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Ex-Baltimore Officer Michael Wood, who came to fame for tweeting about corruption inside the agency, says there is no evidence showing aggressive policing reduces crime. Note: The video version of this interview incorrectly identifies Michael Wood as Michael Woods.

Story Transcript

STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: Hello. My name is Stephen Janis. I’m a reporter for the Real News Network. We’re here at Gilmor Homes, the place where police arrested Freddie Gray, and has led to the trial that will begin tomorrow. We’re here with a former Baltimore City police officer, Michael Wood, to talk about the case. Give us a little, a sense of what you think is going on in the psyche of the Baltimore City Police Department. Since these indictments, officers have said they’re not going to work. They’re going to sit down. Give us a little perspective on that. Is that true? MICHAEL WOOD: I find it hard to believe that the officers would do something where they have to act, and not act. But when you’re talking about proactive enforcement, so maybe they’re not going to go out there and jack a bunch of guys on the corner, where’s the objection? JANIS: They have equated that, though, with a drop in crime. With a rise in crime, excuse me. Is it true that without the proactive enforcement that crime just rises? Or is that sort of a false equivalence? WOOD: There’s no evidence leaning–to indicate that. Anybody that says that this slowdown, if they want to call it that, has caused an increase in crime, that would exactly be proven to be wrong in the past before. In New York they did that and crime went down. People like to make a lot of inferences out of things that no scientific person, no expert, is going to consider to be a valid claim. JANIS: But you’re basically saying this whole narrative myth, that more policing leads to less crime, and that policing is the solution to crime, you’re basically saying that’s wrong. WOOD: Yeah, completely. I think the entire foundation–. JANIS: How can you say–you’re a cop. WOOD: The entire foundation of criminal justice is wrong. We are based upon ideology and not science. We should be based upon science with empathy overruling it. So if even science says we should do something that would lower crime, if that comes at the cost of a particular culture of people in general, then we shouldn’t do those things. JANIS: Okay, you made some interesting points. You talk about ideology. What do you mean specifically about–what kind of ideology drives policing? I think that’s a good point. WOOD: Right. The first ideology that’s big that you’ll see is criminal profiling. So while they used to say racial profiling now you’ll say criminal profiling, because you’re profiling the criminal act. But if you start off your base and your foundation is in the fact that you started off your entire profession arresting slaves and putting them in prison, then you’re already getting a false dataset from the very beginning because you’re basing it upon an ideology, not actual science. JANIS: Right. So we look from the outside, we see incredible acts of violence on behalf of police. I was thinking about–we were talking about Officer Cosom, who beat a suspect in front of a bus stop. And we see these things, and we kind of find it inexplicable. Can you explain the psychology, or why police officers do these things that we don’t understand? WOOD: Personally, I also find it impossible to understand and to fathom. I’ve, even the things that I did see, I don’t understand why those things took place. What led you there. Ultimately I think it’s fear. Cops are definitely afraid, and they’re afraid for multiple reasons. And one of those is that they’re completely under-trained and they can’t actually handle the situation. So when you have somebody like Cosom, you know that–longstanding thinking is that the officer should go and should take over his district. Like, he has to have the commanding presence. So if somebody threatens that respect then the idea an officer, and in the ideology of criminal justice, is that you must reassert that stance that you have. That control of the situation. So if the control was taken from him–I don’t know. I don’t know what people do that for. JANIS: So you’re saying that a lot of these conflicts here are precipitated by the idea in the police officer’s head that they have to be in absolute total control of a situation at all times? Is that what you’re saying? WOOD: Yeah, I think that’s the idea. That you run it, you’re in control at all times. You can’t step down, you can’t retreat. I can’t understand why there’s not certain reasons where you would say okay, you know, I’m wrong. I’m probably handling this the wrong way. You guys have a good day. I mean, it happens. You have the metric in policing which is arrests. Every officer is judged upon their arrests. You don’t get credit for deescalating a situation. So even if you go through the efforts–say it takes an hour to deescalate a situation, but you could have moved on in five minutes by making an arrest. Well, then, the easy route is that you’re going to get credit for the arrest, and that’s the easier thing to do, so you may as well do it. JANIS: Were there arrest quotas when you were in the city? Were people judged by the number–I know that when I was reporting during the zero tolerance, there were arrest quotas for units that I saw. I mean, I saw numbers from the deputy commissioner’s office that seemed to do that. Were there arrest quotas? WOOD: Well, as you know there’ll never be official quotas. There would be approximations, or something like that. So what I did is when my officers did things, we were in the Eastern, so I expected them to have right around ten arrests a month. So that would be one every other day, considering they work about 20 days out of that 28-day period. I would expect about a ten. If they didn’t get ten, then the idea was that they weren’t working hard. JANIS: What did you expect out of the ten arrests? I mean, then in a sense, you were part of the problem, in a sense, if you’re talking about it. If you were asking people with arrest quotas–. WOOD: It’s not in a sense. It’s absolutely the case. JANIS: All right, so you were part of the problem. WOOD: I was certainly part of the problem, yes. I didn’t see it. I didn’t understand it. But certainly that’s part of the problem. I was pushing them for arrests. And the reason in my warped justification was that if we gave command what they wanted then we could run our little section and not be bothered. We mostly go out and do arrests. I mean, that is–I estimate that that’s been about 90 percent of what I did, was go chase drug arrests. So where does the protect and serve come in here? Anybody that’s been manipulated, and I was brainwashed by the blue Kool-Aid, and the whole society system of police are so wonderful, that you just are joining that club, and doing what you want to do. So I would see things being in covert, doing drug surveillance, really kind of–. I think that was my first, what are we doing? Because as I was sitting there watching drug dealers I would enter, I would see everybody else in the neighborhood have a normal day. I would see the drug dealers do normal things. And you realize that this whole us versus them thing that you’ve created is, it’s not even humane. But it’s really every single branch is poisoned by this same ideology that started in the beginning. So we planted a tree of criminal justice in this evil soil, so everything we get out of it just, is going to be bad as well. It’s the proverbial fruit of a poisonous tree, because we were starting from a bad foundation. JANIS: This is Stephen Janis reporting from Gilmor Homes for the Real News Network in Baltimore.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Stephen Janis

Host & Producer
Stephen Janis is an award winning investigative reporter turned documentary filmmaker. His first feature film, The Friendliest Town was distributed by Gravitas Ventures and won an award of distinction from The Impact Doc Film Festival, and a humanitarian award from The Indie Film Fest. He is the co-host and creator of The Police Accountability Report on The Real News Network, which has received more than 10,000,000 views on YouTube. His work as a reporter has been featured on a variety of national shows including the Netflix reboot of Unsolved Mysteries, Dead of Night on Investigation Discovery Channel, Relentless on NBC, and Sins of the City on TV One.

He has co-authored several books on policing, corruption, and the root causes of violence including Why Do We Kill: The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore and You Can’t Stop Murder: Truths about Policing in Baltimore and Beyond. He is also the co-host of the true crime podcast Land of the Unsolved. Prior to joining The Real News, Janis won three Capital Emmys for investigative series working as an investigative producer for WBFF. Follow him on Twitter.