When then-NYPD Capt. Michael Marino arrived as a commander in the tough section of Brooklyn known as East New York, he was appalled at what the 400 officers in the command considered to be work.
“They were doing five [summonses] a month, which was just not enough to address the problem,” he testified, about the onset of his tenure in the 75th Precinct back in 2002. “It was almost malfeasance. … The level of activity they were performing was so low that it was a detriment to the community, in one of the most crime-ridden precincts in the city.”
Now a deputy chief, one of the top-ranking commanders in the department, Marino testified Friday in the landmark legal challenge to the city’s stop-and-frisk campaign. An interesting character in the NYPD landscape, the Flatbush native rose from street cop to the second-in-command in Brooklyn North via a bullish persona, a matching physique, and a devotion to the tenets of the NYPD’s numbers-driven CompStat strategy.
He is also the man who ordered police to forcibly commit Police Officer Adrian Schoolcraft to a psych ward back in October 2009, three weeks after Schoolcraft reported misconduct in Bed-Stuy’s 81st Precinct to police investigators.
Marino testified that he decided to try to fix the problem, and spent weeks touring the precinct, making arrests, performing stops, and writing summonses.
“I honestly found it hard to go a couple of hours without seeing something,” he testified.
Once his survey was done, he then came up with what he thought was a reasonable requirement for his cops: 10 summonses a month and one arrest.
“I set a standard that said ‘do your job or suffer the consequences,'” Marino testified.
The blunt-spoken, barrel-chested Marino offered the other side in the debate over stop-and-frisk. His testimony was meant to make the case that commanders have to have some standard by which to measure their cops and get them to work. It is illegal, however, to tie specific numbers to disciplinary action–quotas–under state law. And there is the tension at the heart of the stop-and-frisk lawsuit.
Surrounded by rules and regulations, under pressure from police headquarters for good news and continuing crime declines, precinct and borough commanders still have to make their officers produce.
At the outset of Marino’s testimony, plaintiffs’ lawyer Jonathan Moore caused a stir when the first question out of his mouth was about allegations that Marino used steroids. (He was found guilty departmentally of using human growth hormone, lost 30 vacation days, and served a year of probation.)
After Moore raised the issue, the city’s lawyer scrambled to block any answer. “What does that have to do with this matter?” one of them said. “It’s a medical issue.” She then asked for a private conference with the judge.
“What’s the relevance?” the judge asked.
“That it had no effect on his career,” Moore replied.
The judge sustained the objection and Marino’s disciplinary history could be broached no further. At the next break, Moore and one of the city lawyers verbally sparred over the question.
After Marino set that standard, a group of precinct cops sued through their union, alleging that he had created an illegal quota. Marino countered that the law only applied to parking tickets and moving violations, not quality of life summons, arrests, or stop-and-frisks.
In the end, an arbitrator sided with the cops, and concluded that Marino’s 10 and 1 order was in fact a quota. However, as Marino testified, he suffered no discipline for his initiative, and in fact he was promoted up the chain.
In December 2010, about a year after the Schoolcraft episode, Marino heard that officers in the 79th Precinct were preparing to refuse to write summonses to protest a quota there. He immediately went to the precinct and addressed the cops. Published reports said he threatened them, but Marino disputed that on the stand.
“That’s not accurate,” he testified. “I told them that those dots on the wall aren’t numbers, but people. I was saying ‘do your jobs.'”
Just before Christmas of that year, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly transferred Marino to Staten Island.
Meanwhile, the testimony last week of 40th Precinct Officer Pedro Serrano remains controversial. Serrano had recorded his commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack, pushing him to write more summonses to prevent robberies, blaming the crimes on young black and Hispanic men. Serrano characterized the order as a blanket demand that he target everyone who is young and black or hispanic.
This assertion produced a rare outside-of-court rebuke from the NYPD. Police spokesman Paul Browne said in a statement that McCormack was doing what a good commander was supposed to do–“protect the public, or as he eloquently said ‘the 99 percent of the people in this community (who) are great, hard-working people who deserve to walk to the train stop, walk to their car, walk to the store [without fear of getting shot].'”
Browne added that in directing Serrano to do more about robberies, he was “describing suspects in patterns of burglaries and robberies who were victimizing people in a specific part the precinct, not racially profiling. The inspector’s concern was that the officer was not focusing on serious crimes–instead the officer was more concerned with people blocking an entrance to a building elsewhere in the precinct. The message was for the officer to go to where the robberies and burglaries occurred, keep his eyes open and take appropriate action in response to suspicious or criminal behavior.”
In today’s New York Post, commentator Heather McDonald took up the NYPD’s cause, attacking a New York Times article about Serrano’s testimony as “grossly deceptive.” The article “underplays the fact that McCormack was talking about a specific robbery pattern with specific descriptions from victims and witnesses. It’s absurd to suggest that race be omitted from information given to officers about actual perps.”
In this second week of the trial, taking place in federal court in Manhattan, there is no testimony until Wednesday, when state Sen. Eric Adams, a retired NYPD captain and outspoken critic of some NYPD policies, will testify. He will be followed notably by the precinct commanders of the 43rd and 28th precincts, and the commander of Patrol Borough Manhattan North.
For a sense of how the trial is affecting the city’s political landscape, we turn to statements made in a forum of seven Democratic and Republican mayoral candidates sponsored by the Daily News on March 19. Most of the candidates said they would improve relations between the police and the community. The Daily News‘ editorial take? “Not one of them was convincing or spoke with a semblance of coherence or authority” on public safety.