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David Simon Made Baltimore Detectives Famous. Now Their Cases Are Falling Apart (nymag.com)
52 points by danso 14 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 72 comments

My initial instinct on seeing the headline was "it's not like the Wire made a strong case for police competence!" - but on further reading, the detectives in question were treated in a much more positive light in "Homicide: Life on the Street" by David Simon which pre-dated the Wire by a few years.

An interesting parenthetical in the article:

> (In an email, Simon wrote that he would now reconsider his skepticism about the likelihood of wrongful convictions: “I minimized the chance of an investigative or prosecutorial error — never mind purposed misconduct — making it all the way to a jury and conviction; that chance is more substantial than I once believed.”)

Even Homicide got to the basic fact that something like 60% or fewer cases are solved, and even less with a conviction.

And with a lot of dirty tricks.

I think it's important to keep in mind the context of when some of these arrests and convictions occured. This is not a judgement but rather an observation: Is it possible that when violent crime escalates night after night, that the hand of the law gets larger, and larger?

Thus it becomes a perceived war zone for the police, where it's now arrest and convict, no matter whom, in order to do whatever it takes to stop the crime. I think broken windows was an example of this. Rights were violated, people wrongfully convicted. When the public and the politicians are demanding that the police do something, what's to stop the overreach?


Would you please stop posting unsubstantive and/or flamebait comments to HN? It's against the site guidelines and we've already had to ask you not to.


Only people who never have to deal with the police say things like this. Their only experience with policing is reading articles about how evil cops are.

edit - people are responding with anecdotes of the police being unhelpful. The comment I responded to suggested that the police are never helpful.

If police presence is diminished, who is going to lose? Not HN posters. Likely working class people.

I don’t know. I’m a pretty typical law-abiding citizen living a boring life and all my interactions with the police are negative. Aside from the really annoying ticketing to raise funds, I’ve had the following interactions:

1) had a cop yell at me and bystanders because someone not even with me said “excuse me sir” the cop yelled that he should say “excuse me officer” and the two cops next to him laughed

2) I was hit as a pedestrian and police said they were too busy to come take an accident report that I had to come to that station. I and the driver gave conflicting reports, there was no cop at the scene. Witnesses offered to testify but police wouldn’t contact them. When I went to the station there were lots of police sitting around.

3) I lived across from the police station and my car was broken into. It took four hours for the police to come over, investigate and prepare a report. Cop said next time I should call the private neighborhood security company that is all off duty copy’s getting overtime.

4) neighbor conflict with neighbor violating a judge’s order. City police said they wouldn’t do anything because they don’t enforce violations from those kids of judges per city policy. I asked what kind of police do, he said none. I’d have to call state police.

These aren’t huge issues and I’m still alive, etc. But I think it’s indicative of systemic problems where there’s not a good feedback loop to make sure cops are effective.

I’m grateful for police and they do do good work, but everyone I know has a litany of stories like this. And since police seem to do stuff like protest collection of data, routinely lose/not record body cam, and other indicators of a corrupt org; I think there’s need for serious police reform.

2) This doesn't appear to be a crime if it wasn't a hit-and-run, and generally police do not send cops to the scene for incidents like that. Also, not all cops are patrol officers. Many of them actually have desk jobs. Are you really getting mad at people for doing their jobs? How would you like it if someone came to your office, saw you on GitHub, and got mad at you for browsing the internet?

3) Four hours to investigate and prepare a report is ridiculously fast. So, there was a lot of latency, but it sounds like they were actually quite efficient once they arrived. Note: I'm not sure I believe the bit about calling a private security company, as that wouldn't make any sense; they couldn't have filed a police report for you.

4) Sounds right. Cops are bound by jurisdiction as a matter of law. If something isn't in their jurisdiction, they aren't allowed to do anything. This usually happens at county/city borders (where it's a case of figuring out which set of cops has jurisdiction to act), but it also applies to court orders. You haven't provided sufficient facts to say why state police would be enforcing a judicial order in this case.

For #2, I don’t care what kind of cop comes out, but there are traffic cops for this type. It’s a service that’s needed and only police can write police reports. So the police aren’t responsible, who is?

