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
The new law, however, does not address the core issue of the alleged unconstitutionality of the stops. As the Voice series reported, cops were ordered to do stop-and-frisks to hit quotas—an apparent violation of the legal standard that allows the practice.
Adil Polanco, now 29, began his career in Operation Impact in the Bronx's 46th Precinct in 2005. After eight months there, he was transferred to the 41st Precinct in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, a neighborhood he calls "the poorest square mile in the country."
Polanco says he did his job, but began to object to the constant pressure for numbers from his supervisors: "I did not become a cop to be harassing people in the street," he says. "You end up summonsing innocent people. They don't go to court, and the next time you stop them, they have a warrant and have to go to jail."
That pressure included stop-and-frisks, which are supposed to be done when an officer has a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is about to be committed.
"We'd make up a bullshit reason to justify the stop, when, most of the time, we had no reason to justify the stop," he says. "We were told to say they 'fit the description.' But that just meant you were Spanish or black. It was just for the quotas."
Polanco says precinct commanders need positive statistics to improve their chance of promotion: "They want you to summons people for disorderly conduct, when they aren't doing anything," he says. "If the summonses are down for the month, they rush to get them up, so they'll stick you in a checkpoint just for the purpose of getting 10 summonses. What happens when you don't witness anything illegal, but still have to hit your quota?"
He says it was a common practice in the precinct for officers to be ordered to make arrests when they hadn't actually seen the misconduct: "One time, I was ordered to give a guy a summons for no dog license, but the problem was I didn't see a dog," he says.
The effect of this approach is that it strains relations with the community, he says: "A lot of the time, I would apologize," he says. "They are frustrated. They don't trust the police. They feel we're here to harass them."
Like Schoolcraft, Polanco also observed manipulation of crime complaints. He cited three incidents he personally witnessed during which criminal complaints were either downgraded or not taken.
In one incident, he says, he responded to a call of a burglary in a city-owned apartment. When he arrived, he noted that a window had been broken, and the occupant said cash and a video game had been stolen. He called his sergeant and a lieutenant. When the lieutenant arrived, he wondered skeptically how a guy who lived in public housing could own a 40-inch flat-screen television. He ordered Polanco and his partner to leave the scene. Even though the victim wanted a report taken, the lieutenant closed the case as "unfounded."
In a second incident, an alleged burglary, the door had been pushed in. The victim claimed that $600 in cash and some jewelry had been stolen. But a sergeant arrived at the scene and ordered Polanco to take a report for something called "unlawful eviction."
"He said, 'Don't mention the money and jewelry in the report,' " Polanco says. "He told me that the numbers were high that week. They look at the numbers weekly and compare them to the same week the previous year. What they want is to show a decline in the numbers, but not too low, because it will be harder the next year to show a decline."
In a third incident, Polanco responded to a call of shots fired. A bullet had gone through a vehicle window, but he was ordered to take the report as reckless endangerment. "I was told to write that a 'sharp object' went through the glass," he says. "They didn't have the perp, and it would look bad for the precinct taking the report for attempted murder."
Polanco says precinct supervisors routinely called crime victims back to try to persuade them to withdraw their report or change their account in some way that would allow the incident to be reclassified as a lesser crime: "They'll say, 'You know we're not getting anything back on this,' or 'Do you really want to make the report?'," he says.
If a robbery victim refused to return immediately to the precinct to speak to detectives, cops were told not to take the report, Polanco says. "If the victim couldn't identify anyone from mugshots, they would tell them they would follow up, but they wouldn't take a report," he says. "A lot of the time, they were Mexican or Chinese delivery people who don't really know how the system works."