By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
"If that's going on, that's stupid," he says. "You should be stopping people when you have reasonable suspicion. You should not be making out as many of those reports as you can, or getting credit for doing more of them."
But he also cautions that block parties do get out of control, and people congregating to drink or play dice can be a flashpoint for violence.
"Cops don't like to do quality-of-life enforcement," he says. "They want to make the sexy arrest. But the lower-level stuff is very important because if you let it go, it will lead to more violent crime."
At the same time, supervisors have to be careful about what they say to officers. "You have to show you're in control of the streets, but you also have to constantly remind the officers to do it the right way, so that they're not being asked to stretch the law," he says.
City Councilman Peter Vallone has asked Commissioner Kelly to stop keeping a database of the people stopped on privacy grounds.
The 81st Precinct's aggressive campaign resulted in 3,882 total arrests in 2008, and 4,189 arrests in 2009, state figures show.
But if overall arrests went up, arrests for serious crimes—felonies—were actually down. Felony arrests in the precinct dropped from 1,428 in 2007 to 1,373 in 2009. (Misdemeanor arrests climbed by 22 percent—from 2,308 in 2007 to 2,816 in 2009.)
Not surprisingly, the campaign also led to an increase in complaints against police officers. The Civilian Complaint Review Board reports that complaints in the 81st jumped 60 percent, from 80 in 2005 to 127 in 2009.
Mental health worker Rhonda Scott, 39, of Chauncey Street, says that on one day in 2008, she had just come back from returning a plate she'd borrowed from a neighbor, and was stopped and challenged by officers. Her ensuing arrest left her with two broken wrists, which put her out of work for seven months.
The incident took place on August 2, 2008, on Chauncey, east of Howard Avenue, records show. It was a warm night. There were a lot of people socializing on their stoops and on the sidewalks. Police were already on the block, evidently trying to move people from a stoop across the street.
She crossed the street to return the plate, but was stopped by an officer who she says told her to "be quiet."
She returned to her home and asked her boyfriend to obtain the officer's name and shield number. By the time the boyfriend returned, many more officers had arrived on the block.
Scott went outside and stood behind the gate on her property to watch what was happening. Two police cars had stopped in front of the house.
They asked for her ID, which she didn't have with her. She says the officers demanded that she show them ID or they would arrest her. She told the officers that she lived there, and asked a friend to check her car, parked across the street, for her driver's license.
Scott says the police didn't believe her, and as she stepped onto the sidewalk to help her friend find the ID card, one of the officers told her, "I'm locking your ass up."
Three officers twisted her wrists behind her back, cuffed her, and put her in the back seat. But she wasn't all the way inside, so an officer grabbed her by the hair and pulled her all the way in. She denies that she struggled with the officers.
She repeatedly asked to be taken to the hospital. She instead was taken to central booking after about 14 hours in a precinct cell. She finally saw a doctor on her own two days later.
"I've lived here my whole life, and I'm a part owner of this building," Scott says. "Yes, there are problems in the neighborhood, but they're treating us all like criminals, and we're not all criminals."
Scott's criminal case was closed with an "adjournment in contemplation of dismissal," which is a provision to dismiss charges if a suspect is not rearrested in the following six months (which she was not). Her civilian complaint was closed, with the Civilian Complaint Review Board siding with the officers.
Scott adds that her boyfriend recently got a ticket for blocking the sidewalk after he was stopped on his way to the corner store.
"If you're walking to the store, and you run into two friends and you're talking on the sidewalk, they'll stop you, put you in handcuffs, and take you to the precinct," she says.
Her brother-in-law, Alston Storey, blames police for not working harder to develop relationships with the precinct's residents. "You can't find a cop who has a relationship with people in this community," he says. "They figure if you live on this block, you're a bad person. But you got hardworking people out here. [The police] come through on an eight-hour shift to dig in people's pockets. They live on Long Island or wherever. You've got to know people."
Walking through the precinct, it isn't hard to find residents with opinions about the rash of arrests.
Robert Jones, 19, of Chauncey Street, says he has been stopped 14 times since the beginning of the year. "This is home for me, but you're trying to go inside or walking to the store, and they ask if you live there, what you're doing, and you get a ticket for blocking the sidewalk," he says. "You can't stand on the sidewalk and talk or sit on someone's stoop."