Rafael A. Mangual and Peter Moskos discuss the causes of the post-2020 crime spike, how violence affects everything from quality of life to childhood education, and the distance between theory and practice in the criminal-justice world. Mangual’s new book, Criminal (In)Justice: What the Push for Decarceration and Depolicing Gets Wrong and Who It Hurts Most, is out now.

Audio Transcript

Rafael Mangual: Welcome back to City Journal's 10 Blocks podcast. This is Rafael Mangual, a contributing editor of City Journal and a senior fellow here at the Manhattan Institute. I'm also the author of the new book, Criminal (In)Justice. I am joined today by Professor Peter Moskos, who's a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He's a national expert on policing and crime. He's the director of John Jay's NYPD executive master's program, graduate of Princeton and Harvard, where he was trained as a sociologist. He's also a former Baltimore city police officer who happens to be working on another book. Peter, thank you so much for joining.

Peter Moskos: It's an honor. Thanks for inviting me on. It's good to see you.

Rafael Mangual: Likewise. It's always great to talk to you. So let's get right into it. Here at City Journal, my colleagues and I, we've very extensively covered the post-2020 crime spike, something that you've commented on quite a bit. And that spike followed a renewed push to place new restrictions on police discretion, and in some cases to defund departments altogether. Some of us here have suggested that there may be a connection between that push and the elevated crime levels that cities like New York and Chicago and Philadelphia have been experiencing over the last couple of years.

Now, these suggestions are often met with earnest declarations that police don't actually prevent crime. We're told that they merely respond to crime after the fact. Now, some of the people making these sorts of claims, I think know better, but others, I have a suspicion sincerely believe this to be true. How do you respond to this line of argument? What should our listeners say when they hear the same thing at their dinner tables?

Peter Moskos: I think it's important to distinguish between good-faith and bad-faith criticism of policing. There's a lot of reform I've supported, reform that actually makes things better. Now you may not know that until after the fact, mind you. But at some point you have to judge the consequences of actions, especially when those consequences are exactly what's supposed to happen.

So, it's one thing if people are critical of policing, I certainly am. It's another, if they think policing doesn't matter, that it doesn't prevent crime. It's absurd at a common-sense level. It's absurd at a research level, and you just see it asserted over and over again. It's like a mantra that they're just trying to will into an existence.

So I'm tired of discussion with police and prison abolitionists. Politically, they just have to be defeated. They're bad ideas. They're not popular ideas. But when you get criticism from people who want to abolish police, you have to realize that, oh, wait, this isn't the issue. Whatever they say they're talking about it, it's just a means to an end. And so in a way it doesn't matter, that specific issue.

And I've also noticed a lot of people are opposed to good policing, more than bad policing, or at least equally, because I think good policing scares the abolitionist because that's tough. So in the old days, I used to joke, you had to mess up as a cop to get in trouble and often not even then. Now the problem is police are getting in trouble when they actually do the job correctly.

I think that is very counterproductive. It's unfair. And for people at risk of being victims of crime, it's dangerous. We have pulled away policing from those who most need protection. It should be seen as a public service and a public utility. Everybody deserves good policing, and some people need it more than others, quite frankly. I mean, we have to always remember that, warts and all, flaws and all, policing is still a good and noble activity, and it's needed. Whether you like it or not, we're going to need it. So let's try and make it as good as possible.

Rafael Mangual: I think that's well said, and I certainly couldn't agree more. Of course, the abolitionists have not been unsuccessful, necessarily, in their push for what I think are misguided reforms and for getting police departments to have their discretion limited in really important ways.

I think one of the most extreme police reforms that I've seen enacted in recent months is a new pursuit policy that just went into place in Chicago, one that severely restricts the ability of police officers to pursue fleeing suspects, whether that's on foot or in a vehicle.

Peter Moskos: We should say only the formalization of the policy is new. It's been in there since soon after Adam Toledo was shot and killed. So it was a temporary policy. I mentioned that because somebody's going to say, well, look, that policy came into effect, and violence didn't go up. So clearly it has no impact.

Clearly it'll have some impact. The question is how much, and is it significant. But it's been in effect now for, well, I don't know for how long, whenever that happened.

