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When Police Are Encouraged to Abuse, Not Protect

The NYPD's quota system forces officers to crack down on the very people they are supposed to serve and protect.
 
 
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While the harmful effects of the NYPD’s stop and frisk tactic have received the most public attention, this practice does not represent the most serious problem with current policing policy in NYC. It is not the true dark heart of the beast. That honor goes to an agency wide quota system that police brass use to evaluate the performances of officers on the street and that drives a harsh, aggressive approach to law enforcement which, in a misguided effort to keep a lid on crime, results in the targeting and abusive treatment of our city’s most vulnerable groups.

Every day the City’s police engage in objectionable practices that waste government resources and that result in more, rather than less, social disorder. Black and brown young men stopped and frisked for no apparent reason, at times arrested and ticketed for trespass while standing in front of their own buildings; drivers pulled over and ticketed for not wearing a seat belt even though they were using the device; people in psychiatric crisis, clearly disoriented and confused, thrown to the ground, handcuffed, and locked up; LGBT persons called derogatory names, questioned rudely and inappropriately touched as they enter a local community center or gather in a group on a neighborhood street corner; sex workers arrested for simply carrying condoms or forced to provide sex in return for their release; street vendors hassled, fined and arrested for violating minor rules that are arbitrarily enforced; homeless people roughed up – their belongings often destroyed – and apprehended for begging on the subway or sleeping on a park bench; officers apologizing to people they are handing a summons explaining that they are under pressure to fill their quota.

NYPD officials use the term "productivity goals" as a poorly veiled euphemism for the Department's quota system, as a thin cover for the pressure placed on street officers to make an expected number of arrests, or to issue a sufficient number of summonses. The department denies its use of such measures because they are illegal under state law, a law which, over six years ago, a state arbitrator concluded that the NYPD had violated. The state arbitrator found, among other things, that "one officer . . . was singled out by at least one of his supervisors for his high number of felony arrests, (but) was nonetheless given low marks on performance evaluations for not writing traffic and 'quality of life' summonses."

An officer told a PROP representative: "If I break up a fight between two boys and send them home, I don't get credit. If I help deliver a baby in an emergency, I get no credit. But I score points if I issue a seat belt summons or record two stop and frisks."

A flustered New Yorker reported the words of an officer who just gave him a summons for moving between two subway cars while the train was stopped. "Sorry, but it's the 26th of the month and I have to hit my number."

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA) has taken an aggressive public stance against the Department's quotas. The police officers union has urged its members to complete a notarized affidavit whenever a supervising officer threatens them with a penalty for not meeting specified quotas. The sanctions may include reassignments, adverse evaluations, or denials of promotion or overtime.

While the quota system clearly creates problems for the officers pressured to meet them, the main victims are the citizens of New York who bear the brunt of the ill effects of this law enforcement approach. When a NYPD representative, a precinct captain or lieutenant, directs officers to satisfy specific numerical goals regarding arrests and summonses, then deploys the officers in particular neighborhoods, everyone in those communities becomes a potential criminal even if their criminality is fabricated by officers to fill monthly "productivity goals." The subsequent indiscriminate ticketing, false arrests, illegal stop and frisks, and other harassment techniques undermine officers' relationship with communities and result in policing that is unfair and unsuccessful.

As a consequence, our city's citizens do not feel safe in their own neighborhoods, on their own streets, or in their own apartment buildings. Community members do not see the police as a source of protection -- in fact, a comment we have heard frequently reflects an opposing belief: "We feel we have to protect ourselves from them" -- and lose faith in a legal system which unjustly singles out and punishes them at its earliest stages and with its most public arm.

PBA President Patrick Lynch stated recently that quotas are " . . . ineffective in fighting crime and serve as a tremendous source of friction with the communities that our members are sworn to protect. Eliminating unnecessary and counterproductive quotas will allow police officers to keep New York City safe while winning back the support of its citizens."

 

 

Robert Gangi is Director of the Police Reform Organizing Project.

 
 
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