3) it was 4 hours to arrive across the street. The report was ready the next day. The private security company is off duty cops so they can do everything police can since they are police.

4) it is in their jurisdiction as it’s in their city and the crime occurred in their city, they just don’t enforce it unless requested by some outside party (like the state court). The state police don’t respond to minor issues like contempt. So again, who should handle this issue.

My point is that police don’t do what is needed. And the bit about being busy and underfunded is hard to believe given the massive funds that go to police.

It’s worth high lifting the summarize pattern in your experiences.

Police unwilling to meet the basic needs of doing law enforcement. In each case you asked for obvious and basic effort at investigating crimes and they just opted out.

It begs the question what are they doing instead?

I dunno dawg. Whenever I’ve really needed police (when my tires got slashed, when a group of neighborhood kids kicked in my roommate’s windshield within full view of our CCTV, when I got randomly beat up on a bus by a homeless guy, when my gf and I were separating a weeping girl from her drunk and violent date) they’re either not there, or not at all helpful (and in that fourth case, it was 4 drunk bros and a taxi driver who saved my life).

But boy oh boy are police there when I don’t need them: Shutting down streets in Fell’s Point at 1AM so it’s harder for people to get cabs and get home safe, calling in a helicopter and dogs to “investigate” me and a few friends filming a project in college, threatening to book me over a +14mph speeding ticket then apologizing and saying “ya gotta understand, there was a murder in this town two years ago”.

The stuff I read about cops totally gels with my personal experience.

Lol. Get your house or car broken into, car stolen, etc. in the US and see how it goes for you. My last dealing with the police was waiting about 12 hours with my back window broken, unable to clean up, so someone could come by and "dust for prints" on the glass for 10 seconds.

There were 3 or 4 eyewitnesses who they never talked to and of course I never heard back.

Someone else I know had surveillance video of an unmarked tow truck with no plates picking her car up out of a garage. She had a hell of a time even getting a cop to watch the video, multiple phone calls to multiple layers of police over the course of a week or so. Never heard back.

Basically every time I’ve needed police for something - a break-in, a violent person at my work, a neighbor stealing things from me with video evidence, a stolen car, on and on - I file a report and then never hear from them again. I can’t figure out what 40% of my city’s budget is going toward exactly. They have a ton of military gear for what purpose I’m not sure, while our roads and infrastructure are falling apart. They get as much overtime as they want…to sit in their cars and not do anything apparently. They won’t do anything about car theft where I live because they’re mad at the city council. Literally a work stoppage, which nothing can be done about. I’m not sure how many millions of the city’s tax revenue has gone toward paying out lawsuits against police either. So basically, they cost me a bunch of money and aren’t providing a service for that money.

I've been harassed by the police far more than they've helped and I'm just a boring white guy office worker. One time I was assaulted by some drunk people at a fast food restaurant and the cops showed up 2 hours later and told me they weren't going to do anything about it. Didn't even want to see the video of the attack. Have you ever interacted with the police? Ever had a friend get sexually assaulted and seen how they get treated by the cops?

> Only people who never have to deal with the police say things like this.

> edit - people are responding with anecdotes of the police being unhelpful.

Which is it? You want to get pedantic about what is "suggested", make a comment about how "/Only/ people who never have to deal with the police say things like this", then people come out to show how they have had bad dealings with the police, and now words don't matter?

I suppose you're right. My comment was hyperbole.

The point I'm trying to make, which is not hyperbole, is that there are lots of people who basically rely on the police to keep the peace. If someone comes into the store where they work and starts pissing on the ground, or acting aggressively, or breaking things, or threatening people, they call the police.

These kind of interactions are common. They aren't visible to people (like me) whose only interactions with the police is occasionally reporting property crimes.

I’m not sure who would rely on cops in a situation like that, considering I’ve had remarkably similar things happen (or worse, like direct assault of a coworker) and the cops showed up maybe about half the time and usually hours and hours later. 4 hours minimum, to respond to a violent drunk person throwing racks of glassware at staff and punching a bartender. Then they showed up, said there was nothing they could do but take a statement, and left. Didn’t want to see the security footage, didn’t care that we had the guys name (and credit card) since we took his card to open a tab. This was far from the only time we “needed” police and they didn’t even do the bare minimum.

