Professor Peter C. Moskos
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Department of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration
Winner of the 2008 PROSE Award for Best Book in Sociology or Social Work
This riveting tale of policing begins honestly and continues with great sincerity and pathos. A sensitive and timely account of the daily trials of police work by someone who knows Baltimore's streets first-hand, Cop in the Hood challenges journalists, social scientists, and others who profess knowledge of the inner city to walk those streets before making bold declarations and righteous claims for policy and redress. A must read.
Peter Moskos's [Cop in the Hood is] truly excellent. This is one of the two or three best conceptual analyses of 'cops and robbers' I have read. Mandatory reading for all fans of The Wire and recommended for everyone else.
Cop in the Hood is a powerful and truly unique document in the sociology of the criminal justice system. Using an original blend of racy personal observation, adroit cultural interpretation and hard-edged sociological analysis, Moskos examines police work in one of America’s worst ghettos. While showing us this tragedy close up from the police perspective, Moskos also sympathetically dissects the social context and cultural underpinnings of the drug users’ world. What emerges is a devastating critique of America’s failed war on drugs.
Cop in the Hood is a thoughtful, highly entertaining record of a police officer’s year spent patrolling one of the country’s toughest urban districts. For those who are interested in crime and how things work, and for readers seeking a reasoned look at the war on drugs and its implications, this is the handbook.
Peter Moskos, a sociologist by training, somewhat inadvertently became a police officer. Cop in the Hood is the fortuitous and fascinating result. It gives the reader the real dope from someone with the training and ability to put the street into the larger context. Highly recommended.
Cop in the Hood is an extremely valuable study centered on patrolling a drug-infested Baltimore police district. Readers interested in drug policy, criminology, or policing cannot help but to learn a lot from this book. I know that I did, and I am grateful to the author. Many of his insights are eye-opening. His voice is unique and essential in debates concerning drug-policy reforms.
Much more genuinely eye-opening is Peter Moskos's Cop in the Hood (to be published by Princeton University Press in May). Moskos, who is now an assistant professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, did the research for a PhD, which forms the basis for his book, simply by joining the Baltimore police for 'six months in the academy and 14 months on the street.' He admits to feelings of 'empathy' towards fellow officers who, like him, would put their lives on the line for 'those I didn't know and those I did know and didn't like.' And he confesses that he found the terrible East District ghetto 'exotic.' But despite his confessedly 'unscientific methods,' Moskos offers a compelling account of why a uniformed police patrol 'does little but temporarily disrupt public drug-dealing' — and hence why 'the war on drugs' is so hopelessly self-defeating.
Moskos blends narrative and analysis, adding an authoritative tone to this adrenaline-accelerating night ride that reveals the stark realities of law enforcement while illuminating little-known aspects of police procedures.
Those prone to facile comparisons will liken this riveting book to The Wire, the acclaimed and popular cable-television series that inhabits the same mean streets. Those who take a longer view, however, will see this for what it is: an unsparing boys-in-blue procedural that succeeds on its own plentiful—and wonderfully sympathetic—merits. Moskos, now an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, deftly intermingles cops-and-robbers verisimilitude and progressive social science, yet keeps his reportage clear-eyed, his conclusions pathos-free. What results is a thoughtful, measured critique—of the failed drug war, its discontents, and the self-defeating criminal-justice system looming just behind.
Moskos blends academic writing with techniques of creative nonfiction. Moskos packs his account with anecdotes, details, dialogue and off-the-cuff observations about everything from the Baltimore dialect to ghetto slang to the recipe for crack. Ultimately, his story is engaging as well as persuasive.
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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 critically acclaimed HBO drama The Wire—where he experienced the real-life poverty and violent crime firsthand. He provides an unforgettable window into this 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 in Baltimore. 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.
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Recommended for...insights into law enforcement and, in a nerdier vein, how participant observation can inform social science.
