Power Trip

The corruption, violence, and petty cruelty on display left me with PTSD

Credit: Images by Steve Skinner Photography/Moment/Getty

I am frequently asked why I became a cop, but I never seem to have a satisfactory answer. I was an only child in a single-parent home and was relatively quiet and introverted growing up. I wasn’t following in anyone’s footsteps — there were no other cops in my family. I wasn’t the best student in high school, and even if I had been, I didn’t have the money for college. Being a police officer seemed like a job that paid relatively well, and most departments didn’t require anything more than a GED. After learning that Baltimore was hiring officers…


I was anything but elite when I worked with a specialized unit of cops sent out every night to “proactively police” the streets of Baltimore.

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

In the summer of 2006, I became a member of the Special Enforcement Team. I had been a police officer in Baltimore City for seven years when I joined up with this “elite” squad of cops. At first, I was thrilled to be a member of the “knockers” a not so affectionate nickname bestowed on drug cops by the citizens of Baltimore. I thought I was finally going to be doing “real” police work and taking down serious bad guys. Foot chases. Car chases. Seizing guns and drugs. …


I spent 18 years as a police officer, and I know anti-bias training won’t be enough

Minneapolis police watch the protests outside the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct. Photo: Star Tribune via Getty Images

When I watch the current wave of protests against police violence on TV, I can’t help but think back to the demonstrations of 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray. I was in Baltimore then, on the streets as an officer in the Baltimore Police Department. I witnessed firsthand the anger and pain on the faces of protestors. I watched protestors shout, “No justice, no peace,” and carry signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop Killer Cops.” I stood alongside cops and National Guard troops who were prepared for a physical confrontation. I would go home at the end…


Art: Matt Cokeley

An ex-cop on what movies get wrong—really wrong — about real-life law enforcement

Years after becoming a cop, I rewatched a few of the old Dirty Harry films. I couldn’t help but notice the bad police work on display. There are easily half a dozen civil rights violations in every Dirty Harry sequel. Movie cops like Harry Callahan normalize police violence by presenting it as a necessary tool to fight evil, presenting cops as moral heroes who punish the wicked.

I grew up in the early ’80s watching just about every cop show and movie that came out, mainly because it’s what my dad watched. My dad wasn’t a cop; like most red-blooded…


A former Baltimore cop explains why police reforms aren’t to blame for the recent rise in crime

Credit: AFP Contributor/Getty Images

I first met Anthony Barksdale in the summer of 2007. My partner and I were sitting in our parked car in the driveway of Green Mount Cemetery, a high-crime area in the center of Baltimore. Most nights that summer were spent chasing off loiterers from vacant houses, breaking up dice games, and performing some low-level drug enforcement — a lot of hassling, but relatively few arrests. It was the dead of night, square in the middle of our latest 16-hour shift; we were taking a quick break.

We both noticed an unmarked SUV crawl past us. When the driver slowed…


As a former cop, I know why so many carry out their work with an “us versus them” mentality

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

In 2000, I was a rookie patrol cop in the Baltimore Police Department. Everything I’d learned from six months in the police academy and another month of field training was still fresh in my head. I fancied myself as a squared-away, polished-looking crime fighter at the top of my game when I had my first real-life foot chase.

I remember the call very clearly. It was toward the end of my 4 p.m. to midnight shift on a warm summer night. I was dispatched as a backup unit to a report from a repair shop owner observing a man breaking…

Larry Smith

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store