Rafael Mangual: Yeah. It's going on the better part of a year now, so you're exactly right. I actually wrote about the Toledo case for City Journal when it happened. For listeners who aren't familiar with the case, this is a young 13-year-old kid who was being chased by a Chicago police officer through a dark alley while armed with a firearm.

Peter Moskos: Having fired that gun.

Rafael Mangual: Right, right. Having fired that gun. Police officers were responding to a ShotSpotter alert that actually picked up a gunfire in the area. I think they responded within a minute or two of the shooting taking place. And the only two people in view were Adam Toledo and a gang member that he was with at the time.

And so that policy recently came under renewed scrutiny, and it came under renewed scrutiny by the public because audio was leaked of radio traffic. You can hear police officers actually being told to terminate a pursuit of a car that contained murder suspects, suspects that police officers themselves had observed engaged in a shooting that led to a death.

I mean, what do you make of a policy that allows or leads to a police supervisor telling officers, Hey, don't chase those guys who were suspected of murder, particularly in the city that has been dealing with elevated violent crime rates for the better part of the last decade?

Peter Moskos: It's a political choice. I mean, that's exactly what the policy was designed to do. So leaving aside, I think it's a bad policy, and the policy more directly concerns foot pursuits, the new policy. The car pursuit policy has been the same. But what Chicago says now, and what makes it especially effective, and I mean that as a policy, not as a public safety issue, is it says you simply cannot get in trouble ever for calling off a pursuit. The goal is to not have pursuits.

I mention that because technically some people say it doesn't actually ban pursuits. Yeah, no it practically does. That's the purpose, and it's effective at it. Now I say, look, if that's really the goal, then own it. But when murderers literally get away, sure, they might be caught later. Sure, they could have crashed into an innocent van of church-going kids and killed them all. Things like that have happened. In the real world, there are always risks. But at some point we have police to prevent crime and also apprehend criminals. And here you have people who had just murdered somebody.

Instead of us just sitting here griping about it, I wish we could have an honest debate about this. But the people who make the policies on this, they don't engage on it. I just want someone to say, yeah, that's the goal, and I understand why people are upset murderers were not chased, but this is our policy. But you don't hear that. That's sort of the gaslighting element where they pretend that nothing happened.

Rafael Mangual: Right.

Peter Moskos: You know, at some point, if you don't think police prevent crime and you don't let police append criminals, then yeah, maybe we should abolished police, because you take away all discretionary activity. You mentioned in the intro the crime increase and people's reaction. And it's tough because so much—I’ll be generous—academic research is ideologically influenced. And it's tough to prove anything in the real world, because even when you do, they'll say correlation doesn't equal causation. In the real world, they don't usually ever randomize controlled experiments in a lab, because you can't because it's the real world.

Rafael Mangual: It would also be unethical.

Peter Moskos: And it would also potentially, yes, be unethical. But we know that discretionary policing plummeted in 2020 in particular, though in different cities at different times. In Baltimore, it was 2015 after the Freddie Gray riots. In Chicago, it started in 2016 after the ACLU was going over every stop form that police did.

The mechanisms vary. Well, I should say what leads to them varies. And I'm not talking a 10 percent reduction in arrests. And I don't like using arrests as a sign, but what can you do? We can count them. But when you get 50 percent reductions, 80 percent reductions in stops and arrests, you would expect that to have some impact, some effect. And then you see violent crime go up. And this is not in the abstract. We're talking really like the week of, the week later.

And then people say, well, we don't know that's the cause. No, we don't know that's the cause. But show me something else that changed in that week. And of course they can't. But that's why I start hitting my head against the wall because I would like to think that logic and data can persuade people. But I think for a lot of people that's not the case because it's not rooted in public policy. A lot of opinion is rooted in ideology, and that's a bit more dangerous. If you know the answer before I tell you the question, that's sort of my working definition of an ideologue. But then at some point we have to move forward anyway and say, people are dying, we can do better. We have done better.

Rafael Mangual: Recently.

Peter Moskos: It wasn't that long ago that New York had under 300 murders a year. And sure, New York is still safer than most cities.