For anyone interested is what being a police officer in Baltimore City is really like, Peter Moskos' in-depth, academic, and realist account in Cop in the Hood is a must-read. . . . enlightening and authoritative.
The Wall Street Journal
by Daniel Horan
High on the list of things that police officers loathe -- and the list is a long one -- is the sight of an egghead doctoral candidate approaching the precinct house in the hope of finding a research subject. Among cops it is generally assumed that, no matter how much time an academic researcher may spend on ride-alongs in the field, and no matter how well intentioned he may be, he will remain an outsider, studying a culture that is all but impenetrably foreign to him. Which makes Peter Moskos's "Cop in the Hood" all the more remarkable and all the more welcome.
The British Journal of Sociology
June 1010. Vol 61(2) pp. 394-396
by Peter Manning, Northeastern University
What now is known about policing as a craft? Important earlier studies of policing as a craft, seen as a facet of the occupational culture, were elaborated by later work done ten or more years ago, but few fieldwork-based studies have appeared of late (see Manning, ‘The Study of Policing’, 2005; ‘A Dialectic of Organizational and Occupational Culture’ 2008).
Peter Moskos set out to do a participant observation study for his dissertation at Harvard, was refused, and then invited to join the Baltimore, Maryland police department as a patrol officer. After passing the academy, he worked as a patrol officer for eighteen months. While there, he reflected on his actions and attitudes, made notes and interviewed fellow officers. The result is an imaginative ethnography, unconventional in style and purpose. It is at once a close and moving description of big city policing with an ironic subtext, and a plea for reconsideration of drug policy. The book covers his period in the academy, working the street, especially in regard to drugs, answering calls, making arrests, and concludes with observations on drug policy. It ends with a reflective epilogue. It is a vivid picture and revealing of the patrol officers' craft.
Policing is a métier, over-determined by the organizational structure, the resource deployment and rewards of the police organization. As Moskos shows, in the eyes of his colleagues, much rests on the incident and the interpersonal tactics characteristic of its handling. Because police work overvalues skillful and decisive action in the incident, it is the theatrical core of patrol work. Deft handling of incidents, the use of verbal and non-verbal signs, close readings of intentions, the stare and the body and other tools, is much admired. It is all about the officers' authority and very little else counts on the street. The working rules, both implicit and explicit are clear: come home alive, stay safe, keep out of trouble and protect your pension; use authority sparingly; be aware of subtle differences between stops, frisks, and searches. The working rules made it possible to sustain the official version of policing. As it is a mock bureaucracy, one that purports to operate by the rules but does not, a grasp of informal rules is essential. This idea is introduced in the academy where the formal policies were words, but the students were expected to pick up on the music e.g., you don't chase a car, that is against policy, but you can report following one; you do not ‘frisk’ for drugs only for guns; make arrests first then search. Always be able to articulate your reasons for probable cause. Moskos learned nine things in the academy, all of them tangential to the work itself. One of these was always to have shiny shoes. He found the academy neither intellectually challenging nor informative.
Police in Baltimore believed that laziness, ignorance, sex and drugs caused the poverty they observed in the ghetto. They view it as a living hell. Class and culture are seen as the problem and officers deny holding racist views. Because ‘junkies’ have forfeited their rights, they have little or no legal protection (pp. 43–6); they are merely to be ‘herded’. Moskos soon began to minimize unpleasant dealings, avoided paperwork and focused on getting home safely (p. 47). Discretion, criminal behaviour, probable cause and the rest were useful fictions in paperwork but irrelevant otherwise. While an unlimited number of arrestees was always present, the number of arrests expected was set, almost arbitrarily, by supervisors. Moskos notes ‘you can always lock up someone’ (p. 55). Although lying was necessary and considered prudent by his colleagues, the police he observed spoke of ‘creative writing’ rather than lying in writing up their arrests. A variety of known actions captured in the reports permitted upgrading or downgrading any incident e.g., theft to lost property. Moskos shows how police prose is written with an eye to future expectations of an audience- a sergeant, a supervisor, or a prosecuting attorney. On the street, police language is vulgar and direct rather than comprising the stilted formalisms of television drama; it plays on social nearness while holding back the threat of action. A common crime is ‘failure to obey’ an officer (p. 117).
