NYC ‘Collars for Dollars’ On Trial in Federal Court

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New York City narcotics officers, moving in on a seeming crack deal, seized two packets, which turned out to contain little more than a residue of the drug. Two men were arrested, and the charges against one of them was dismissed. What the officers got was more than 20 hours in overtime, as much as $1,400, reports the New York Times. On Tuesday, four officers involved in the case will appear in federal court in Brooklyn for the start of an unusual civil-rights trial, facing accusations that they detained Hector Cordero simply to increase their income. If any officer is found liable, another trial will be scheduled, one that could represent the biggest challenge to New York policing practices since stop-and-frisk. The second trial would examine the broader question of whether police officers habitually use false arrests to bolster their pay.

Accusations about the practice — known as “collars for dollars” — have dogged the department for decades. A 1994 report about police corruption, which used the term, detailed the various and devious overtime schemes that have been used. In one, the police would involve additional officers in making an arrest, maximizing the number of people eligible for overtime. In another practice, known as “trading collars,” officers sometimes directed arrests to the member of their team who stood to get the most overtime. If Cordero’s allegations that he was falsely arrested to boost overtime pay are upheld, it would suggest that years of attention and reform have only had a marginal effect on curbing the connection between false arrests and overtime, said sociologist Harry Levine of Queens College, who has written extensively about drugs and policing. “The pattern of making arrests to get overtime pay is historic and longstanding,” he said.

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