Rafael Mangual: Well, this is another very popular kind of talking point that I often hear, right behind the police don't actually prevent crime line, which is that we really are making way too much of the crime increase. Because after all, if you look back to the early 1990s, cities like New York are far better off than they were back then, which was really a frustrating thing for me to hear because my reaction to this has always been why on earth should we be comparing ourselves now to a period of time in which a particular measure that we care about was the worst that it's ever been? Especially since we know that very recently, we were able to have less than 300 murders as a city.

Peter Moskos: That's the New York you grew up in. You remember that.

Rafael Mangual: Right. It wasn't nice. That's not something that I want to ever fall back to. Once we got below a certain level, we should have taken the ceiling with us in our own heads. And I fear that lots of people who weren't around to experience what that was like are just comfortable leaving the ceiling up there and saying, well, we've got all this room above our heads now.

Peter Moskos: Well, because a lot of those people, and I'm thinking particularly of college-educated, white progressives, don't live in neighborhoods where a crime increase has affected them. Or even if it's gone up a little, they don't hear gunshots every other night on their block. So it's very easy for them not to empathize with those victims, those people who have to live in those neighborhoods. And quite simply, they don't, and at the parties they go to, it's much easier to talk about their various causes.

Rafael Mangual: Right.

Peter Moskos: You know, it's one thing if you live in a dangerous neighborhood and you say, “I don't want more policing,” though that is not very common. But okay, I respect that. I don't live in a particularly dangerous neighborhood, so I'll shut up. It's the people who don't live in the neighborhood, though, who are trying to impose their beliefs on others. That's the part that needs to be pushed back on. I mean, lives literally are at stake. It's just the trauma of violence, the trauma of crime.

Rafael Mangual: Which goes beyond the victim. Right? I mean, this is something that I don't think people on our side of the debate have necessarily done a great job of highlighting. It's very easy to kind of look at measures of victimization and kind of focus on those things, and I think we should focus on those things. But when someone gets shot, it's not just the person who got shot that is hurt. It's not just their immediate family. It's also people who live in the neighborhood.

I mean, just the psychology of living in a high-crime space is different. One of the analogies I'd like to go to here is, I remember the D.C. sniper, and I remember watching the news and going back and watching old clips and people would say—in some of the highest-educated zip codes in America, outside D.C. People would say “If I left work late, I would zigzag through the parking lot on my way back to the car,” or “I would drive past the E on my gas tank if it was nighttime for fear of getting out of my car to pump gas and being selected.” Now, your chances of being shot by the D.C. sniper, I think, were on par with being struck by lightning, and yet really educated, logical people were altering the course of their day-to-day lives in order to minimize that risk.

And so I tell people to remember that and now imagine what it would be like to live in a neighborhood in which someone gets shot every week, in which the possibility of being violently victimized is realer than the possibility of you going to graduate school.

Peter Moskos: Yeah. Also, it's hard for your kids to do homework when there were just gunshots outside. It's hard to finish your romantic dinner and go, just ignore those gunshots. I wonder if anyone was shot? It takes your mind to dark places. And there's studies on that and the influence of violence on children's school ability and their test scores.

And I'm also going to add one thing. It's bad for the person who does the killing too. Perhaps that shouldn't be as on top of our list compared to the victim and innocent bystanders. But yeah, when somebody who perhaps has committed an armed robbery and isn't detained thanks to recent changes in law then goes out and kills someone, that's two lives that are now ruined now.

But of course, it's very hard to get any sort of traction on the idea of crime prevention, because you can't measure it very easily. Crime goes down, they say it's magic or something in the air. Crime goes up, they say the same thing. They kind of forget crime is very localized. It's very interpersonal. I mean yes, sometimes bullets fly and kill someone else. But generally it's a very localized human phenomenon that has to be addressed at that level. Not with abstract theory, not with talking about poverty-reduction programs.

Though I'm against poverty, it's not a violence-reduction program. And we know that because I mean, for instance, in New York in the 1990s, which is what my next book is on, the crime drop in New York and the 1990s. Poverty actually went up during that decade in New York, and a lot of people don't know that. Inequality increased. Poverty increased, and murders dropped 80 percent.

So we know we can reduce violence without addressing some of the root causes. Again, not that we shouldn't also address them.

Rafael Mangual: But they're not root causes, right?

Peter Moskos: They're not root causes.

Rafael Mangual: That's the idea.