The police craft or métier is illustrated by the circular reasoning involved in policing drugs on the street. Police are allocated on the basis of calls for service and oral culture defines areas, their residents and habitués in moral terms. Some areas are over policed in respect of arrests because they are characterized by drug use and dealing, fueled by poverty, unemployment and marginalization. In such areas ‘everybody's dirty’ (p. 83), ‘junkies have no legal rights’, and police are expected to make arrests (p. 55). Arrests ‘count’ and are rewarded by overtime and court time. These arrests sustain the moral character of the place, its reputation as a high crime area and a ghetto. The police believe that their practices are politically correct: ‘we are paid to herd junkies’ (p. 88). Arrests are tools, not means to some remote notion of justice. Even given parsimony of action and restraint, this tautological reasoning sustains the métier.
Moskos’ analysis of how police manage calls for service is excruciatingly pointed. The officers’ interpretations, redefinitions and avoidance of paperwork drives a context of lies, misrepresentations, and focus on the means, rapid response. The quality of the response or its adequacy to the problem is irrelevant. There is no ‘problem-solving’ done in East Baltimore. The craft work here is subtle, clever, and above all about job control. Even in the highest crime area of Baltimore, a crime-ridden city itself, officers handle on average only one call an hour.
The details of this ethnography are vivid and revealing of its foundational matter: ‘crime’. It shows how the rest of police work cannot be separated analytically or empirically from police activity. This suggests that the way into understanding policing is to understand their circular, context-based, self-fulfilling practices. Moskos states flatly (p. 25) we have little choice but to trust police officers and hold them responsible for their actions.
American Journal of Sociology, July 2010. pp. 291-293.
by Andrew V. Papachristos, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Some of sociology’s most venerable urban ethnographies chronicle the ways in which residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods adapt, contort, and tweak formal methods of control or else develop informal mechanisms as they go about their daily lives. Ethnographers, however, frequently overlook—or simply avoid—systemic inquiry into those doing the controlling, especially the police. In so doing, scholars often take for granted the dynamic and powerful role of the police in disadvantaged communities. Peter Moskos’s book, Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore’s Eastern District, reveals the ways in which the daily routines, cultural practices, personal habits, and working conditions of police affect disadvantaged neighborhoods and those who live in them. Moskos displays ethnographic chutzpah by forgoing more traditional methods of participant observation, such as attending community policing meetings or going on ride-alongs, in favor of a more dramatic approach: Moskos (literally) became a police officer. For 20 months, Moskos worked for the Baltimore Police Department, graduated from the police academy, and worked as a police officer in one of Baltimore’s highest-crime neighborhoods. Such full access to police sources leaves readers with a simple yet important finding: just like those neighborhood residents whom they “serve and protect,” police devise complex ways to administer formal and informal social control as they negotiate social mandates, individual morality, professional obligations, and personal networks. To be sure, Cop in the Hood is no apologia for police, nor does it dismiss the harsh consequences of the war on drugs. Instead, it offers a candid investigation of the day-to-day arenas in which legal policies are enacted as well as the power afforded to those charged with enforcing the law. The end result is perhaps the best sociological account on what it means to police a modern ghetto.
Cop in the Hood takes the reader on a journey through the contradictions, personalities, bureaucracies, and habitus involved in contemporary policing. The book begins by describing the ins and outs of police education, ranging from formal academy training (chap. 2) and on-the-job training (chap. 3) to the acquisition of specific cultural practices of both the “thin blue line” and “thug life” (chap. 4). The second half of the book describes the dilemmas of modern responsive policing techniques (chap. 5) and the social construction of police discretion and its impact on disadvantaged communities (chap. 6). Written in a self-admitted style of “gonzo journalism” (p. 6), Cop in the Hood is an ethnography, peppered with a bit of autobiography, that no doubt appeals to a broader readership. Although sociologists who prefer more formal academic prose might find this style distracting, Cop in the Hood tells a great story centered around notions of race, power, and social control.
