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Robbers and Cops

I love to read books written by police officers about being police officers, and books written by criminals about being criminals.

In the latter category, I highly recommend Brutal by Kevin Weeks and Phyllis Karas.

Kevin Weeks was Whitey Bulger‘s right-hand man. He is loyal, loves to punch people in the face, and doesn’t mind committing the occasional murder. It is hard to know if he is telling the truth, but the book feels like it is honest at least.

I recently had the chance to talk at length with someone who had grown up in the neighborhood when Whitey was in charge. He had read the book and thought it rang true. I cannot recommend this book highly enough to any budding criminal. It is an excellent “how-to” book for being part of an organized crime ring. More importantly, it shows you the kind of people you will be competing with. If these people scare you (as they should), find a different career.

Much less scintillating (but I’m still glad I read it) is the soon-to-be-released Cop in the Hood. This is the story of a sociology Ph.D. student, Peter Moskos, who wants to study police, but ends up going through the Baltimore Police Academy and spending a year as a police officer.

The problem I had with the book is that there is no passion to his story. He doesn’t really want to be a police officer, it seems; it is just something to do to get his Ph.D.

After I read Blue Blood by Edward Conlon, I was inspired. Being a police officer became a secret fantasy of mine. Conlon loved being a police officer, despite the insanity and the low pay, and that inspires the book.

For Moskos and most of his fellow officers, on the other hand, being a cop is just a job. The goal is to make it to the end of the day, doing more or less as little as possible. Useful to know as an academic who studies crime, but it doesn’t make me drop to the floor to snap off twenty push-ups in anticipation of submitting an application to the Chicago Police Department the way Conlon’s book did.

A few neat snippets from Moskos’s book:

He describes the perfect natural experiment in policing…

(p. 115) One officer described an unorthodox approach [to deciding whom to arrest] he used very rarely. “Sometimes I’ll flip a quarter for a loiterer. Tails he goes to jail and heads he doesn’t. They’ll all be going, ‘Heads! Yeeah!'”

I asked if they ever fuss when the coin came up tails. He said, “No, not really.”

He gives an interesting justification for why anonymous 911 calls should not give the police the right to search someone:

(p. 116) … if anonymous calls did give police the right to search, some police officers would be quick to call 911 whenever they needed to search a subject.

Finally, he describes, as follows, what happened when he was doing research with police in Amsterdam:

(p. 191) … I saw a police officer give an addict back his heroin when the addict was released after a night in jail for some petty crime. I expressed my amazement to the officer that he could give illegal drugs back to a criminal. He explained to me that as soon as the man ran out of heroin, he would break into a car to get money to buy his next hit. It made no sense to the police officer to hasten the addict’s next criminal act by taking away his drugs. I asked about sending the wrong message. The police officer said his message was stop breaking into cars.