Vice: One Cop's Story of Patrolling America's Most Dangerous City

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St. Martin's Press, Jan 18, 2011 - Biography & Autobiography - 432 pages
3 Reviews

9 square miles. 10,000 criminals. 130 cops. A riveting memoir by Baker, California's most-decorated police officer

Compton: the most violent and crime-ridden city in America. What had been a semi-rural suburb of Los Angeles in the 1950s became a battleground for the Black Panthers and Malcolm X Foundation, the home of the Crips and Bloods and the first Hispanic gangs, and the cradle of gangster rap. At the center of it, trying to maintain order was the Compton Police Department, never more than 130-strong, and facing an army of criminals that numbered over 10,000. At any given time, fully one-tenth of Compton's population was in prison, yet this tidal wave of crime was held back by the thinnest line of the law—the Compton Police.

John R. Baker was raised in Compton, eventually becoming the city's most decorated officer involved in some of its most notorious, horrifying and scandalous criminal cases. Baker's account of Compton from 1950 to 2001 is one of the most powerful and compelling cop memoirs ever written—an intensely human account of sacrifice and public service, and the price the men and women of the Compton Police Department paid to preserve their city.


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How exciting to read what I grew up with! My father was Sgt. Harold Fuske and I remember all that is told in this book by Rick Baker. In fact I have a scrap book containing many newspaper articles about the different incidences referred to in the book. I was born in Compton, lived in Victory Park until 1960. I spent many mornings with my father talking about his cases, I remember seeing him come home and not being able to eat dinner because of what he had seen or done earlier at work. I give Rick Baker credit for telling the truth about what the job was really like in Compton. Until you have lived it you can not even begin to understand. My father was a great peace officer and detective, he loved his job and the people he worked with. My mother always wanted him to leave Compton but he couldn't leave his "family". Thank you Rick for the wonderful words about my father. So sad that he left us at such a young age. He was a lover of books and now he's in one!
Linda Fuske Anderson

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Q. You found this to be an interesting memoir?
A. Yes. I lived and worked in Compton in the 1970s, and much of what Baker saw I also saw, though he saw much more than I did.
Q. What was your occupation at that time?
A. I taught math at Dominguez High on the far east side which, as Baker points out, was the last bastion of white flight. Few whites were left at Dominguez by that time, a couple of dozen at the most. I knew very little about the west side gangs, except what I heard from the students. Actually, I ended up marrying one of my former students, and we lived for a time in a house we bought on Elizabeth Street, just south of Alondra. We were an interracial couple but had no special problems in the neighborhood. Our house was broken into but after we put bars on the windows, that stopped.
Q. So you would recommend that others read this book, in general, or would it mostly appeal to people who know Compton or know police work?
A. I think it would appeal to a general readership. Baker and his co-author make the story very readable and intriguing throughout. There is much tragedy, some humor, some dark humor, some sexual exploits, but Baker is quite honest about how the Compton Police Department necessarily had their own rules during his many years there. They really had no choice, since the entire department consisted of about 130 officers, whereas the size of the city was expanding and the gangs were growing exponentially, along with the crime.
Q. So what did you come away with after finishing the book?
A. Rick Baker is a man who found his niche and stayed with it, even though his life might have been easier elsewhere. He was suited to be a cop in Compton in all respects, since he grew up there, spoke Spanish, and believed in justice "Compton Style," which was a requirement. He survived in a treacherous environment and I'm sure the people of Compton, whether they knew him or not, appreciated his efforts. It's good that the co-author helped him bring his stories together in this book, for the benefit of the reading public. The book is well worth reading.


A Model Community
White Flight Black Rage
Part of the Uniform The Golden Garter
Apartheid Détente and the Great Penile Duel
Rut Crosby and the Rise of the Gangs
Panthers Water Way and the Standoff in Victory Park
Bullets in the Laundromat Shondra and the Bomb
Rape Politics and Other Crimes
Tarzan a Severed Head and the Shack
Lueders Park the Olympics and Mexico
The Councilmans Dilemma the Back Door and the Giant
A Gun to My Head Casinos and Mulberry Street
Rut Returns the Sentinel and the Stinkers
The Ballet the Hypnotist and the Task Force
Boot Hill the Chiefs Mother and Jack in the Box
Richard III the Stardust and Orchard Street

The Service Center and the Devils Disciples
Rapunzel the Election and the Pastry Chef
Miami and the Siege of City Hall
Douglas Dollarhides Chief Doris Daviss Balls and Politics Compton Style
Gangstas the Carnival and the Ritual
Compton Coda

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About the author (2011)

SGT. JOHN R. BAKER is an 18-year veteran of the Compton Police Department. He lives in Las Vegas, NV.

STEPHEN J. RIVELE is the Academy Award-nominated screenwriter of Oliver Stone's Nixon, and of Will Smith's Ali. Rivele is also the author of eight previous books. He lives in Pasadena, CA.

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