Peter Moskos: Well, at some level they might be.

Rafael Mangual: Sure. There's some evidence, for example, that property crime goes up when unemployment rates go up, or when poverty rates go up. I can see that. There's a much clearer connection. But when it comes to violence, I mean, you don't get richer when you pull a trigger over some perceived slight.

Peter Moskos: Yeah. It's just changing the subject when people talk about that. And again, how can you be against better education or reduced poverty, that kind of stuff? But that's not the issue. Violence goes up quickly and down quickly, and while there may be many ways to affect it, one of those ways we know works is effective policing. But that requires policing. As a verb, as some of us like to say.

Rafael Mangual: It also requires, I think, smart criminal-justice policy to back up those policing efforts. And this is something that I've written about a few times. I had a piece in the Post last year saying refunding the police is not going to be enough. I mean, we talked about mechanisms earlier. When police officers reduce crime, they do so in a few different ways. They can deter crime through their presence on the street.

But they can also reduce crime through the incapacitation of the offenders that they arrest. Right? They respond to a crime scene in time. They catch somebody who's a suspect, a witness points them out. They make an arrest. That person gets charged with an offense and convicted of that offense. Now they're off the street for two, three, four years. That's, who knows? Eight, 16, 25 crimes that are abated during the period of time in which that person's incarcerated. That matters.

Peter Moskos: Before you go on, can I mention other positive benefits from removing repeat violent offenders from the block, which is the effect it has on anyone that's looking up to him as a role model? And also the effect it has on neighbors who want nothing to do with him, but might be willing to, even after the event, tell cops what's up. Because they'll know that he'll be removed, as opposed to telling cops that this guy did something and then having your name go back to that person. I mean, the person's literally your neighbor. It's a tough balancing act.

But that tolerance just kills legitimacy of the whole, I hate using the term criminal-justice system, because we all know the things about it not being a real system. But every part of it from police, to prosecution, to courts, to incarceration, it all goes to hell.

Rafael Mangual: Yeah. And you mentioned something really important, which was that when you take a criminal off the street, a repeat offender, gangster, you not only have the benefit of the crimes that are abated by virtue of that person's absence. But they're also not around to influence young people.

And we also talked about the Adam Toledo case a while back. I actually wrote a piece for City Journal on that case kind of asking the question rhetorically who actually killed Adam Toledo? We all know he was shot by a police officer, but he was not alone in the alley that day. He was accompanied by a 21-year-old gang member named Ruben Roman. I don't think it's a coincidence that, on a school night, this 13-year-old kid is out with an older kid he probably looked up to, who was in a gang. And if that person, who had a very extensive criminal history, had at least six arrests in the publicly available Chicago arrest database, maybe Adam Toledo wouldn't have been in that alley that day. Maybe he would still be alive today.

Peter Moskos: But we don't talk about family. I mean, the mayor didn't mention . . . I mean at some point, yeah, there's a 13-year-old on a school night out with an older gang member in an alley, well, they weren't in an alley when they fired the gun.

Rafael Mangual: Right.

Peter Moskos: And again, I don't know what casting blame accomplishes, but it's weird not to, just so we can make sure that we're all sort of rooted in the same foundation of reality here. Clearly, that kid was not being raised properly. Now what you do with that, I don't know, but to say cops shouldn't pursue somebody on foot is a bizarre reaction to me.

Rafael Mangual: Especially when that somebody is suspected of pulling a trigger of a deadly weapon that could have taken a life. That person stays on the street, there's a good chance that they eventually will succeed in taking a life. And that has ripple effects that we can't even begin to understand just in terms of the harm that does to a community.

So I want to go back to policing a little bit, because as I mentioned when I was introducing you, you have a sort of unique set of experiences. You're an academic, you're an Ivy League-educated sociologist, but you've also actually spent time in a police cruiser wearing a bulletproof vest, a badge, and a gun in what is, I think, largely understood to be one of the top five most dangerous cities in America, Baltimore. Would you make that same decision today in today's climate?

Peter Moskos: Probably.

Rafael Mangual: Say more.

Peter Moskos: Well, the reason I got into policing as a field, I wanted to study something urban related, because I've always been a city boy. But I started grad school in '95, just when the grand great crime drop was swinging into full gear in New York and in other places. And at the same time, I'm reading all the experts in sociology and criminology say that policing can't reduce crime, and crime won't go down unless we make major changes in gun policy, drugs, education, racism, all the usual suspects.