So at this point it's no longer just

> Only people who never have to deal with the police say things like this. Their only experience with policing is reading articles about how evil cops are.

but also people who have to deal with the police but never have any positive experiences with them.

Or to put it another way - people who have positive experiences with the police wouldn't ask if they ever do anything beneficial for society.

But somehow phrasing it that way makes it sound like these people are perhaps not so plentiful.

My car was stolen and I was told by the police they couldn’t do anything at all (even while I had real-time tracking). Only after my father in law, a retired LAPD homicide detective gave his friend at the station a call did they give us a ride to where my car had been abandoned.

The ride was in the back of a police SUV. I’m 6ft and it was in humane - extremely uncomfortable, extremely unsafe, I felt like an animal. If I had been 6ft5 it would have been genuinely hard to breath. I had to ask twice for them to wear a mask.

After dropping me off at my stolen and partially destroyed car, they talked briefly about lunch and then left, never to be heard from again. There was a large knife left in my car from the thief. No fingerprints taken or asked for.

And this is my experience as a home-owner with a powerful family friend on the inside. I have plenty of other stories from when I was single and poor.

Only wealthy white folks who haven’t dealt with the police would question the legitimacy of the OPs question.

Bullshit! It is you who have been coddled by police. Without any respect to color or background cops are the most hostile gang many people in most american cities have to avoid. "HN posters" you think you know anything about arbitrary posters' background just because they are on HN? The stuff you see on social is only a small sample of reality, reality is worse than that.

Don't you think the responses from folks who have dealt with them invalidate your first sentence entirely?

I was stopped at the age of 13 for birdwatching of all crimes. I was walking at sunrise with a small backpack and pair of binoculars. Got stopped by two Sheriff's deputies who had nothing better to do than jack me up. They got pissed that I had a small Swiss army knife. After showing them my backpack just had snacks/water and a birder's guide, they still took an hour to let me go. I'm sure tons of runaway kids have birdwatching gear as cover to fool the authorities. ACAB.

I have had many, let’s say tens, interactions with police. Several as the victim of crimes - including violent crimes.

I have had exactly one positive experience with one police officer, which I would characterize as that officer doing an acceptable job.

I have never seen compelling evidence of your last claim. But I have seen extensive evidence that shows the negative impact of we police, evidence which aligns closely with my experiences.

I've only called the police once in my life for help. It took them three or four days to send someone. It was not a life or death situation but it was very time sensitive.

Do you have any positive personal anecdotes you can share of interactions with the police?

I had a statie help push my disabled car to a safer spot then on his own come back about 15 minutes later to check on me and let me wait in the back of his cruiser for the tow truck. (It was below freezing outside.) I’ve seen them helping disabled and stranded motorists on the highway. I’ve had them stop and run emergency lights to protect us while I changed someone else’s tire on the shoulder. I live on a semi-confusing curve where we get an accident a year or so and the road is state-owned, so I see the state police response to help the affected drivers and pax. Even when the driver was clearly at fault, they’re professional and helpful.

Recreationally, I’ve played a lot of baseball and softball with cops; I end up hearing some of the good and bad socially there as well.

Are there dickheads who become cops? Hell yes! The profession probably specifically attracts some of them. Are all cops bastards? Not in my experience.

Edit to add: our college campus police had a phenomenal relationship with the campus community. If I had any kind of issue, I’d have had no qualms about asking them for help. That’s a bit of a “gimme” perhaps, perhaps they have an easier job in some ways, but they had earned the trust of the majority of the community in ways that the neighboring college police forces had clearly not.

> Are all cops bastards?

The problem is even the "good" cops protect the bad cops. If they aren't willing to prosecute cops for things like beating their wives, why do you think they're good?


I find it hard to believe there are many police forces that don't have several officers that are known to break protocol, laws, and do shitty things like beat their wives - but they all hide behind the blue shield.

