Cracking the 'Blue Wall of Silence'


Adhyl Polanco became a police officer to make a difference on the tough New York City streets of his youth. But he discovered the job was more about accumulating summons statistics and frisking teenagers.

Polanco was among a group of former and serving New York City cops who have broken the traditional law enforcement code of silence with scathing criticism of their city's policing strategies in minority communities.

On May 3, six former New York City Police Department (NYPD) detectives, captains and sergeants (and Polanco, who is currently suspended with pay) gave personal accounts of being asked to meet “productivity goals” or downgrade crimes.

The pressure to produce ever-increasing arrests encourages a “cuff-first, exercise-discretion-later” attitude in the nation's largest police force, the officers said at the panel, organized by the non-profit Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), a group that advocates against what it calls prejudiced practices in the NYPD.

The cops argued that the demand for so-called “stop and frisks” — there were nearly 700,000 in New York City in 2011, compared to less than 100,000 in 2002 — has caused commanders to pressure their officers to harass the primarily black and Latino residents of the city's high crime areas.

Suspended after TV Interview

Polanco said he was suspended after he revealed orders to target youths on their way home from school in a 2009 interview with ABC News.

“Not everybody who lives in the hood is a criminal, and this needs to be said very loud to Commissioner (Raymond) Kelly,” Polanco said. “However they call the productivity goal, it's there and it's harmful to the community.”

John Eterno, a former NYPD captain who is now a professor of criminal justice at Molloy College, said he defended the police department in 1999, when it was hit with a class-action lawsuit alleging that stop and frisks involved racial profiling.

However, he has since soured on the practice.

Eterno's recently published book, The Crime Numbers Game: Management by Manipulation, explores how the NYPD's use of Compstat — a crime statistics database — has affected the reporting and analysis of crime.

“Initially I was very positive about stop and frisk and I still think it's a good thing, if it's not abused,” Eterno said. “However, today I am very confident, based on my research (and) on the interviews, that this practice is being abused by the New York City Police Department.”

Stop and frisk statistics expose New York's “hypocrisy,” Eterno added, noting that while Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg insist that crime is drastically down compared to a decade ago, “how the hell can you have 700,000 suspects and say crime is down 80 percent?”

Other former officers at the panel echoed Eterno's remarks.

Questions about Compstat

Anthony Miranda, a former NYPD sergeant and chair of the National Latino Officers Association, said Compstat wasn't created as a tool for increasing arrests.

“Compstat had a legitimate purpose when it began,” Miranda said, noting that it was supposed to help commanding officers get a better understanding of their precincts.

“It was for cops who were ignorant of the crime in their command… in its inception it was a good idea.”

But the net effect of Compstat, according to Miranda, has been to constrict the ability of police officers to make decisions.

The NYPD declined several requests for comment on allegations that it uses quotas.

Patrick Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, the city's patrol officer's union, said in a statement to The Crime Report that productivity goals are against the law.

“Illegal quotas build barriers between communities and the police officers who risk their lives to protect them,” Lynch said in the statement. “That is why this union successfully led a fight in Albany that made quotas for all police activities including arrests, summonses or stop and frisks illegal.”

Graham Kates is Deputy Editor of The Crime Report. He welcomes comments from readers.

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