The New Yorker’s Ben Taub has an amazing story in the New Yorker about a former CIA counterterrorism expert who joined his hometown police force. The spy turned cop’s name is Patrick Skinner, and he provides the story’s first and best pull quote: “We have to stop treating people like we’re in Fallujah. Just look what happened in Fallujah.”
The story bounces back and forth from Skinner’s career in the CIA to his time patrolling the beat in Savannah, Georgia. I appreciate his take on the mismanagement of the War on Terror, but it’s Skinner’s views on the responsibility of police officers that really gets me. Here’s a bit toward the end, immediately after Officer Skinner uses his patrol car to drive a homeless woman to a Waffle House and buys her a hot meal:
Back in the car, Skinner explained that part of his motivation in helping Norma Jeane was to prevent an emergency call, three hours later, of a homeless woman freezing to death. “Think of all the shit that went wrong in this country for Norma Jeane to be sitting in the car with us,” he said. Although schizophrenia affects a little more than one per cent of Americans, it’s a factor in a high percentage of police calls. A few hours earlier, Skinner had checked on a schizophrenic man who calls the police multiple times each night, reporting paranoid hallucinations; the department can never ignore a call, because he is the legal owner of a .357 Magnum revolver, and officers told me that he once tried to execute an intruder in his front yard. At times, Skinner feels as if the role of a police officer were to pick up the pieces of “something that has broken in every single possible way.”
“A huge amount of what police actually do is support and service and problem-solving,” [one of the nation’s leading criminologists] David M. Kennedy told me. “And part of what’s so inside out is that most of that activity is not recognized.” Police officers are increasingly filling the gaps of a broken state. “They do it essentially on their own, usually without adequate training and preparation, often without the skills they need, and overwhelmingly without the resources and institutional connections that it would take to do those things well.”
Twenty-seven hours after we left Norma Jeane at the Waffle House, another cop radioed in an E.M.S. call. A fifty-nine-year-old homeless woman, dressed in a Santa hat and a leopard-print jacket, was freezing to death.
Read the rest of The Spy Who Came Home.