And yet we weren't making changes in any of those other things, and violence was plummeting. So I went into the field thinking if all the experts are wrong, it's probably a good field to get into, it's due for a Kuhnian scientific revolution. It's got to be happening here. And it half did. It got police back in the crime-prevention game, the crime drop did. And I give Bill Bratton a lot of credit for that for saying, this is our job.

So now flash forward nearly 30 years, but in a way the same thing is happening in reverse. So I could see having the same sort of question and people saying, gosh, I have no idea why crime is going up. I mean, I went into policing as a Harvard grad student for the purpose of dissertation research. So I was an odd cop. I mean, I was also an odd grad student. So I wasn't planning on doing 20 years. And I didn't, I did 20 months. But it's not like cops were loved back then. I think it has gotten worse.

And I think the job in Baltimore certainly has changed. When I was there, we used to, legally I should add and constitutionally, we used to clear drug corners. And that stopped and violence went up. Again, these are political choices, but I think sort of now more than ever would be good. And also part of me, hell, they don't have an age requirement. I could go back and rejoin. Occasionally I have dreams about I'm back in the Baltimore police academy. I'm too old for New York, but I'm not too old for Baltimore. Because policing has changed. It's another generation. I do still informally have a lot of connections in the police world, but I'd like to see how it's changed. But yeah, I would do it again.

I mean, to some extent I banked my career on the knowledge I gained as a police officer in Baltimore. It's certainly at least given me some street cred. I wouldn't be able to talk to cops as easily had I not had that experience. There's a level of trust that is assumed. That can always go south, but it really helps in the type of work I do, which does involve talking to a lot of cops.

Rafael Mangual: Yeah. Policing has changed a lot. I mean, I never served in the police department, but I'm the son of somebody who did here in New York City. It's changed in a couple ways. I mean, I certainly think over the last decade we have seen a new, and at least to me, unfair level of scrutiny applied to the actions of police officers in the field. I think that lots of police officers are feeling embattled, at least the ones I talk to. And I think that feeling is reasonable. As they'll put it, they have no expectation that they'll get a fair shot should they ever find themselves in a situation in which they had a questionable use-of-force situation.

Peter Moskos: But to say it's unfair scrutiny isn't right. The scrutiny is legit. It's the conclusion that's unfair.

Rafael Mangual: Right, right.

Peter Moskos: I'm all for the scrutiny of it. It's that we don't understand what is good and not good in terms of police action and use of force. I don't know if that matters.

Rafael Mangual: No, that's a good point. And one of the reasons that I think it's unfair is because one of the other things that's changed in policing is that it's become a much more professionalized career. And with that professionalization, we have seen declines in the sort of measures that I think are undergirding a lot of the critiques being lobbed at policing as an institution today, which is to say that police use force way less often. I think the NYPD shot more than 220 people in 1971, which is the first year that I could find.

Peter Moskos: It's the first year they counted.

Rafael Mangual: I think that number is now down to about 20 a year.

Peter Moskos: Or less often. But yeah, something around that.

Rafael Mangual: You know, that's a big change. And yet at least from my perspective, the tone of the police reform debate seems to have only gotten hotter. The temperature has only gone up. It's almost as if that change didn't happen. And so if I were a police officer watching this trend in which the outcomes that reformers say they care about have all moved in the right direction and yet it's become even more and more demonized as a profession. I think there's an understandable level of frustration that I suspect is undergirding the recruitment and retention crisis that I think departments across the country have been dealing with for the last five years.

Peter Moskos: I think part of it is cops will become, and maybe even should, which is unfortunate, should become more socially isolated. That's one way. You just don't listen to the criticism coming from the Left. Before I used to say it was, again, that idea that it was off. It seemed to me a few years back, it was well-intentioned criticism or better intentioned. I mentioned I think a lot of that has changed. But it has hurt recruitment. Look, if you spent the past five years with an inadvertent, and I don't want to imply it's conspiratorial, but a sort of media push to demonize policing and police officers.

