Cop In the Hood

Glenn Loury had Peter Moskos on this week to talk about police shootings. Moskos is an unlikely person in the United States — a Harvard grad who worked on the Baltimore police force and now teaches sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

What is particularly valuable about Moskos’ perspective is that he knows the beats that cops work. That doesn’t excuse bad policing. It does mean he knows more about the context of police work than the ACLU or Black Lives Matter. Consider, for instance, his defense of enforcing the law against Chicago youth in a rough part of town:

But the ACLU is wrong. Dead wrong. Look, if you want to argue that these young men shouldn’t be stopped at all, fine. You agree with the ACLU (and don’t live on that block or hear the gunshots). And the ACLU is right in criticizing police who stop people for the sake of making a stop.

As a cop you don’t (or shouldn’t) harass everybody walking down the block. You harass these guys on this block. And by “harass” I mean, within the law and constitution, make it little less fun for them to hang out in public and sell drugs. Yes, you as a cop give these guys a hard time. Is that fair? Yes. Because there have been six shootings on this block this year. Is it racist? No. Because these guys are the problem.

If you’re a cop, you need to ask a bunch of questions 1) how do you do knowing these guy are slinging and shooting? 2) Should you stop these guys? 3) Are they committing a crime? 4) Are they a Broken Window? 5) What legal basis do you have to stop and frisk those guys?

[The answers are 1) get out of your damn car and talk to them, or at watch them disperse at your presence, 2) yes, 3) no, and 4) yes. 5) very little at first, but you can build it, ask for a consent search, or conduct a Terry Frisk.]

You pull up to them. See what they do. You can crack down on this group by enforcing Broken Windows quality-of-life crimes. You get to know who they are. You can use your discretion and ticket them for something — drinking, smoking joints, jaywalking, littering, truancy, spitting — whatever it takes. You can arrest them when they can’t provide ID (they can’t, trust me). You can harass these criminals legally and within the bounds of the constitution. This is what police are supposed to do. It’s how homicides are prevented. It’s how some kids stay out of gangs. But if cops do their job, then we, society, need to support police officers against inevitable accusations of harassment, racism, and even discourteous behavior in their confrontations with these criminals.

As a cop you will not win the war drugs, but as long as drugs are illegal you need to fight the fight against pubic drug dealing. But we’re telling cops not to do this. In Chicago cops are listening. And so are the criminals.

So maybe America isn’t so great (for reasons other than Michelle Higgins gives).

7 thoughts on “Cop In the Hood

  1. “You can crack down on this group by enforcing Broken Windows quality-of-life crimes.”

    That sounds like Ol’ Timey Law and Order policing, How did that work out for this country? Why not try Gospel Centered Law Enforcement that is both Inclusive and Missional? Law Enforcement that incorporates both Racial Reconciliation and Cultural Engagement? Law Enforcement that combines both Grace and Law?

    The Gospel Industrial Complex become a one-stop-shop where “the Gospel” is the answer to every one of society’s ills and issues. A “Gospel centered’ approach to crime, immigration, climate change, poverty, race relations, income inequality, terrorism, etc.

    “Gospel centered” is this generation’s “name it and claim it” fad.

    Give me my Ol’ Time Religion back, please!


  2. All authority, when they have you in their web, will try to bait and provoke you into showing an attitude that, to them, justifies further infliction of that authority.

    Parents, coaches, teachers, bosses, customs officers, the police…

    Best to realize sometimes you cannot win, and do what you can to not show disrespect and escalate things.

    Especially if your actions have fully justified the authority giving you special attention.


  3. The episode in season 4 when McNulty catches the church robber through good old fashioned police work, and earlier when Carver learns the boys names because he takes Colvin’s advice and walks his neighborhoods.


  4. One of the last commenters to Moskos’ blog article makes some interesting observations, especially in the final paragraph:

    “… The issue is that the accusations of harassment, racism, and discourteous behavior aren’t just coming from their interactions with these gang members. Its pretty obvious that the Chicago Police Department does in fact have problems with corruption, abuse, and racism. From Ronald Watts running a protection racket to the Homan Square detention facility to the irregularities around the Laquan McDonald shooting, there are obviously major problems within the department. I understand supporting proactive policing, but its a harder case to make when the department doing the policing is as thoroughly compromised as the Chicago PD. Proactive professional policing might be the ideal, but proactive corrupt, abusive, and racist policing isn’t a viable long term strategy.

    And though the idea that a reduction in proactive policing has led to the rise in shootings is a solid hypothesis, its not the only one. Just to throw some back of the envelope math out there, per the Chicago Tribune story, the number of shootings has increased by 648 compared to this time last year. I can’t find more recent data, but as of March 31, the number of stops had dropped from about 150,000 to 20,000 and the number of guns seized dropped from 1413 to 1316. If that trend has held, that means that a reduction of over 200,000 stops has led to about 200 more guns on the streets and an increase of 648 shootings. So the addition of 200 guns leading to 648 shootings is definitely plausible. 200,000 stops to get there though is a lot of collateral damage, especially if the stops aren’t entirely respectful of peoples rights.

    Meanwhile, the clearance rate for murders and shootings is pretty low (though i’m struggling to find a definitive number) so another hypothesis could be that the loss in public trust from the plethora of high profile scandals has discouraged citizens from working with the police. If thats the case, then bringing back those 200,000 stops might not have a positive effect.

    Another totally speculative hypothesis is that the corruption within the Chicago PD is actually more widespread than people think and the increased scrutiny has forced corrupt officers to stop running protection rackets. The uptick in violence is then a result of the shakeup within the criminal world rather than changes in policing. We won’t know if thats the case though unless activists keep forcing Chicago to get more transparent and to actually take internal affairs investigations seriously …”


  5. George, which is also why New York City police may be a much better place to look for good policing (as Moskos says). But the commissioner of NYPD couldn’t even speak at Brown University where sensitive students didn’t want to hear from a man who oversaw “stop and frisk.”


  6. DGH – Further, former CPD Superintendent, Garry McCarthy, checked in recently on the Dallas police shootings:

    “… Former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy talked with WGN Morning News Monday about the recent attacks on police officers and controversial police shootings. McCarthy said violence against police won’t go away any time soon. He said there is plenty of blame to go around due to a “culture of non-compliance” that is getting in the way of progress.

    McCarthy believes Black Lives Matter protests are spreading irresponsible rhetoric, which is contributing to a “lawlessness” mentality. During an on-air interview with CNN, McCarthy said he offered an opportunity for the Black Lives Matters group to meet with lawmakers in the same room — an opportunity which was allegedly accepted. McCarthy believes there must be a conversation as well as a plan created for the future as what is happening now “isn’t working…”

    IMHO, in addition to all other factors listed by Moskos and his blog respondents, (and this could well lead to attacks against me, I’m sure) there’s the ubiquitous union. I’ve never been a big fan of organized labor, period, but unionization of employees in the public sector, from police to firefighters to teachers, etc., was never a good idea. A union on top of a potentially corrupt agency is just fanning the flames.


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