Moskos also provides a candid look at the ways police conceive of race and ethnicity. When talking about race, officers openly confound race, neighborhood context, and culture. In one of the more overtly racist remarks Moskos recounts, an instructor at the police academy described life in poor Baltimore neighborhoods as a nexus of family values and race: “It was a shame to see kids raised by parents who couldn’t raise them, with chicken bones and garbage all over the house, and have it all paid for by the tax payer . . . I don’t want to name any ‘nationalities,’ you can figure out what I’m talking about” (p. 19). Yet, most officers are not explicit racists. Rather, police embrace a conception of criminality akin to the culture-of-poverty paradigm. Most police, both black and white officers alike, explain crime not as a product of race and poverty, but as a product of values, behaviors, and practices. Often relying on their own upbringing in poor and working-class neighborhoods, police attribute crime to the “thug life” lifestyle and the behaviors it promotes. Cops often see this culture of crime as a colorless concept, or, as one cop explained, “I got nothing against black people. I just don’t like these black people. I don’t care what color you are. If they were white people acting this way, I wouldn’t like them any better. Hell, I’d probably like them worse” (p. 41). The interesting point here is that while academics might wish to employ our chic cultural rhetoric to make sense of police behavior, cops have a rather clear notion of culture and crime that they use to explain both crime and their individual and professional responses to it. The task for the academic reader, then, is to figure out ways to rectify our own valued nomenclature with the empirical reality described by Moskos.
Anyone interested in the study of disadvantaged neighborhoods should read this book, if only to understand the ways in which police influence the daily life in modern cities. The book is not without its faults, however, the most important of which are the numerous encounters pertaining to race and culture that beg for more rigorous sociological analysis. Still, I would argue—and I think Moskos would agree—that it is difficult to understand the intricate street ballet of city life without understanding all the dancers and the rhythms involved. And Cop in the Hood demonstrates how the average beat cop determines the tempo of street interactions.
Objective, incisive and intelligent account of police work "in the hood"
by Arnold Ages
This is what the industry calls “a sleeper book.” There is no doubt that it will soon be auctioned off as a film script.
Peter Moskos, a professor at the City University of New York, researched his Harvard Ph.D. dissertation in a most unusual way: He joined the Baltimore Police and after graduation from the Academy, was assigned to Baltimore’s toughest district, the Eastern.
Moskos did not hide the purpose of his enrollment and for a year and a half he joined fellow police officers pursuing the bad guys and in so doing learned important things about the criminal justice system.
His book, however, is not only a description of the daily activities of the men in blue but also a meditation of the Black underclass, the drug war and the ethics of his fellow officers. This reviewer has not read a more objective, incisive and intelligent account of police work.
There is criticism galore in his essay—of the irrelevance of the police training academy, of the targeting of poor Blacks and of the misguided drug policies of the American government.
With regard to those with whom he served, Moskos has high regard for their dedication and honesty and observes that few police officers would jeopardize their pension benefits by becoming “dirty,” the name for corrupt cops. He admits that there are some, but they are few in number.
While violence is endemic in the area where Moskos served, few police officers, he says are victimized by gun violence: Most fatalities among the police occur as a result of auto accidents. The author himself lost a colleague in that way.
One interesting element in this essay pivots on the arrest phenomenon. It is well known that police everywhere are expected to fill their arrest quotas. Baltimore is no different. But what is not known is that police officers receive overtime pay for court appearances and this can result in handsome monetary rewards.
