By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
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Eight days later, he offers his view of these so-called Boro Stat meetings, on January 21, 2009: "Robbery spikes, crime spikes, on and on and on. It's a lot of horseshit I gotta sit through, but it's accountability, all right?"
As a result of this outside pressure, the precinct was constantly worried about violating bureaucratic rules that would result in even more scrutiny, and result in Command Disciplines (CDs), a penalty that could carry a loss of vacation days.
Take one example: A sergeant spends a roll call upbraiding his officers for not having the proper equipment. "Nobody's got your whistle holder, and half of you don't have your whistle," he says. "That's unacceptable. When I fall down the mine shaft, I'm the only one that's going to be able to call for help. The rest of you are going to have to fire off your gun, and they'll give you a CD for that."
The Voice presents excerpts from "The NYPD Tapes: Inside Bed-Stuy's 81st Precinct," from precinct roll calls between June 1, 2008 and Oct. 31, 2009.
JANUARY 28, 2009
"How Many Superstars and How Many Losers Do You Have"
In this excerpt, the 81st Precinct commander, a lieutenant and a sergeant talk about the constant pressure from bosses, and push cops to "get their numbers."
The officers in Bed-Stuy viewed a unit called Brooklyn North Inspections with a particular measure of contempt. Inspections, known as "the hounds," would slip into the precinct, look for rules violations, and then hit officers with CDs.
"Inspections—they pull you over like a perp, and you know it's disrespectful to us, but this is what they're doing," Lieutenant B. says on June 12, 2008. "So Inspections is not really our friend. Let's leave it at that."
On November 12, 2008: "Brooklyn North Inspections is not our friend. I'm just going to lay it out there right on the line," he says. "If you see they're here, they're probably here to hurt someone."
Hurting someone means issuing a CD for, say, not having your shirt tucked in, or reading the newspaper on duty. In one instance, in October 2008, four officers were given CDs for leaving the precinct to have lunch. (81st Precinct officers seemed to believe there weren't any decent restaurants in the precinct itself.)
During a roll call on October 30, 2008, Sergeant C. upbraids the officers for their appearance. "It keeps the hounds off," he says, adding, "That includes smirks. One smirk cost the whole borough 13 CDs last week."
ONE OF THE MOST BASIC THINGS a police officer does is take crime complaints from victims. But that very simple edict evolved into something substantially different in the 81st Precinct.
Usually, an officer arrives at a crime scene and begins taking information. Then, either on the scene or at the precinct, the officer fills out a report known as a "61" and presents it to the desk officer, a sergeant, for his signature.
After the sergeant classifies the crime, the 61 is then entered into a computer system, making it official, and it's passed on to the detective squad for investigation. Police veterans say their standard was always, "Refer the complaint, not the complainant." In other words, if someone wants to make a report, you take it, and let the squad check it out. It was the squad's job to determine whether the complainant's story was worth checking further.
In the 81st Precinct, that traditional discretion of a street cop was being taken away from them, the tapes indicate. There was constant second-guessing and questioning of crime complaints and crime victims before cases were ever entered into the computer. The message to street cops was to exercise extreme skepticism with crime victims—unless you didn't mind getting yelled at.
Officers were told that, unlike in the past, their bosses would need to be present at the scene of a possible robbery, for example, to look over their shoulders. "There are certain jobs that I must be present on," Sergeant C. says on October 13, 2008. "If I'm not present, you gotta call me up. You can't come in here with a robbery, and I don't know anything about it."
Rank-and-file cops don't like the change, which is reflected on Internet bulletin boards, where they leave messages like this recent posting: "It used to be that a radio car turned out and two partners went from job to job making decisions, applying common (uncommon) sense to solve problems," an officer writes. "A Sgt. or Lt. was not called to the scene unless there was a death or serious incident. Patrol officers now have been indoctrinated that they are not qualified to make any decisions about anything."
During a September 12, 2009, roll call, a fellow cop tells Schoolcraft: "A lot of 61s—if it's a robbery, they'll make it a petty larceny. I saw a 61, at T/P/O [time and place of occurrence], a civilian punched in the face, menaced with a gun, and his wallet was removed, and they wrote 'lost property.' "
The practice of downgrading crimes has been the NYPD's scandal-in-waiting for years. The NYPD claims that downgrading happens only rarely, but in the course of reporting this story, the Voice was told anecdotally of burglaries rejected if the victim didn't have receipts for the items stolen; of felony thefts turned into misdemeanor thefts by lowballing the value of the property; of robberies turned into assaults; of assaults turned into harassments.
How widespread that kind of thing was in the 81st Precinct is unclear just from the recordings, but Schoolcraft claims it was common. Of course, caution in taking a complaint is prudent. But the fact that the precinct commander discourages the taking of robbery complaints has to influence other decisions down the chain.