Former Detective: NYPD Planted Drugs on People to Meet Drug Arrest Quotas

The NYPD has been under fire in recent months for illegal searches resulting in thousands of low-level marijuana arrests, mostly of people of color. As corrupt as this practice is, testimony from Stephen Anderson, a former NYPD narcotics detective, shows it's just the tip of the iceberg.

According to Anderson, who testified at trial Wednesday, New York City police regularly planted drugs on innocent people to meet quotas. Anderson should know. He was arrested in 2008 for planting cocaine on four men in a bar in Queens. His statements are the first glimpse into a culture of set-ups at the Brooklyn South and Queens Narc squads where eight corrupt cops were arrested.

Anderson says his own stunt was a tactic to help officer Henry Tavarez meet his buy-and-bust quota. But the incident was not limited to a handful of men. According to Anderson, “It was something I was seeing a lot of, whether it was from supervisors or undercovers and even investigators.”

Anderson's case suggests the set-ups are a response to the pressure bosses force on police to make drug arrests.

"Tavarez was ... was worried about getting sent back [to patrol] and, you know, the supervisors getting on his case," Anderson said at the corruption trial of Brooklyn South narcotics Detective Jason Arbeeny.

Having just made two legitimate arrests himself, "I had decided to give him [Tavarez] the drugs to help him out so that he could say he had a buy," Anderson testified.

"As a detective, you still have a number to reach while you are in the narcotics division," Anderson added. 

Clearly, the NYPD was requiring officers to fill quotas. The problem, it seems, was not lazy officers, but a lack of the guilty. The undue attention officers place on drug arrests is cause for alarm. This is not the first allegation of widespread corruption at the NYPD. Disturbing data uncovered by the Drug Policy Alliance and Queens College sociology professor Dr. Harry Levine shows many incidences of abuse of police authority. In fact, the evidence was so strong and stunk of such wrongdoing that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly actually issued an internal memo last month, ordering officers to stop charging people based on improper searches. 

Possession of small amounts of marijuana is decriminalized in New York. But to slap youths with a criminal charge that can take away their opportunity to obtain student loans and public housing, officers conduct "stop-and-frisks" by which they demand people to empty their pockets.  They are then arrested for marijuana "in public view" which, like public smoking of the plant, is not decriminalized. Of course, the marijuana was not in public view until the cops themselves put it there.

Since 2002, there were 35,000 low-level marijuana arrests in New York City, adding up to 15% of all arrests in the city. Shockingly, 86% of those arrested are people of color. And they are mostly youths from poor neighborhoods. That's a lot of lost futures. But how many others have corrupt cops destroyed?

The stop-and-frisk marijuana arrests and evidence of drug-related setups give the NYPD two counts of falsification. But what about the rest of the country? How many behind bars are victims of the drug war?

The rhetoric surrounding the war on drugs promises that drug arrests keep the population safer. But planting substances on innocent victims and subjecting them to years locked inside of a cage where violence, illness, and despair are rampant does not increase safety, nor does it maintain sound community relations. What's more, when drug arrests may nay not even be legitimate, the "fairness" ideal used as an excuse for denying drug arrestees access to public benefits becomes completely void.

If this kind of evidence does not scream for drug policy reform, then what does?


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