Interview with Peter C. Moskos—Sociologist, Author, Criminal Justice Professor and Former Cop (Part 2)

In Part 1 of our interview with Professor Peter Moskos, he talks about working as a cop in “one of the worst ghettos in America” while conducting research towards his Ph.D. in Sociology. In this next part, Professor Moskos shares some of his sociological expertise as it pertains to crime and provides advice to aspiring criminal justice professionals.

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CJSI: As a professor, what do you teach?

PM: I’m teaching Intro to Criminal Justice and a Seminar in Police Problems, which is probably the class I enjoy the most because I can talk about whatever police issues I want. Like today we’re talking about broken windows [theory] and the crime drop in New York—throwing a little Jane Jacobs into it from my sociology background. Pretty much everything I teach will have some police angle. I’m in the department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration, so I teach anything from Intro to Criminal Justice to Master’s level intro courses on policing. But I try and stick with my little seminar on police problems.

CJSI: Who deserves the credit for the crime drop in New York? Mayor Giuliani?

PM: I prefer to give the credit to Bratton, his police commissioner. I mean Giuliani fired Bratton because Giuliani’s ego was too big and Bratton got his picture on the cover of Time Magazine. So I give Giuliani credit for appointing Bratton, but I don’t think Giuliani really ever understood the nuances of good policing. He was mayor at the time, and as much as I don’t like him, he did leave the city in much better condition than he found it. But Giuliani certainly wasn’t the brains behind Broken Windows and good policing. You need to give Bratton and George Kelling credit. And yet in the academic world, it’s still not very popular to like either of them. Sociologists have never really become comfortable with the fact that police matter, and that’s something I find very interesting. In New York, the crime drop happened even though the greater social conditions didn’t improve. New York City got police back in the crime prevention game and that’s a pretty big paradigm shift from the 60s and 70s and 80s.

CJSI: What are the top issues that the criminal justice system should be addressing?

PM: The American incarceration rate—that’s what inspired me to write In Defense of Flogging—I think it should not be seen just as a policy disaster, which it is, but as a moral disaster too. I think it’s just wrong that America has more people in prison than any country in the history of the world, ever. History is not going to look kindly on this mass incarceration. Part of my idea in writing that book was to appeal to people who just don’t know about this problem. They think it’s normal to have two million prisoners. That I think is probably the single most important issue. But that said, police and crime prevention is kind of what I find more fun and interesting.

CJSI: Do you have any advice for aspiring police officers or other criminal justice professionals?

PM: I think it’s important not to go into the job too idealistic, but to go in realizing what you can and can’t do and pace yourself for the length of your career. You need to understand that the job’s frustrating and filled with paperwork. You need to realize you can’t save the whole world, but you can make individual people better and safer. You can do good! And it’s important to keep some of the idealism throughout your career and I think you best do that by not being too idealistic.