Monday, June 23, 2008

Cop In The Hood - A Review

Last week I finished reading Cop In The Hood, My Year Policing Baltimore's Eastern District. The author, Peter Moskos, was on the Ron Smith Show discussing his book and his experiences and it sounded fascinating.

Moskos wanted to wrote his PhD dissertation on crime in the ghetto. He originally got permission from Baltimore City Police Commissioner Ed Norris to ride along and write his story. However, he left Baltimore City to work for Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich. The incoming police commissioner told him no deal, but he could join the police force as a police officer and write whatever he wants, but he had to be a real police officer. Moskos questioned why they would hire him knowing he'd quit after a year, but they said they would do it.

Moskos went through the police academy with a class of new-hires and learned everything that a police officer would learn. After graduating, he was dumped on the crime-infested streets of Baltimore into the Eastern Districts, one of the worst ghettos in the entire country.

The book depicts his transformation from a green cop who wants to make a difference into a smart cop who realizes that the best thing to do is just to minimize the violence and play the system.

As anyone who's lived in Baltimore knows, the city is one of the most violent cities in America. From over 300 murders per year and thousands of shootings under the Schmoke administration, murders limped down into the high 200's during the O'Malley administration. However, the city remained a violent place that chased out nearly all of the white people and most of the educated hard-working blacks. Block after block was left with abandoned buildings, crack whores, and people so destitute that they turn to drugs and crime as a way to get through the days.

On Chapter 6, page 129 Moskos points out the ridiculousness and barely non-existence of the justice system.

Baltimore City prosecutors declined to file charges in about 15% of all arrests and immediately reduced the charges in another 10 percent of cases. Thirty percent of minor charges are dropped. Prosecutors declined to prosecute 75 percent of the 72,200 cases brought in the city's District Court. In contract, prosecutors in surrounding Baltimore County declined to prosecute 44% of their 20,500 cases.

So you want to know where most of the criminals are in Baltimore City? Roaming the streets. And 72,200 cases in one year??? That's nearly 300 cases per business day! This is one reason that Moskos points out that police often do not arrest people that are violating the law - mostly on drug possession and distribution. These are for the most part victimless crimes. The police just try to move these people along, send them home and chase them off of the corner for the night.

In Chapter 7, Moskos is arguing the possibility of legalizing drugs - removing the criminal element from the trade. He compares it to prohibition during the 1920's. During Prohibition, President Warren Harding (who was near the top of my worst Presidents ever list), said that "In another generation, I believe liquor will have a disappeared, not merely from our politics, but from our memories." Anti-Prohibitionist New Jersey Governor Edward Edwards (who must have hated his mother for naming him that), proclaimed, "I intend to keep New Jersey as wet as the Atlantic Ocean."

Finally, on page 170 of Chapter 7, Moskos points out that the homicide rate spiked during Prohibition. After the 21st Amendment was passed (the repeal of the 19th Amendment - Prohibition), crime dropped precipitously. It was not "until 1974, after Richard Nixon declared a new "war on drugs" did the homicide rate top the 1933 record." So in these 2 instances, a war on a substance produced more crime.

Moskos gives a good argument for dealing with the crime in Baltimore City, but it's difficult to say if it would work. The culture of the ghetto may be so entrenched that they know of no other way to live other than to have turf wars and shoot each other. There is no love in the ghetto. And when your mayor is under investigation for criminal behavior, how can you honestly attack people for the way they live when their leaders are criminals, too?

I was fascinated with this book and couldn't put it down. I highly recommend it to everyone.

No comments:

Who links to my website?
Add to Technorati Favorites Add to Technorati Favorites Add to Technorati Favorites