Retired NYPD Deputy Inspector Pegues, a former drug dealer, writes about his experience in Once a Cop: My Journey from Former Crack Dealer to the Highest Ranks of the NYPD.

In 2014 you revealed that as a teenager you’d been a street dealer for a notorious Queens-based gang. The New York Post put you on the front page under the headline “Thug Cop!” Do you think the reaction to your story showed racial bias?

In 2006 two retired detectives, Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, both white, who worked on behalf of the New York mafia—principally the Lucchese crime family—were convicted of labor racketeering, extortion, illegal gambling, obstruction of justice, and eight counts of murder and conspiracy to commit murder, charges stemming from their actions in the 1980s and the early 1990s [while they were on active duty] in New York, and in the 2000s in Las Vegas. Both were sentenced to life in prison. I did not hear [New York’s] mayor or the police commissioner say anything about their pensions as they did about mine.

In your book you criticize such police strategies as “stop and frisk.” What do you think needs to be done in the short term to improve policing?

In the short term, American policing needs to acknowledge that there is a serious issue with policing in minority communities. How many more national incidents like the deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray do we have to have before we acknowledge the problem instead of saying “This case is an isolated incident”? It’s like being an alcoholic—before you can get any help you need to acknowledge your problem. After acknowledging the problem, police officers can reinforce techniques such as using all the time you need to subdue the prisoner with the least amount of force.

How about long-term strategies?

In the long term, cops need to have a better relationship with the minority community, and police departments need to try much harder to recruit and retain officers who are more reflective of the community in which they serve. In addition, police departments have to start disciplining rogue officers to the full extent of the law, or terminating them. When officers realize that their jobs are strictly tied to their actions or inactions in the street, then I think that there will be a swift change in the police culture.

As a young man you were very fortunate to escape a prison sentence or a violent death. Do you think that your criminal activities should have disqualified you for police work?

Prior to becoming a police officer I had already made the leap from the street life to becoming a productive citizen of society. I joined the military and supported my family. I don’t think that someone right from the street who still engages in criminal behavior, even occasionally, should become a cop. However, if they can show that they have been living a clean life for some time, they should be given a chance like everyone else.