Amid the furor over the deadly confrontational tactics of Operation Condor, high school truants may become the next target of overzealous cops seeking to boost arrest statistics, an outspoken public policy expert has warned.
“African American and Latino parents are justifiably afraid for their children,” asserts Deborah Small, director of public policy and community outreach at the Lindesmith Center, a leading drug policy research and advocacy group. “In the wake of the killing of Patrick Dorismond, the spotlight is on the policing policies of the NYPD, which is so focused on keeping arrest statistics high that it has taken to effecting pretext arrests of African American and Latino youths for offenses like truancy.’
In addition to lurking in subway stations, police are being deployed outside some schools. And Small is worried that the police buildup may not be limited to high schools. “Officers have staked out areas in the vicinity of middle and high schools in ‘high crime’ areas,” she points out. “Once the school day has begun, any young person hanging out on the street nearby without sufficient justification is subject to arrest as a truant. In recent months hundreds of minority youths have fallen prey to these tactics and have been swept up in the clutches of Operation Condor [officers] who are charged with one principal goal—keep up those arrest statistics.”
According to Board of Education figures, on any given day about 121,000 youngsters— 11 percent of the city’s 1.1 million students,—are absent from school. Last year the board disciplined 16,000 students at its truancy centers. The alleged upsurge in truancy arrests is linked to the undercover drug-sting initiative known as Operation Condor, which has netted more than 20,000 drug-related arrests. No NYPD or Board of Education spokespersons returned Voice calls for comment; but according to some students and parents, cops pounce on latecomers—even when the students seem to be making an effort to get to their classes—and charge them with disorderly conduct or resisting arrest when they challenge stops and refuse to hand over their ID cards.
That allegedly is what happened to Janell Boyd, the 17-year-old daughter of a black detective, when she and another student showed up late at Springfield High School in Queens on the morning of February 17. Shortly after nine o’clock, two officers sitting in a parked police van called out to Janell and her friend Tenyae, 14, as they headed toward the entrance. The girls ignored the cops, who then jumped out of the van and ordered them to hand over their ID cards.
“What for?” Janell asked testily.
“You’re late!” one of the cops retorted. Janell said she told the officer that her mother knew she’d be late, but he didn’t buy it. She then argued that the doors to her school were still open. She and Tenyae could make it.
“Give me your ID card!” Janell remembers the officer demanding. When she flashed the card, the cop said the picture didn’t look like her. She insisted it was. After ordering her to display the card so he could have a good look, he snatched it and started to write her up.
“What’s your name?” Janell demanded. “What’s your badge number?”
The officer identified himself but was silent as Janell and Tenyae kept asking why he was being so tough on them. Suddenly, the cop started “screaming in our faces, and spit got on us,” Janell says.
“Move out the way!” the other officer shouted. The students refused, and according to Janell, he “pushed us out of the way and said that we pushed him.” The cop told Janell she “had an attitude and was being rude.” He tried to handcuff her. She resisted.
“Shut up or we’re gonna throw you on the ground!” the cop allegedly barked. At that point, Janell says, she calmed down and asked to call her mother, but the cop refused—saying he was taking her to Central Booking. She then told the cop that her mother was a detective assigned to the 88th Precinct station house in Brooklyn. The cop responded that if she showed him a PBA card (which is distributed to relatives and friends of police officers), he would believe her and let her go. Because Boyd did not have a PBA card, she was hauled off to the 113th Precinct. “I was crying [because] the cops were treating me like I was a criminal,” she recalls.
The arresting officer, Andrew Turano, had reached Detective Evi Boyd at home and told her that he was charging her daughter with disorderly conduct because she had an attitude. In a sworn complaint, Turano, a truant cop, claimed that at about 10 a.m.—when Janell was supposed to be attending classes—he saw her at the corner of 144th Avenue and Springfield Boulevard. According to the complaint, when he asked her for identification, she shouted, “Get the fuck away from me! I’m not getting in no fucking van.” Turano added that Janell “did resist arrest by swinging her arms and punching.”
Detective Boyd says Turano told her to get to the station house as fast as she could because a female lieutenant was pressuring him to process Janell’s arrest at Central Booking. When Boyd, an 18-year veteran of the department, protested, saying that disorderly conduct was not a crime and Janell should not be taken to Central Booking, the officer told her that she, too, seemed to have an attitude. “He said that he had also charged her with resisting arrest,” Boyd says, “and I said that you need a crime to charge resisting arrest.”