I have never had a positive experience with a police officer in my life, and I grew up in the richest whitest suburb you can imagine. I don't think it's possible to be a good person and stay in the force, and I have heard horrible stories from former officers that quit due to disgust at what their coworkers bragged about.

I really, really want to be wrong about this. But the older I get the more data comes out that police officers are just horrible human beings.

That’s an excellent point. The “thin blue line” is a terrible problem and even what I think are good individual cops are reluctant to break it.

That's a good anecdote, thanks.

Yes, a number in a separate comment that I won't duplicate here.

While I have had some unpleasant experiences with some jackass cops (mostly when I was still a public defender), the majority of my experiences with the police have been them doing their jobs.

In fact, the number one complaint from the cops I interact with is all the jackasses that give the rest of them a bad image. (And before you ask why they don't do something about it, they can't, in the same way that most of the programmers on this board don't have the power to stop programmers at other companies from doing what they do.)

A positive personal story: I rear ended somebody a few years ago. It was at a right hand turn into a protected lane, so there was no reason for them to stop. I saw them start to go, then saw a kid running in the crosswalk and looked away. My car slowly rolled into their car until there was a minor collision. We both pulled over, but before getting out of the car the other driver opened the glove box and threw the contents everywhere and then got out clutching his head, saying, "oh my head, it hurts the collision was so violent". I called the cops and after a fairly short delay an officer came over and took a look.

The officer explained to the man that, as somebody trained in collision assessment, the damage to their vehicle indicated a less than 5 mph collision and that does not substantiate any physical damage to their person. I received a note from the officer with badge number and name should I need to contact her in the future.

After explaining this to the insurance company I never heard from them again.

Community security is important, and it's the sort of thing that you don't really realize is so important until it goes away and has been gone long enough that bad actors know they don't have to worry about it. Think inner city gangs, narco states, that sort of thing. You end up with de facto "security" provided by whoever is vicious enough to maintain local power hierarchies by force.

The way that the police are organized in the US, and the way they operate, is causing lots of needless harm and injustice. To my mind, the big question is, how do we substantially reform those failings while maintaining (or, god forbid, improving?) community security? There are lots of ideas out there, but the US sadly doesn't seem to be in a place where broad and substantive reforms are likely any time soon. Perhaps some local governments will provide effective models of a way forward, I'm still holding out hope.

I had my car stolen once. A cop came, prowled the neighborhood, and found it. I got it back. (They never found the thief, though.)

I know of two incidents where children I knew got lost, and the cops found them and brought them home.

They've done wellness checks for me on aged relatives.

They've given me speeding tickets, too, but I deserved them :-)

Since this is an international forum:

In my time in Norway I've been helped by the police a number of times:

- As a guard, to take out some large bloke looking for a fight in a place where I worked

- In the same place after a teenager jumped at me in the middle of the night, this time I didn't even call them as they spotted it from a patrol car or something

- A few years ago I reported someone probably walking from door to door in the middle of the night looking for unlocked doors. Police arrived within 15 minutes, maybe a lot faster I cannot remember exactly.

At one point I was mildly hassled by 3 or four officers as I was photographing a very early sunrise in the city. Once they realized my camera was full not only of what looked like burglary research to them but also sunrises in the nature and landscapes and so one they let me go with a smile.

(The sun rises before 0400 in the summer around here so to most ordinary citizens I was probably weird.)

it depends on your definition of beneficial.

They are very effective at reinforcing social hierarchies through force

We seem to be stuck in a vicious cycle.

1. There are bad laws and structurally perverse incentives. Individual police peons can't change the laws but are blamed for their effects.

2. People have bad interactions with the police. Public respect for the police falls. Good police quit. The proportion of bad cops increases.

3. Voters want politicians to do something. Fixing the perverse incentives is politically expensive. Grandstanding and Other Side blaming is politically expedient. This fixes nothing but makes tensions even higher. Goto 2.

Why is the murder rate in Baltimore more than 20 times higher than it is in San Diego? Is it really solely attributable to the quality of the San Diego police department, or is this maybe a problem with solutions that exist external to the police department?

