Talk about killing the messenger.
In its often opaque wisdom, the NYPD has decided it would be a good idea to file new department charges against a police officer who blew the whistle and reported misconduct to investigators.
Let us explain. In 2010, Police Officer Adil Polanco came forward and told the Village Voice in an article in the”NYPD Tapes” series that it was common practice in the 41st Precinct in Hunts Point for officers to be ordered by supervisors to make arrests and write summonses when they hadn’t actually seen the misconduct. (Other officers have made similar allegations about other precincts around the city.)
“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,” Polanco told the Voice about just one of those incidents.
The person who ordered him to write that summons, he says, was Inspector Donald McHugh, then the precinct commander. Polanco says he knew he had to witness the wrongdoing if he was to write the summons, but he also knew that if he didn’t his boss would hammer him.
Polanco didn’t just tell the Voice about the practice. Back in 2009, before even talking to the media, he reported the practice to Internal Affairs and complained about it to his superiors. He also reported his objections to forced ticket-writing quotas and demands for stop-and-frisks, which he thought violated the civil rights of black and hispanic youth.
The department responded by accusing him of insubordination for pushing a lieutenant who wanted him to leave his sick patrol partner and returned to a quota-driven ticket writing checkpoint.
That case has gone absolutely nowhere for the past two years. Meanwhile, Polanco has been collecting his full salary but he is not allowed to do any police work. He just drives downtown every weekday, signs a log and drives home.
“I can’t wait for those charges to go to trial, and I’ve been waiting for two years,” he says. “I have witnesses and recordings that will exonerate me.”
So, on July 22, Polanco received new department charges, accusing him of filing a false official document on April 24, 2009 for signing two summonses for misconduct by a civilian (the same dog license thing he disclosed to the Voice) that he didn’t personally witness.
He had already disclosed this long ago to Internal Affairs, as part of his attempt to report practices in his precinct that he thought weren’t kosher. He also provided recordings of these practices to Internal Affairs. But Internal Affairs basically used his honesty against him.
“I’m not on scene, I respond to the scene, and McHugh who’s stopped a bunch of young men tells me to write the summons,” Polanco says. “Who are we to question the commanding officer? We write the summons because we have to make our numbers. I brought this and other things to Internal Affairs and told them about it.”
“Internal Affairs tried to claim that it was my responsibility to report it. But I did report it,” he adds. “If I committed perjury, they should charge me criminally. But they can’t because no judge or prosecutor would entertain it. Departmentally, they have no one to answer to.”
Ok, so did Inspector McHugh also get in trouble for ordering Polanco to write the summons? That would make some sort of sense, right? Well, no. Instead, McHugh, last January, was promoted by Commissioner Ray Kelly to head up the very high profile World Trade Center command.
“It only shows that once again, they failed to police themselves,” Polanco says.
But, it gets even worse. Polanco says that initially, Internal Affairs attempted to charge him with giving the media “confidential information.” Of course, police officers can’t disclose details of open investigations, but Polanco hardly did that.
“They tried to tell me I couldn’t speak to the media, but I told them I have a First Amendment right,” Polanco says.
It was then when the summons issue was raised. The media complaint then disappeared.
The new charges, says Polanco’s lawyer Lauriano Guzman, boil down to the NYPD retaliating against the officer for going public on the quota issue.
“The bottom line here is that they are trying to burn the whistleblower,” he says. “Instead, they should look at him as someone who is trying to create reform so that these violations of civil rights do not occur. He’s considered an enemy, but he’s bringing to light the fact that the Police Department is lying to the public.”
“The department has rules that should be applied, but in reality, they don’t apply them,” Guzman says. “If a supervisor witnesses something, they don’t want to spend any time in court, but they still have to meet their statistics, and so they force the patrol officers to sign the documents.”
The lesson? It seems hard to believe but maybe Police Commissioner Ray Kelly would rather have his officers shut the hell up, than bring up troubling issues. Or maybe Polanco is being punished for going to the media.
By the way, the treatment of Polanco kind of mirrors that of Police Officer Adrian Schoolcraft, who was carted off against his will to the Jamaica Hospital psych ward after he tried to report corruption in the 81st Precinct.
Was Schoolcraft telling the truth? Well, Kelly transferred and charged the precinct commander, along with four other cops and also transferred most of the sergeants and lieutenants in the 8-1.