By Araceli Cruz
By Tessa Stuart
By Anna Merlan
By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
In the summer of 2008, NYPD officers in Brooklyn's 81st Precinct embarked on an aggressive campaign to reduce crime by arresting citizens for doing no more than standing on certain street corners and building stoops.
This program emerges on the remarkable audio recordings the Voice began making public last week. Over a 17-month period ending in October 2009, police officer Adrian Schoolcraft secretly recorded conversations at Bedford-Stuyvesant's 81st Precinct, including 117 roll calls, during which superior officers like precinct commander Steven Mauriello can be heard instructing cops to arrest people for things like "blocking the sidewalk."
Supervisors told officers to make an arrest and "articulate" a charge later, or haul someone in with the intent of voiding the arrest at the end of a shift, or detain people for hours on minor charges like disorderly conduct—all for the purpose of getting citizens off the street. People were arrested for not showing identification, even if they were just a few feet from their homes. Mental health worker Rhonda Scott suffered two broken wrists during a 2008 arrest for not having her ID card while standing on her own stoop.
The precinct's campaign led to a 900 percent increase in stop-and-frisks in the neighborhood, which commanders demanded from officers in order to hit statistical quotas. It also resulted in several dozen gun arrests, hundreds of arrests on other charges, and thousands of summonses for things like disorderly conduct, trespassing, and loitering.
Defense attorneys and civil rights groups say Mauriello's instructions to his troops appear to have strained the limits of probable cause, and raise questions about the legality of the many arrests. The tactics, which are used in many other parts of the city, also caused an undercurrent of resentment among residents.
"The Police Department is using these numbers to portray themselves as being effective," says Marquez Claxton, a retired NYPD detective and the director of the Black Law Enforcement Alliance, which studies police issues. "In portraying that illusion, they have pushed these illegal quotas which force police officers to engage in illegal acts."
And all of it—the questionable arrests, the campaign of aggression—occurred with the added pressure of severe shortages in manpower and patrol cars. The tapes show that the shortages got so bad that some days the most effective way to fight crime was just to pray for rain.
In the first installment of "The NYPD Tapes," the Voice showed that police in this city are under enormous pressure from their superiors to meet quotas for writing tickets and collaring suspects on minor charges—and these pressures seemed to have nothing to do with what was actually happening in the precinct itself.
Bed-Stuy, for example, is a lot better off now than it was in the early- to mid-1990s. In 1995, there were 35 murders in the 81st Precinct. Last year, there were 13.
In recent years, the neighborhood has experienced gentrification and new construction. There are still sectors of the precinct, however, that are prone to shootings, robberies, and other types of street crime.
So precinct commander Mauriello ordered that certain street corners be cleared of people. Officers were told to ask people to move, and if they refused, to arrest them on some minor charge, such as disorderly conduct, hold them in the precinct cells for a few hours, and then release them.
Mauriello would often roam the precinct in his car. When he saw groups on particular corners, he would call in officers to arrest the people on low-level charges. These collars came to be called "Mauriello Specials."
On June 12, 2008, a sergeant tells the precinct's officers to make the arrests even if they have to cancel the charges at the end of their shift. "Guy's on the corner? You gotta leave. Bounce. Get lost," he says. "You'll void it later on in the night so you'll all go home on time."
On July 1, 2008, a sergeant tells his cops: "Be an asshole. They gonna do something, shine a light in their face. Inconvenience them. It saves trouble later on. Some of you with good activity are going to be moving up."
The following day, a precinct supervisor orders cops to make an arrest, when in the past, a dispute might have been talked out.
"The days of mediating between a perp and a store owner are over," a sergeant says on July 2, 2008. "If the guy is in the back with five sticks of deodorant, you gotta collar him," the sergeant says. "There's no more mediating."
By that July, Mauriello was a fixture in the roll calls at the start of the evening tour. "They wise off, they fucking push you, I expect them handcuffed, all right?" he says in a July 15, 2008, roll call, adding later, "Anybody gets stopped and it's a summonsable offense, I want them handcuffed and brought into the precinct. . . . zero tolerance."
Mauriello tells them that day that he wants block parties shut down after 8:30 p.m. "After 8:30, it's all on me and my officers, and we're undermanned," he says. "The good people go inside. The others stay outside."
Mauriello also targeted certain troubled buildings, such as 120 Chauncey Street, which he repeatedly said he wanted "blown up."