Peons get blamed because they do have power

There have been instances of police deciding not to enforce mask mandates, but of course in other situations they say shit like "the law is the law my hands are tied" its 100% BS

This is confusing the law with the system.

The peons exist within the system. The system allows them to ignore mask mandates. It doesn't allow them to issue fewer than the implicit quota number of citations that generate government revenue. The system punishes them for enforcing the law against politically connected people, which keeps bullshit laws on the books because they only get used against poors and dissidents. The system cares more that cases are closed than that suspects are guilty, because "percent prisoners who are actually guilty" is hard to measure and isn't one of the system's target metrics.

The peons can't change these things. The ones who try get punished and lose promotions.

We have to fix the laws. And the social factors that cause the incentive for violent behavior to exceed the deterrent effect of law enforcement.

You might be interested in this thought experiment:

Suppose whichever police force(s) you're talking about shall be disbanded. In this experiment, you can choose some amount of delay between that announcement and the actual disbanding; whatever seems most reasonable to you.

How would that play out in the following days / weeks / years?

How do you think individuals, companies, insurers, etc. would adapt? What aspects of life would be better, or worse?

(Personally, I think society would be for worse off. But of course I'm only guessing, and could be wrong.)

No one is arguing for just disbanding the police and making no other changes to compensate — that's a strawman.

He didn't suggest that - he suggested in part that you think about what changes would be needed to compensate

Are you sure? I can't see how to get that impression from what he wrote. The fact that his own opinion is that society would be "far worse off" also indicates he's not coming at this from a Socratic position of unbiased truthfinding.

Exactly. Maybe start by disarming the police. Then, start recruiting police from social worker training programs.

As part of this thought experiment, what policing are being disbanded and what is being done by other policing and government groups to enforce other regulations?

For example, if a town's police system disbanded, but the state police still enforced laws against members of the town preventing them from engaging in their own policing, that creates a different scenario than if the state police didn't enforce any laws against the members of the town acting like the previous police force did. If even the military refuses to touch the area, given a threat that would normally allow the military to act like a foreign invasion, then it is a different situation compared to when you have a lawless area that's still protected from external threats.

I once saw in a developing country with no reliable police this sign: "Thief found, thief hanged". I asked the person driving me around and he said "yeah, they mean it". So I think in your experiment the people who would suffer most would be the real criminals. I don't think there would be much more crime, perhaps even less. Justice and Police systems are there not to prevent crime, but to prevent the people to turn into lynch mobs, which tend to be very unreliable.

> I once saw in a developing country with no reliable police this sign: "Thief found, thief hanged". I asked the person driving me around and he said "yeah, they mean it". So I think in your experiment the people who would suffer most would be the real criminals.

And then you have lynchings like with Ahmaud Arbery. Not a thief, still shot and killed. Vigilante "justice" is often not just.

Though you may be right, an increase in lynchings may overall reduce crime (as presently defined, and excepting lynchings). It will also probably have a lot more false positives than the existing system, increasing paranoia with respect to outsiders and "others". So crime in a community may go down, safety for outsiders will likely go down, and for insiders may go up.

Oh, because angry individuals are more likely to carefully prosecute crime? I have not got such confidence in the mob.

Good thing nobody is really advocating for disbanding all police departments. The "Defund the police" movement just picked a catchy and attention-getting name (and boy did they ever succeed at that), but even those "extremists" just wanted to reduce the workload on cops by reallocating a portion of their budget towards non-police workers who could take over on issues that don't require armed response.

Traffic police certainly do, and we need a lot more of them. Have you seen how people drive??

They put our prime minister in jail once and got the last one to prosecution so yes.

I think the USA has a problem with the way police and guns are viewed. There's a sense of distrust in authority which is sometimes justified. But also breeds overly defensive and pretty bad officers.

The standards are low. The pay is low and everybody hates them. Who would want to be a police officer?

So the problem feeds itself, bad people become police officers. Good people look around and quit.

There's a documented court case where a person was disallowed to be a police officer after scoring too HIGH on an intelligence/aptitude test: https://abcnews.go.com/US/court-oks-barring-high-iqs-cops/st...