Moskos’s graphic descriptions of the drug culture in Baltimore’s Eastern District are the most detailed and analytical to be found anywhere. The author offers a comprehensive look at the “stoops” abandoned buildings, lookouts and benches where drug transactions occur. He also zeroes in on the personnel involved in the drug trade and provides ample details about the police’s efforts to inhibit that “business.” One of the surprising revelations that emerge from his reportage is that, except for the major bosses, street level entrepreneurs make relatively little money.
Their clientele, the author notes, use a form of English language that is sui generis. “Bank” means to hit; “bounce” is to leave; “hoppers” are troublesome young people; “cousin” in a close friend; “fall out” is to faint; “zinc” is a sing. Mastering this linguistic tool is important for police officers because ignorance in this area can lead to misunderstandings when interrogating suspects. “Snitch” is another word popular in Baltimore’s Eastern District, and it is a despised term. In fact, the phrases “snitches get stitches,” more or less sums up the scorn in which such people are held.
What distinguishes Moskos’s book from similar ones is the author’s plea for greater flexibility in addressing the rampant drug crisis. He characterizes the current ideology as prohibition—much like that which paralyzed the United States in the 1920s. Ultimately prohibition failed and Moskos feels that there are lessons to be learned from the experience.
Citing the example of Holland, where addicts can the drugs they need, Moskos argues that de-criminalizing the illegal drug industry will no de-stabilize the American moral compass and that tax revenues from the legitimate purchase of hard drugs will fill the coffers of government.
The reason the author is so passionate about his advocacy is because he has seen close hand what the alternative is in the microcosm of Baltimore’s Eastern District, where pandemonium reigns for its majority of poor Black inhabitants.
ACJS Today. October, 2008
Moskos, P. (2008). Cop In The Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore’s Eastern District. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
by Monica J. Massey, Graduate Student Virginia State University
The world of policing is one of extreme mystery and fascination. Often times, police officers are viewed by the communities that they police as personal security ready to respond to major and minor issues at the stroke of a finger, while others may view police officers as a nuisance to the productivity of illegal acts and violations. In a world of crime and deviance, it is the responsibility of police officers to ensure public safety within the means of the law while thinking fast and using discretion when determining the severity of each situation he or she encounters. With the recent acquittal of three New York City police officers in the shooting death of Sean Bell, the field of policing has again been placed under an ever-growing magnifying glass, suitable for both praise and criticism.
Cop In The Hood, by Peter Moskos offers readers a riveting insight on experience as a police officer in Baltimore, Maryland’s crime infested eastern district. Moskos organized his debut book into seven chapters in addition to an epilogue. The first chapter entitled “The Departed” is a first person introduction of the author that offers some background on how Moskos came to transform from a sociology graduate student seeking to observe and research “job related police behavior” ( p. 4) to a full fledged Baltimore police officer.
Chapter two entitled “Back to School,” is an outline of Moskos’ academy experience and his encounters with fellow classmates and superiors. It is in this chapter when Moskos first provides the reader with a glimpse into the overwhelmingly discretionary and subjective nature of policing in Baltimore’s mean streets. Moskos describes the thin line of how things should be done as taught in the academy, and the informalities of how things are actually done on the streets. Additionally, in this chapter, the author touches on issues of professional courtesy, demeanor and vernacular amongst police officers in different precincts across the city of Baltimore and surrounding cities.
Appropriately titled “New Jack: Learning To Do Drugs,” chapter three encompasses the author’s first experiences as a patrol officer and his day-to-day experience with drug addicts and race relations. In addition to discussing the probability and purpose behind arresting drug addicts in order to combat the “war on drugs,” Moskos provides the reader with a detailed look at how officers both black and white viewed criminals in the primarily African-American neighborhood while exploring the racially associated biases that exist. Additionally, Moskos discuses the debilitating impact that street patrol has on the desire for officers to serve and protect; this is what the author described as the shift “from a public-centered ideal to more police centered ideals” (p.49). This shift is later highlighted in the chapter when the author discuses the swayed perceptions of the community those police officers develop due to an overwhelming amount of exposure to the criminal elements. Throughout this chapter, the reader is offered multiple personal accounts from police officers on issues of race, public service and the disconnection between policing and the court system.
