Categories
ixd lit reviews urban

Research / East Baltimore police narratives

Last week I picked up a book called Cop in the Hood by a grad stu­dent turned cop (turned aca­d­e­m­ic) named Peter Moskos. He's a law pro­fes­sor now [UPDATE: Oops. He's actu­al­ly an "assis­tant pro­fes­sor of Law, Police Sci­ence, and Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Admin­is­tra­tion." My bad], but he spent a year polic­ing East Bal­ti­more dur­ing his PhD work and wrote a part soci­o­log­i­cal analy­sis, part police pro­ce­dur­al about his expe­ri­ence. If The Wire had a lit­er­ary ana­log, this would be it, not only because it takes place in East Bal­ti­more, but because it presents a moral­ly com­plex view of the rela­tion­ship between law enforce­ment and the cit­i­zen­ry with whom they inter­act (most­ly poor peo­ple in des­per­ate cir­cum­stances). It also adds aca­d­e­m­ic under­pin­nings and a tru­ly excel­lent set of foot­notes that pro­vide avenues to a vari­ety of inter­est­ing sources, one of which led me to one of my all-time favorite New York­er arti­cles, a 1998 install­ment of the Cop Diary called "The Word on the Street" about the lan­guage of NYC cops. The author, the pseu­do­ny­mous Mar­cus Laf­fey (actu­al name: Edward Con­lon) recent­ly wrote a mem­oir called Blue Blood, which is going on the list for sure.I real­ly appre­ci­at­ed his dis­cus­sion of research meth­ods because it puts in high relief some of the chal­lenges that any researcher (e.g., one who is try­ing to under­stand how peo­ple use high-tech tools) inter­acts with their inter­view sub­jects. So much of it is very un-objec­tive, and Moskos address­es his skep­tics ear­ly on:

Some will crit­i­cize my unsci­en­tif­ic meth­ods. I have no real defense. Every­thing is true, but this book suf­fers from all the flaws inher­ent in ethno­graph­ic work … Being on the inside, I made lit­tle attempt to be objec­tive. I did not pick, much less ran­dom­ly pick, my research site or research sub­jects. I researched where I was assigned. To those I policed, I tried to be fair. But my empa­thy was to my fel­low offi­cers. Those near­est to me became my friends and research sub­jects. My the­o­ries emerged from expe­ri­ence, knowl­edge, and under­stand­ing. In aca­d­e­m­ic jar­gon, my work could be called "front-and-back­stage, mul­ti­sit­ed, par­tic­i­pant-obser­va­tion research using ground­ed the­o­ry root­ed in sym­bol­ic inter­ac­tion­ism from a dra­matur­gi­cal per­spec­tive.

You can read more in an excerpt here [PDF], and he's got a blog that dis­cuss­es media cov­er­age of the book here.