Here at the trial, the week ended for the NYPD the same way it started, and that is on the defensive.
On Wednesday and Thursday the plaintiffs put an expert witness on the stand, Professor Jeffrey Fagan of Columbia University, who studied four million of the random NYPD stop and frisks of New York City residents. Fagan is the professor that concluded the stops were based on race and ultimately unconstitutional.
In a calm yet steady voice on the stand, almost like a professor in the classroom, one could argue Fagan, by the numbers, did damage to the legitimately of “stop and frisk.”
The Professor testified the 250-form the police department uses to record such “stop and frisks,” “is not doing it’s job because the form did not provide the specific reason for such stops.” Days before the trial began, the Police Department issued a memo where cops will now have to give an explanation for such a stop on the form, and not just check a box.
Fagan’s words behind that witness stand were alarming. His observation of the NYPD practice: For the exact same offense, there is a greater chance of being arrested if the person is Black or Hispanic. And a better chance of receiving a summons if the person is white.
Fagan went on: “For the exact same offense, Blacks are 31 percent more likely to be arrested than Whites.”
When it comes to force by the NYPD.
Fagan found “stop and frisk” resulted in: “14 percent more force against Blacks than Whites by Police Officers. For Latinos there is 9 percent more NYPD force used against them than Whites.”
From the police commissioner on down, the NYPD has argued “stop and frisk” saves lives, and keeps guns off the street, but Fagan testified that the NYPD only recovered: “one gun for every one-thousand stops.”
Throughout the week, we also heard some additional secret recordings from whistle-blower officers. In fairness, the recordings could be seen from several possible perspectives. One, that NYPD bosses wanted to make sure police were doing their jobs and not just hanging out in police cars. Or stated another way, increased productivity.
I couldn’t help but think about the backdrop to all of this which all stems from when New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani hired Bill Bratton from Boston as his police commissioner. The department put to work the “Broken Windows” theory. In other words, using crime statistics to be pro-active on fighting crime. The official word was Comstat, where commanders were yanked into One Police Plaza, and grilled on the numbers. If the brass didn’t like what they had to say, off that commanding officer went to a punishing transfer or assignment. The past week in court, one police term for such an assignment was referred to via testimony as “the cemetery.”
Now two decade later, I’m sitting in a federal courthouse for the last three weeks, and it’s not pleasant listening to secret recordings of whistle-blowers where commanders are heard on tape, demanding numbers and results at all costs. It’s scary to hear, because if police officers are pushed hard by their bosses, it can lead to questionable arrests at the very least.
Here’s what also occurred this past week.
It started with longtime NYPD critic State Senator Eric Adams on the stand. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly denies it, but Adams, a retired police caption himself testified that the Police Commissioner told him in a meeting that he ordered his commanders to “target young black and Hispanic men to instill fear in them that any time they leave their homes they could be targeted by police. Just days later, Kelly appeared at Rev. Al Sharpton’s annual conference and said about “stop and frisk:”
“I believe this tactic is a lifesaver…. “It is also lawful and constitutional.”
Twenty-four hours later on Tuesday, Police Deputy Inspector Steven Mauriello was on the stand, and again there were secret recordings from whistle-blower officers (with damaging comments by Mauriello on them). He’s the commanding officer of the 81 precinct in Brooklyn, and it was either Mauriello or one of his supervising officers caught on tape making highly questionable comments.
The Deputy Inspector said the comments were taken out of context, or that his Sargent was talking about criminals and gang members in the recordings, not the overwhelming law abiding citizens of Bed-Stuy Brooklyn.
Some of the quotes attributed to Mauriello and company:
“If you get too big of a crowd there, they are going to get out of control and they are going to think they , own the block,” a speaker on one of the recordings said. “We own the block. They don’t own the block. They might live there, but we own the block. We own the streets here.”
Referring to a residential building in Brooklyn, 120 Chauncey where police said there had been shootings three days in a row… a “Sgt Stoops” (under the command of Mauriello) is recorded saying
“Anybody coming out of the building, give me a 250.”
Which means based on the recording search everyone and then complete the necessary paperwork.
On the stand Deputy Inspector Mauriello admitted it was a poor choice of words.
But there was more.
“Bring in groups, herd them in here. Everybody goes tonight. Zero tolerance.”
If a young person was seen with a bandana handkerchief sticking out of the pocket, cops were told to 250 them. Again police language for a stop and frisk.
I rode down in the elevator with Mauriello from the 15th floor. Other reporters managed to get into the elevator and all Mauriello would say was it was his honor to serve the people of Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn. You could cut the tension with a knife as Mauriello forced a smile. Then one of the reporters asked him what about those NY Mets Baseball team? Mauriello said they always break your heart and quickly left.
No one knows how all of this testimony is impacting Manhattan Federal Court Judge Shira Sheindlin. She has told all of the lawyers involved that she doesn’t want this trial to go on for two months. She wants them to pick up the pace.
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