NYPD on Trial: Police Say They Are Forced to Harass Kids in Order to Meet Quotas
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Last week, NYPD whistleblowers Adhyl Polanco and Pedro Serrano, who secretly recorded supervisors demanding that officers fill quotas, testified in federal court that they were forced to violate the law to meet numbers. “We were handcuffing kids for no reason,” Polanco testified. The two officers are testifying in a class-action suit targeting the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy.
Quotas for NYPD activity are illegal under New York labor law, but secretly recorded roll calls reveal supervisors pushing officers to get "20-and 1," meaning 20 summonses and 1 arrest per month. Monthly quotas also required five "250s," or street stops.
“There’s a difference between” the department’s policies on paper and “what goes on out there,” in real life, Polanco told the court.
The 40th Precinct, where Pedro Serrano serves, recorded the highest number of police stops in the Bronx in 2011. That year, Serrano recorded the 40th Precinct’s commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack, telling him to stop “the right people at the right time, the right location," whom he also identified as people creating "the most problems."
“The problem was, what, male blacks,” Inspector McCormack said. “And I told you at roll call, and I have no problem telling you this, male blacks 14 to 20, 21.”
“We go out there and we summons,” he told Serrano.
Polanco, who is Dominican and said he is from Washington Heights, testified that he joined the case because, “I know what it's like when it's 95 degrees in an apartment on the fifth floor and you go downstairs because you had a fight with your sister, because it's simply too hot, " he said, "and get arrested in your own building for trespassing, as we have seen, get summons, get pat down, get harassed by police -- I don't believe that's why I joined the police department."
“As a Hispanic, walking in the Bronx, I have been stopped many times. It's not a good feeling," said Serrano, who grew up in the Bronx and works in the 40th Precinct.
The class-action suit, Floyd v. City of New York, will ultimately decide whether the city has systematically violated the 4th and 14th Amendments of New Yorkers via the NYPD's racial profiling tactic stop-and-frisk.
Almost 90% of more than half-a-million people stopped annually by the NYPD are black or Latino, and the majority of them are young and living in low-income areas with higher violent crime rates. Nonetheless, the arrests and summonses NYPD officers say they are forced to make are typically for low-level, nonviolent offenses. In one recording played for the court, an NYPD captain urging more activity told officers, “the summons is a money-generating machine for the city.”
Police are legally allowed to stop individuals they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe are committing a crime, and they may then pat down a person if they observe a bulge that could be a weapon. But stops -- less than one percent of which uncover a firearm -- also provide the initial interaction by which officers might uncover an arrest warrant or issue a summons.
Polanco and Serrano testified that supervisors cared more about whether cops met the numbers than whether they met them legally, and that failing to do so would lead to punishment or "retaliation,” which only intensified after they spoke out. They said they were advised to meet their quotas by going after young men of color for crimes they may not even have committed.
"They will never question the quality. They will question the quantity. They are not checking the 250. They are not checking the summonses. They just want to make sure we have them. How we got them, they don't really care," testified Polanco, who has been suspended from the NYPD for three years.