Lying on the ground in Harlem with handcuffs around his wrists, Eric Josey, 45, made sure not to scream. A cop had just thrown him down, but he remained silent.
He had been driving his car on 130th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard when three plainclothes
officers pulled him over, asked him to step out of the vehicle, discovered a legally owned gun on him, shoved him to the ground, and handcuffed him.
“I was outraged,” Josey, who is black and lives in Harlem, tells the Voice while he recounts the confrontation, which happened last summer. “It was a potentially deadly incident.”
For many men of color living in New York City, Josey’s account will sound all too familiar as the city continues to pursue its stop-and-frisk program to astounding levels. But in another way, Josey’s story is quite unique.
For 18 years, he was an NYPD officer.
And though he might not be the typical victim of stop-and-frisk, Josey, who co-founded an organization called 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, is not alone.
Black and Latino off-duty cops are part of an overlooked group that is not immune to the police practice that some argue is illegal racial profiling.
Last year, the NYPD stopped and interrogated people 685,724 times—nine out of 10 ultimately weren’t arrested or ticketed, and about 87 percent of those stopped in 2011 were black or Latino, according to a recent report from the New York Civil Liberties Union.
The Voice interviewed current and former law-enforcement officials who say that Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly’s data-driven promotion of stop-and-frisk has made these kinds of police encounters common for most black and Latino men in the city—including off-duty officers or even undercover cops.
“You could be on duty in plainclothes working detail outside of your command, and you become the victim of stop-and-frisk,” one black NYPD officer tells the Voice. “It . . . leads to an ugly situation.”
With great pressure to conduct stops—a crime-fighting tool that Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg argue has helped save thousands of lives—it only makes sense that black and Latino police officers would face occasional confrontations with on-duty cops looking to fill quotas, critics say.
Take Anthony Miranda, a retired NYPD sergeant who spent more than two decades on the job. The 51-year-old estimates that when he was an officer, he would sometimes face as many as 10 stops of some kind a year.
“It gives you a sense of what the community suffers when it happens to you off-duty,” says Miranda, who is the executive chairman of the National Latino Officers Association.
One black NYPD officer, who grew up in Brooklyn and has been on the job for eight years, tells the Voice that when he was in his late twenties, two plainclothes cops stopped and harassed him in a Bronx subway station on his way to class.
“I got offended and upset,” he says. “They never identified themselves as police officers.”
This cop, who now lives in upper Manhattan, supports legal stop-and-frisks and conducts them when he has reasonable suspicion. But he says that when higher-ups pressure officers to log a certain number of stops—sometimes with the threat of punishments like unfavorable assignments—it’s inevitable that they’ll illegally profile men of color, even fellow officers.
“It’s very frustrating and humiliating,” says Noel Leader, also a founder of 100 Blacks and a retired NYPD sergeant. “You’d be surprised how many of us get stopped by cops. . . . When officers are wasting time stopping me, they are not fighting crime.”
Leader, 53, says he has been stopped more than a dozen times over the past decade and guesses that a majority of black and Latino male cops face some kind of police stop during their careers.
“If you have men of color that are police officers, they are likely to get stopped as well,” says State Senator Gustavo Rivera, in the Bronx, who has worked with 100 Blacks on questioning stop-and-frisk. “It tells you again how the policy is not effective.”
Bloomberg, however, says the policy in its current form is essential to the NYPD, and he will not risk people’s lives with any dramatic changes. “We have worked as hard as we can to keep everybody safe . . . and we believe we are doing it consistent with what the law permits you to do,” the mayor said at a recent news conference in response to a question from the Voice.
The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment.
For Charles Billups, a former correction officer who was once stopped and questioned while driving his car with a police officer friend, it’s just demoralizing.
That situation wasn’t resolved until Billups, chairman of a group called the Grand Council of Guardians, got the attention of an NYPD chief he knew.
“It’s a common experience,” says Billups, 53. “We really feel violated.”