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Defense attorneys question the legality of that strategy.
"Some of those statements are very damning," says Dino Lombardi, a defense attorney and former prosecutor. "I don't know how any commanding officer explains that in any way that passes muster. It's just 'Arrest them and we'll sort it out later.'
"No police expert or prosecutor is going to say it's permissible to arrest someone without a clearly articulated basis, and then articulate it later on," Lombardi adds. "It's absolutely a violation of criminal procedure law."
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, says officers can ask pedestrians their name, but they can't pat them down without suspicion of a crime, nor can they haul them into the precinct just to clear a corner.
"Standing on the corner doesn't become wrong because of which corner you're on and the color of your skin," she says. "And locking a guy up just to get him off the street is a flagrant violation of constitutional rights. Turning a community of color into a ghost town is not a law enforcement objective. The department opens itself up to massive civil rights lawsuits when it engages in this type of abusive policing."
Now two weeks into this series, the Voice still awaits a response from the NYPD.
A key tactic in the 81st Precinct's aggressive campaign was the stop-and-frisk, known to cops as a "UF-250," for the title of the form officers use to record them.
The "250" has become a ubiquitous tool used by police in New York City. More New Yorkers have been stopped and frisked each of the past three years—rising from 468,000 in 2007 to 575,000 last year.
The department justifies those numbers by saying stopping and frisking people is an effective way to fight crime. Officers are sent to do stop-and-frisks in troubled areas to respond to a rash of street crime.
However, close to 90 percent of those stopped are black or Hispanic, and a very small percentage of arrests—only 6 percent in 2009—result from them.
The 81st Precinct's stop-and-frisks more than quintupled from 774 in 2004 to 4,088 in 2006, and then doubled again to 8,108 in 2009—an 800 percent increase in six years.
Stops were used to move loiterers off corners and away from troubled buildings, the tapes indicate, but they were also done for the sake of getting the numbers, pleasing the bosses, and avoiding "negative attention."
In an October 12 roll call, a sergeant tells her troops: "If y'all try to do a canvass, try to get at least a couple of 250s and put robbery down just to say that we was out there. You stop somebody, get a 250. Go over, let them see y'all doing something about it or whatever. OK?"
She makes another reference to 250s in the roll call: "Just stop a couple of people, you know that," she says.
"Anybody walking around, shake them up, stop them, 250 them, no matter what the explanation is," a sergeant says in a December 8, 2008, roll call. "If they're walking, it doesn't matter."
Another sergeant on March 13, 2009: "How hard is a 250? I'm not saying make it up, but you can always articulate robbery, burglary, whatever the case may be. . . . It's still a number. It keeps the hounds off."
In another roll call, the officers are told that if they don't write more summonses and 250s, they will be moved. They are also told that when they do 250s, they should write a "C summons"—a citation for an actual crime—in order to justify the stop.
"When you do a 250, you should do C's and knock out both of those columns in your activity reports," a sergeant can be heard saying at a roll call. "Is that understood?"
The pressure for 250s was so great, Schoolcraft says, he witnessed officers in a patrol van at the end of the month simply filling in 250 forms just to hit the quota. He says officers would write that a person refused to give his name to avoid inventing a name. These were known in the precinct as "Ghost 250s." (A Bronx officer was once caught filing false 250s using names from gravestones in a cemetery near his precinct.)
In a July 2, 2008, roll call, a lieutenant is heard redressing officers for filing too many 250s without names. "We had ninety-six 250s, all refused," he says. "We can get some people refusing, but it can't be every 250 that you do."
Lieberman, the NYCLU's executive director, points out that as the number of stop-and-frisks has increased, the arrest rate from those stops has dropped. "When you demand a high stop rate, you get high stop rates, but the price is that hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers are subjected to police interactions. This is an unfortunate example of what happens when you go for the data and not for the results.
"The police have no business stopping people to 'shake them up,' " she adds. "I believe that is unlawful. That's not policing in a democratic society."
A former high-ranking NYPD official says that an officer's number of 250s should not be taken as a measure of his activity.