’t change prices in the US at all, the drug war is lost; criminalization isn’t worth its costs, such as the plethora of “million-dollar blocks”—individual city blocks in which the government spends more than one million dollars per year to incarcerate individuals from that block. Along with decriminalization, Moskos is also an advocate for “policing green”—without a car, getting to know people, saving fuel (yes, that seemed a little anticlimactic, but ok). ( )
  rivkat | Nov 18, 2015 |
This is a true story, written as a long research case by a sociologist associated with Harvard. However, it reads as not academic at all, more like a true-life account and stories from the author's year of being a real police officer posted in the ghetto of East Baltimore. The author seems really likeable, and he takes the reader the chronological process of police academy, then being the green rookie, to being a more experienced cop who's seen most kind of 911 and 311 calls. He has some really funny anecdotes, especially when he describes and quotes the other policemen and policewomen in his unit. There's a story about an officer who had a brief strategy of making every possible bicycle arrest that is so funny it may make you cry. Unfortunately, the book veers off at the end with an entire history of Prohibition in this country (which should be titled Prof in the Classroom, not Cop in the Hood) and then the author's views about legalizing drugs. While this doesn't ruin the book, it definitely makes an otherwise enjoyable, funny, stark and education read into a political book. ( )
  shawnd | Feb 20, 2009 |
Really, really good. A detailed and occasionally even poetic insight into the reality of a cop's life. If you've seen the Wire and liked it, you need to read this. ( )
  lloydshep | Nov 17, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0691140081, Hardcover)

Cop in the Hood is an explosive insider's story of what it is really like to be a police officer on the front lines of the war on drugs. Harvard-trained sociologist Peter Moskos became a cop in Baltimore's roughest neighborhood--the Eastern District, also the location for the first season of the critically acclaimed HBO drama The Wire--where he experienced real-life poverty and violent crime firsthand. This revised and corrected edition of Cop in the Hood provides an unforgettable window into the world that outsiders never see--the thriving drug corners, the nerve-rattling patrols, and the heartbreaking failure of 911.

Moskos reveals the truth about the drug war and why it is engineered to fail--a truth he learned on the midnight shift. He describes police academy graduates fully unprepared for the realities of the street. He tells of a criminal justice system that incarcerates poor black men on a mass scale--a self-defeating system that measures success by arrest quotas and fosters a street code at odds with the rest of society--and argues for drug legalization as the only realistic way to end drug violence and let cops once again protect and serve. Moskos shows how officers in the ghetto are less concerned with those policed than with self-preservation and maximizing overtime pay--yet how any one of them would give their life for a fellow officer. Cop in the Hood ventures deep behind the Thin Blue Line to disclose the inner workings of law enforcement in America's inner cities. Those who read it will never view the badge the same way again.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:07 -0400)

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