I'm old enough to remember when soldiers were evil and cops were good. So that's sort of flipped now. Of course, why would you want to join a job where if you turn on certain stations, there're just sort of people pass things. “Oh, they're just hunting black people,” just statements that are casually said and that aren't checked. And apparently, I'd be skeptical of the polling, but people think that cops are shooting and killing thousands and thousands of people a year, of unarmed people a year at that.

So, over time, I think the pendulum will swing back. I think we see that a little bit. I think you saw that in the election of Eric Adams in New York, where he made crime and issue. I believe just yesterday that Marilyn Mosby in Baltimore lost her election. So people maybe are having enough of this in certain cities. But hey, elections have consequences. You get to choose them.

But in becoming a cop, and this is why I think the protests and riots after George Floyd was murdered hurt cops so much. I'm thinking particularly of New York cops. And I'm thinking particularly of some older cops I know here who are from the city. They're not white. They live in the city. They care about the city. And I remember one in particular telling me, and she just said, it was so weird to have, as she put these white girls who are young enough to be my daughter who just moved to Brooklyn calling me racist. And it blew her mind. All because cops murdered a man in Minnesota.

But if you take away that idea. Look, it can be a great job for some people, right? It's a government job. You got a good pension, there are benefits. It's got a fair amount of job security. But there is that sense that you're asking people to risk their lives. You're asking them to run toward gunfire to protect people they may not know, may not even like. It doesn't matter. It's a big ask. If you take away the nobility of it, if you say that actually matters a lot, just to say that, yeah, you're on the, you're on the side of good. Because cops certainly believe that.

So when society takes that away, it really does kind of hurt the profession and hurt the cop. Why am I doing this? I mean, in 2020, remember in late May, we literally went from standing on our fire escapes and roofs at 7:00 PM applauding cops during Covid to hating them. Within a week.

Rafael Mangual: A week. Yep.

Peter Moskos: I think people forget that right before George Floyd, people were literally applauding cops as part of first responders and the essential workers and all of that. And one incident changed it. So I don't know. There are going to be other incidents. That's part of the problem, is it is a big country. And the other bizarre thing about it was that cop was arrested, charged, and prosecuted.

Rafael Mangual: Right. Swiftly.

Peter Moskos: In the past, it was no justice, no peace kind of protest. I mean, that's the system we have, arguably it worked. There was accountability.

Rafael Mangual: Right. I think he was fired within 24 hours.

Peter Moskos: And so, yeah, I don't quite know what to say about it anymore.

Rafael Mangual: Staying on the point of the recruitment and retention crisis. I mean, I have long believed that the people most likely to ask the question, "why do this?," are people who have other options. And particularly people who have higher levels of education.

Peter Moskos: Would you hold that thought for one second?

Rafael Mangual: Sure.

Peter Moskos: Because when I was still in field. No, it was after field. When I was a cop, one of the guys who I knew from field training, he told me, he said, "You're not a real cop." And I thought he was going to get on the Harvard thing or something. And he said, "No, you're doing the job. That's fine. When you're out there, you're a cop. But you can quit." He said, "I can't quit. And that's the difference." And he was right to that extent.

Rafael Mangual: Yeah, no. I think there is something internal and innate that really drives certain people to do that kind of work. People who genuinely want to make a difference in their communities.

Peter Moskos: Then it switches to often they get stuck in it and they know they can't quit, because they have financial commitments.

Rafael Mangual: That's exactly right. And on top of that, you have spent however many years building a set of experiences that aren't transferable into any other line of work.

Peter Moskos: And you have, it depends on the city of course. You might have just a high school diploma, no other work experience. You're not actually a hot job market prospect there.

Rafael Mangual: That's right.

Peter Moskos: But anyway, sorry to interrupt. But that's why. Yes, I had other choices so I could ask that question and say I'm out of here.

Rafael Mangual: Yeah. I mean, as did I. I mean, I took the LSAT and the NYPD exam a few days apart, and I ultimately chose law school. But I've also written a few times that I think a particular effort should be made to boost recruitment, not just generally, but also among the subpopulation of potential recruits who are highly educated. In part because I think there's good evidence showing that cops with college degrees, for example, use force at lower rates, even in the same sort of situations as their counterparts with just the high school education. Which is not to say that there's no such thing as a high-school educated cop who's a good cop.

