Posted by on October 24, 2013 in Blog

By Dena Elian
Fall Intern, 2013

The controversy surrounding the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) practices, particularly its “Stop and Frisk” policy that allows officers to detain, question, and search individuals upon suspicion that they have committed or intend to commit a crime, has grown to be a major issue in this year’s mayoral race. In an attempt to bring NYPD’s policies more in line with the Constitution, Democratic candidate Bill de Blasio has pledged to bring change and transparency to the NYPD. Some may question, though, why a city that has achieved a staggering decline in its crime rate should be put under such scrutiny. The NYPD Tapes: A Shocking Story of Cops, Cover-ups, and Courage, by Graham Rayman is a recently released book that dispels this thought by revealing the ongoing abuses committed by the NYPD, through the lens of former officer Adrian Schoolcraft.

Schoolcraft is a former New York City policeman who secretly recorded his workdays and interactions with fellow officers for 17 months in 2008 and 2009. Schoolcraft claims that his intent in secretly recording himself on the job was simply to protect himself from false accusations that could potentially be made by civilians while working at the 81st precinct in Brooklyn. In his recent interview with NPR’s “This American Life,” Schoolcraft said that the officers in his precinct became pressured to write more tickets, preform more “Stop and Frisks,” and arrest more people for low-level offenses, upon the arrival of Commander Steven Mauriello. As institutional pressure increased, Schoolcraft decided that it was important to document the orders given that he thought were out of line.

Schoolcraft’s recordings expose multiple illegal instances of police officers being threatened by their superiors if they didn’t meet the quotas that were laid out by them. The penalties included downgrading to a less desirable assignment, or even being stripped of their assignment altogether. Schoolcraft told “This American Life” that he chose not to succumb to the numerical quotas, because he felt arresting and writing up individuals for the sake of satisfying a numerical target “just wasn’t right.” He continued to perform his duties as he did prior to the policy changes, but for many of his fellow officers who felt the way he did, the decision wasn’t so simple. “It was easier to get their numbers. Especially if they have a wife, kids and they’re devoted to their pension and retiring,” Schoolcraft explained in regard to officers choosing to comply with the quotas. The supervisors continued hounding officers to meet monthly numbers. In December 2008, a sergeant was recorded telling officers to stop and frisk “anybody walking around no matter what the explanation is.”

The corruption exposed by the recordings unfortunately didn’t stop there. Schoolcraft has evidence of multiple conversations between officers that reveal precinct commanders and supervisors purposely neglecting to file criminal complaints or reclassifying serious crimes as lesser crimes. This was done to manipulate statistics and create the impression that the precinct was succeeding in driving down crime at a higher rate than it actually was.

After Schoolcraft publicly blew the whistle on the NYPD, New York City newspaper The Village Voice began publishing his recordings. This resulted in many retired and former police officers contacting Schoolcraft with their own first-hand accounts of serious crimes being downgraded and underreported. One former high-ranking detective told a story of a man who was arrested after being accused of first-degree rape. Although the man eventually admitted to committing up to 8 rapes in the same neighborhood, there had been no previous report of any of them. When the detective looked through the crime complaints, he found the filed rape reports, but they were downgraded and classified as either criminal trespassing or criminal possession of a weapon.

Currently, a police investigation has been launched into Schoolcraft’s allegations and another into the charge that serious crimes were downgraded to lesser ones. Schoolcraft’s evidence will be used in two class-action lawsuits, concerning both the stop and frisk and quota policies. Schoolcraft himself is currently suspended without pay and is suing the department for $50 million.

With alarming accounts such as those recorded by Schoolcraft and, more recently, the NYPD’s pervasive surveillance of Muslims, Muslim organizations, and mosques, it is increasingly crucial that New Yorkers vote for a mayor who will work to restore justice and transparency in the NYPD on November 5.