Chapter four, “The Corner,” dives further into street life from a police officer’s perspective while placing a magnifying glass on the structure of the drug trade in the eastern district and the technicalities in the justice system that often discouraged Moskos’ fellow officers from pursuing drug dealers and addicts. Moskos stresses the resounding view that the arrest of street level drug dealers had very little, if any, impact on the complicated drug trade of the city of Baltimore. Although police corruption is often perceived as a pervasive problem the author only dedicated a small portion of this chapter to discuss it. While managing to preserve the integrity of his fellow officers, the author still provides the reader with a brief synopsis of police impropriety.
Chapter five entitled “911 Is a Joke,” takes a straightforward approach in discussing the 911 system and its hindrance on police work. Moskos goes on to discuss that although created to ensure public safety by expediting calls for emergency and police assistance, that often times police officers would be dispatched to calls that ended in no arrest or that could have been resolved without police assistance. Throughout this chapter, the author further examines how the overflow of 911 calls hinders true police work and furthers the gap between patrol officers and the community.
The sixth chapter, “Under Arrest: Discretion in the Ghetto,” is dedicated to discussing the level of discretion that police officers are given as it pertains to who to arrest and who to let go with a simple warning. Issues discussed in this chapter range from motivation for arrest, how police officers use their discretion and make what some may refer to as unnecessary arrest, and officers who choose not to arrest at all due to time constrains and paperwork. First person accounts coupled with statistics help the author provide the reader with a brief synopsis of discretionary arrests.
The final chapter in this book , “Prohibition: Al Capone’s Revenge,” includes a history of drug prohibition in America. The author cites multiple historic drug acts and drug enforcement agencies that will ring a familiar bell to readers who have taken an introduction to criminal justice course, while still offering information that is clear and concise and can be easily understood by readers with little or no background in criminal justice. Lastly, in the epilogue, the author returns to first person to reflect on both the favorable and not so favorable experiences he had while policing one of Baltimore’s most dangerous areas. Cop In The Hood would be a great addition to any curriculum in the field of criminal justice, criminology, and sociology, with an even larger benefit for individuals interested in the sociology of policing, police administration, as well as urban studies. The structure of the book allows for easy reading and would be suitable for students at all levels of higher education.
Although this work is based on first person accounts of officers in Baltimore’s eastern district, the experiences, activities, and reality of the information presented can be found in many police precincts across the country. The insight of the author coupled with the actual quotes of real police officers provides the reader with an exceptional view of police behaviors and the day-today obstacles that officers face while policing the communities they patrol.
Pepper Spray Me.
June 29, 2009.
In 1999, Peter Moskos was a graduate student at Harvard University. He wanted to study cops, and figured the best way to do that was to cross the Thin Blue Line. Instead of merely studying cops, he ended up as a gun and badge wearing member of the Boston Police Department.
After graduating from the academy, the then Officer Moskos was assigned to Baltimore’s Eastern District, where he worked patrol during witching hours (the midnight shift). It’s a place made famous by HBO’s The Wire. Moskos went where no Ivy League graduate student had gone before.
Officer Moskos’ year of working as a police officer in one of the toughest, grimiest American ghettos is encapsulated in Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore’s Eastern District. In this book, the now Assistant Professor Moskos proclaims the War on Drugs a messy failure. He tells why, from his front line experience as a grunt in the war, we’re losing the fight.
Cops and sociologists alike can be difficult people to understand. This might lead you to believe that Cop in the Hood will be twice as hard to follow. Not so. Moskos strips away hard to decipher copspeak and sociological mumbo jumbo and presents something easily digestible by the average reader.
Whether you agree or disagree with Moskos’ views on the War on Drugs, he cannot be dismissed as your average know-nothing academic. Moskos is a veteran of a war he disagrees with. But he has walked the walk, respects the brotherhood and, as far as I’m concerned, still bleeds blue.
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