My dad dropped out of high school, got a GED, and I think had a really good career as an NYPD detective. But I do think that the professionalization of the force was something that's good. I think it produced good results, and it's something I think we should build on.

As someone who has the kind of very elite educational background, but also found himself doing the job, what would your advice be? Well, first off, do you think that's a good idea? Do you think that's a good focus to try and boost recruitment among that subset of the potential recruit population? And then if so, what would your advice be to do that?

Peter Moskos: I think it might be good. I don't know if it would be the most effective way to improve policing. I think it depends on the city a bit. New York is blessed with being a heavy immigrant city. I don't know what it is now, but roughly one in three New Yorkers is foreign born. Their children could be great cops. I mean, these are the students of mine that I teach at John Jay College. They're all immigrants and kids of immigrants. I just worry. I'm all for higher standards, education standards, everything. I just think it's tough to recruit from that group. Especially if the public narrative is that it's an evil job doing evil things, why would you do that?

I noticed the cadre of police leadership that led the New York City's crime drop. I'm talking about Louis Anemone, Jack Maple, Bill Bratton, Michael Julian, and a few others. Bratton went to college as a cop thanks to funding. The others, they eventually got, many of them, advanced degrees. Jack Maple was a high school dropout with a GED. A lot of them got into policing through the cadet program. So they started earlier and were funneled into it.

In many ways, they were overqualified, both as matters of character and intelligence. Had they come from different social classes, had they not grown up in public housing, like me had their parents been teachers and it was just simply expected I would go to college, I don't think they ever would've become cops. So to some point this is a long way of saying, I think it might be better for police departments to tap those who through social class, birth, wherever they're from, aren't getting better opportunities, don't have the money. Tapping that and getting just great people who will end up being great police officers.

And now these aren't mutually exclusive, by the way. You can do both. But maybe policing is better to embrace its sort of blue-collar image a little bit. And I'm saying that because there are a lot of really smart blue-collar cops out there. I do think college makes you a better person, and I think that makes you a better cop. I do think college simply makes you older, and that makes you a better cop.

Rafael Mangual: That's true.

Peter Moskos: So you have to take all these things into account. So look, you asked me do I support what you say? Yes, I do. But I don't know. It's a lot of work, and I don't know how many recruits you're actually going to get.

Rafael Mangual: Right. Yeah, no. I think those are all fair points to make. I mean, the kind of model that inspired this idea on my part was the U.S. military, which you can enter the U.S. military as an officer if you have a college degree. So you have a higher promotional ceiling of sort of more reliable, faster promotional track, a higher-paced pay grade.

So, you graduate college, you can go in as an enlisted person or you can go into OCS. It does seem to be an effective way of attracting high-level recruits into the U.S. military. Although that probably, I suspect, is changing as well even if it doesn't get as much publicity.

Peter Moskos: Let me add one difference that's important to point out, which is the leadership in the military has direct command and control over the men and women that they are in charge of. Policing is an odd job. The leadership matters, and it matters a lot, particularly at the top, in that the men and women doing the work don't have supervisors present. And so you've got this paramilitary model of command and control that doesn't actually have command and control.

I mean, the sergeant of course is key, because that is the immediate supervisor. But ultimately we are putting a lot of decision making and use of force, and lethal use of force, on the patrol officer acting independently. And that is not the military model. So I worry a little bit because that military model tends to discourage decision making, and emphasize order following. And ultimately, we need the right decisions made by people who don't have supervisors present.

Rafael Mangual: Interestingly, it seems like the sort of revolution of reducing crime, particularly in New York City was sort of coupled with an increase in police discretion, a sort of higher level of trust given to officers who had a lot of power when they were out in the field in terms of the decisions that they were going to make on a day-to-day basis.

And yet today it seems like the reform movement is motivated sort of primarily by a desire to restrict discretion in every way possible. And so maybe there's something there that's incongruous with getting crime back under control in cities that have lost it.

Peter Moskos: The job involves discretion. I'm very pro-discretion. But even if that concept doesn't appeal to somebody, you still have to embrace it, because that's the reality. So let's make it as good as possible. Bratton's leadership was interesting because he really increased the discretion at the level of precinct commander and said, you are free to experiment, do what you need to do. This is your little fiefdom. Well, this is interesting because again, think of this in 2022 context.