At the station house, Turano told Boyd her daughter had been fingerprinted and assigned an arrest number and that, on orders of the lieutenant, Janell would be taken to Central Booking. A PBA delegate to whom Boyd complained shot back that Janell had an attitude and “gave them a hard time,” but the lieutenant was willing to overlook that if Janell apologized.
“I told him we would not apologize and that having an attitude was not a crime,” Boyd recalls. Boyd demanded a meeting with the lieutenant, who claimed that her daughter had “some attitude” when she was brought in. “The lieutenant said that when asked questions, Janell did not answer right away and was rolling her eyes. She said Janell was disrespectful but never claimed that Janell was violent or used foul language.”
Detective Boyd said the lieutenant then told her she would be allowed to see Janell—who was in a holding cell handcuffed to one of the bars—only if the girl showed remorse. “I asked what she meant by ‘remorse.’ I said my daughter is not a street kid. She is not used to being stopped and questioned by the police, handcuffed, detained, and arrested. I said this arrest would be very upsetting to her and frightening.”
Finally, she recalls, the lieutenant had a change of heart and brought her daughter out. “Janell was crying, shaking, and telling me she was afraid of the cops who arrested her. She said that the officers had threatened her. I tried to comfort her and told her we would sort everything out. I then told her that she should not say anything more, and only answer questions that required her to give her name, address, and pedigree.”
Detective Boyd’s determination not to let her daughter further experience the rigors of the Giuliani-style criminal justice system paid off. The lieutenant said that because Boyd was a member of the department—”on the job”—Janell would be issued a desk-appearance ticket (DAT) and sent home. But the arresting officer hinted he would not let her off that easy. “He made the snide remark that I should let her go to Central Booking because the DAT could take several hours. At Central Booking she would be released more quickly.” Six hours after she was arrested, Janell was issued a DAT and released in the custody of her mother.
The next day, Evi Boyd sat in her car near Janell’s school observing her daughter’s arresting officer and others as they confronted students who got off the school bus. “The officers appeared to ask for and receive ID cards from the students,” Boyd claims. “Although they did not put any of the students in the van, it looked like the officers held on to their ID cards. They went inside the school.” After monitoring the cops’ activities, Boyd and about five other parents met with the principal, who explained that it is Board of Education policy that a student be given a 10-minute grace period after classes officially begin. Then the student is considered truant.
“He further said that if the student is going to be late, the student should walk with a note from a parent to show if stopped by the police,” Boyd recalls. “Myself and the other parents never heard of such a policy. But the principal did agree with us that if a student—despite being late—is still making an effort to make it to school, that student should not be harassed by the police.”
In his State of the City address in January, Rudy Giuliani proposed an $18 million truancy-crackdown program. Under the plan—which the mayor said was designed to hold parents more accountable for their children’s behavior—parents would pick up wayward students at 27 truancy centers across the city. Giuliani’s proposal piggybacked on TRACK (Truancy Reduction Alliance to Contact Kids), a pilot program started last year by the Brooklyn D.A.’s office, the NYPD, and the Board of Education. “While wandering the streets unsupervised, truants naturally fall into petty criminal activity such as shoplifting, purse-snatching, and extortion of small sums from other children,” TRACK’s originators contend. “As many residences are vacant during school hours, truants have good opportunities for vandalism and burglary. More violent crimes are also committed; these are increasingly gang-related.”
Offering some street-savvy advice, Deborah Small cautions students who cut school not to hang out in public housing developments because cops are beefing up arrests for trespassing. She says the NYPD initiative works like this: “Officers get lists from the Housing Authority with the names of registered tenants in buildings owned by the city. They then stake out the buildings, either in the lobby or just outside. They question individuals entering or leaving about whom they are visiting. If the person is not listed as a tenant or visiting someone listed as a tenant, that individual is then subject to arrest. Of course, once they are arrested and booked, if they should ever be involved with the police again—no matter what the reason—the prior arrest will be used to demonstrate their propensity to criminality, as was done in the Patrick Dorismond case.”
Additional reporting: Danielle Douglas