New York police officers testified this week that their office set quotas for both the number of police stops and arrests. Officers Adhyl Polanco and Pedro Serrano are two of the more than 100 witnesses to testify during a trial in a class action challenge to the New York Police Department’s rampant use of “stop and frisks,” a practice with constitutional implications in which an officer stops someone suspected of a crime, and may subsequently frisk that individual if they have justification for doing so.
The Department has conducted more than 5 million stops since Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2002, more than 85 percent of which targeted blacks or Latinos and only 12 percent of which resulted in criminal charges. Both Serrano and Polanco testified that supervisors required at least 20 summonses and one arrest each month, and that they were pressured to stop individuals — regardless of the grounds for doing so — under threat of punishment. Polanco also said police later added a stop-and-frisk quota of five per month. During the trial, Polanco played an exchange he recorded in 2009. The New York Daily News reports:
In the tapes, one of Polanco’s supervisors is heard demanding that cops make their “20 and 1” quota and lambasting those who came up short.
“If you want to be a zero, I’ll treat you like a zero,” patrol Sgt. Marvin Bennett fumed on tape.
Polanco also recorded his patrol commander, Lt. Andrew Valenzano, telling officers to meet their quotas by ticketing bicyclists.
“If you see people over there on bikes, carrying the bags, you know, good stops,” Valenzano says on tape. “That’s what we need.”
Officer Angel Herran, a union delegate, was taped telling officers the quota was agreed to “in this last contract.”
“They’re telling you to ‘go make money,’ ” Herran is heard saying.
In his testimony, Pollanco added that officers who did not meet their quotas were pressured to find stops any way they could, or else:
Those numbers were “nonnegotiable,” Mr. Polanco testified, with supervisors warning that anyone failing to meet the goals would “become a Pizza Hut delivery man.’”
Punishments could include denial of overtime assignments and requests for days off, schedule changes or a move to another precinct. “They can make your life miserable,” Officer Polanco said. […]
When lagging behind those benchmarks, he said supervisors directed him to street locations where other officers had detained people. His instructions, he said, were to make arrests or issue tickets for offenses he hadn’t observed.
At other times, Officer Polanco said, he was directed to fill out stop-and-frisk forms documenting stops he didn’t make.
As a last measure, Officer Polanco described in his testimony a task called “driving the sergeant,” in which he was allegedly assigned to drive the streets with a supervisor. He said he would perform stop-and-frisk searches and even make arrests searches on people selected by the supervisor.
“You have absolutely no discretion,” he said.
Polanco is among those who came forward about police pressure to meet quotas in 2010. Many other officers alleged quotas, pressure to make stops, and attempts to manipulate crime statistics in an extensive 2010 Village Voice exposé. A jury even concluded that the NYPD used an illegal quota system during a trial on injuries resulting from a 2006 arrest. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has written off the allegations, saying the Department has ”productivity goals,” “just like your job does, just like any job does.”
In 2010, New York State passed a law explicitly making quotas as a consideration for punishment illegal. But even if they weren’t banned by statute, quotas such as the one described by witnesses this week are subject to legal challenge because they pressure police officers into making stops without a constitutional basis for doing so. Allegations that systematic police stops are made without the constitutionally required “reasonable suspicion” are the basis for the class lawsuit. The federal judge overseeing this lawsuit has already ruled in another stop-and-frisk case that police stops in the Bronx are likely unconstitutional.