Because Bratton was saying this in 1994. If you see a crime committed in front of you, feel free to arrest the person, because that wasn't done particularly in relation to drug crimes in 1994, because the fear was corruption. And that was the dominating factor from really Serpico on through the early 1990s in the NYPD. And he was also very tough, famously tough and somewhat showy, about disciplining cops who were corrupt.

So that combination seemed to work in that there was not a major corruption scandal. Cops felt like they could do their job again, and they were supported by their boss and by the organization. That's something we're lacking now. So I think it's going to start with political leadership in the non-police level.

Adams is interesting because he was elected in part on his crime stuff. But he also seems to be meddling in the police department because he can't keep his hands off. So it's not so clear who actually is running the show there. And that's a separate issue. Was it Bratton? Someone wrote an article recently about reform, about the best reform happening from within.

Rafael Mangual: Oh, in the Atlantic, right?

Peter Moskos: Yep. I've heard that argument before and agree with it, but it was interesting to see it in kind of a mainstream magazine. It doesn't get enough attention. Again, even if you don't like cops, don't trust cops, and think they're up to no good, if you really want to change them it has to happen from within. You can restrict from the outside and that's what we've seen, but it's really hard to make an organization that is sort of, I can't even fake business jargon, but mission-driven and solutions-oriented. It's really hard to do that from the outside and deal with officer morale and things like that. It's got to come from within.

Rafael Mangual: So while I can talk to you all day, I think now is probably a good place to end. But it seems like the sort of overarching theme of this conversation is these are political choices. We can and probably should make different ones if things are going to get better. Are you optimistic?

Peter Moskos: No, I'm not. I know we're supposed to say we are. No, I think it's going to get worse before it gets better. And that's not to say I'm hopeless. It's not going to end in complete societal destruction and anarchy. But currently, I think the pendulum at least may have stopped swinging out to the kooky side, but I think it'll be a bit of a political realignment. It's interesting to see, and somewhat disturbing to see, more of an alliance between the far left and the far right on things like prosecuting gun crime. And there's some other examples of that where who would've thought that they'd be on the same side? So maybe as that happens, other people will start to realize that, oh, we have to vote for more sensible rather than idealistic candidates.

Or you can vote for sensible, idealistic ones. But this idea of just sort of pie in the sky, oh, I'm going to vote for whoever is most progressive. I think that those days might be over. Oh, that was the other thing DSA did, was they kind of came out for Russia in the invasion of the Ukraine. That was a wake-up call to a lot of their supporters like, oh yeah, that's right. Because they hate NATO. They hate the West.

So there're a bunch of things. It's not that I'm hopeless. But no, I don't think things are going to get better tomorrow. It's just a rare field where lives literally are at stake. If we can reduce violence next year and we could, that's an immediate good, and it's a long-term good. But first we have to, I think, agree on what the role of police is. And currently it is not crime prevention. Again, we had this model from the Kerner Commission in the late 1960s to the early ‘90s, and now we're sort of going back to that. And so hopefully it's a matter of a few years. It could be a matter of a few decades.

Rafael Mangual: Well, Peter, we're going to leave it there. Thank you so much for joining. Listeners, you can also find City Journal on Twitter @cityjournal. You can find us on Instagram at @cityjournal_mi. Peter Moskos is always on Twitter. You can catch him @petermoskos. And as always, if you like what you heard on the podcast, give us a five-star rating on iTunes. And again, you can catch my new book, which is out Tuesday, July 26th, Criminal (In)Justice. And Peter, do you have a working title for your book yet?

Peter Moskos: The working title is, They Said It Couldn't Be Done. It's an oral history of the crime drop in New York City. It's still a bit of a ways off, but the draft is done. Lots of good interviews. I never did interview your father. I should have, but I didn't.

Rafael Mangual: Well, we'll keep an eye out for it.

Peter Moskos: Also, a lot of the people I've mentioned, I've interviewed them and it is online at my Quality Policing website and podcast. So people can hear some of those that I spoke to.

Rafael Mangual: Great. Well, I'll check that out. Thank you so much.

Peter Moskos: Thank you.

Photo: LPETTET/iStock

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