So even if "good" smart people with fair judgement go, they are turned away.

Lots of people want to be the 'change from within'. I'm one of them - I spent years as a defense contractor despite the fact that I hate the US military industrial complex.

But in the case of the police, it's prevented.

Also, yes, the police sometimes do very good and important things. But Chris Rock has a joke about this - there can't be good airline pilots and bad airline pilots, all pilots have to be good pilots or there won't be pilots at all. Trust (in anyone but especially authority) takes 10 years to make and 10 seconds to break. So coming in at 50:50 just isn't good enough

Turning away a very high aptitude person would happen at a lot of jobs. Nobody wants to train someone and they leave relativity shortly after because the work easily bores them and they have many other options. Police training takes time and money, you are not patrolling the streets day 1.

You don't need brilliant officers, need ones that are just not dumb, + don't have some power trip complex. This is true for many jobs.

Low pay? Hardly. I live in a small (300K) town in the midwest. My neighbor is a cop. He pulled $140K last year ($100k salary and $40k OT). Give me a break with that dangerous, underpaid copaganda.

The pay isn't that low in many places. Seattle police officers start at $65k+ with many (a majority?) earning $100k+. Benefits, good union, unlikely to get fired.

Being a cop is a lousy job.

There is nothing fun about dealing with dysfunction constantly. And there is this illusion created that all kinds of dysfunction has some nice neat solution, and its just not true.


I have interacted with a number of the police with regards to homeless individuals that were high or off their meds and endangering others, and the people responded promptly every time to coordinate with EMT/fire on getting them taken to a hospital.

I was almost hit by a truck while walking, and the officers took my report within minutes (though as nobody got the license plate, and I wasn't actually hit, the case went nowhere).

A friend once got a flat on the side of a narrow stretch of freeway and officers set up cones on the freeway until a mechanic replaced her flat so her car wouldn't get hit.

Important: I'm not white.

c'mon don't be so flippant. They are responsible for settling conflict in society and conflict is one of the hardest human problems to solve. The answer is clearly: "it depends" and making out they're all useless (e.g. ACAB) or they're all amazing (blue lives matter) is simplistic drivel.

Police arrested Ted Bundy. Do you think serial killers operating with impunity are beneficial for society?

Is not always so simple as "more police = less serial killers". There are also a few notorious cases of serial killers that were also cops. This in 2021 for example


Or this:


How hard was it to get them to arrest Ted Bundy, or even to acknowledge that there was anything to arrest him for? How long did they stall first?

Is your argument that delaying the arrest of a serial killer is worse for society than not arresting him at all?

Bundy was arrested in 1975 but released due to lack of evidence. Does that mean the police didn't want to arrest him, or does that mean the police officers were following the law, and couldn't just lock him up on their hunch?

Look up the Aspen summit, where dozens of officers and prosecutors came together to share information, discuss his case, and they agreed that Bundy was the man they were looking for, but needed more hard evidence to arrest and convict him. That certainly looks like the behavior of officers who want to arrest him, and not stalling behavior.

It's also bad when the cops are killers themselves...


Police are excellent at protecting capital.

It's just that as the allocation of capital becomes increasingly unequal, more people are starting to question why we spend so much money protecting capital.

Obviously they do, but you wouldn’t notice from reading this kind of publications.

Today, I saw a police officer rescue a dolphin from a fishing net. I just need an assurance that he hasn't withheld information on a fellow officer before, or that all of his police reports have matched the bystander recollection, video evidence or subsequent investigation. I want there to be major consequences for these "little white lies" that are greater than "the thin blue line" of not snitching. Then I could exalt any particular officer if they make it through the dragnet. I propose mismatches to trigger RICO Act style consequences on the officers, DA, pensions and the unions, as it incentivizes related nodes in the system to enforce behavior to prevent that. Its just a starting point, I would accept some movement towards something more agreeable.

I think this is a good compromise because it allows officers to still make split second decisions, which seems to be a recurring concern amongst them, just an incentive to make more collaborative decisions. an incentive which is lacking right now.

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