NYPD's Defense for Stop-and-Frisks: We Wanted to Get Cops Out of Their Cars

Leaders of the New York Police Department offered an innovative-if-self-deprecating rationale for its practice of stop-and-frisks: ten percent of its officers are lazy and need incentives to get them out of their cars.

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Leaders of the New York Police Department offered an innovative (if self-deprecating) rationale for its practice of stop-and-frisks: 10 percent of its officers are lazy and need an incentive to get out of their squad cars.

The argument is all the more surprising because it comes as part of a civil trial focused on the department's practice of stopping people on the street suspected of crimes and searching them. That practice, dubbed stop-and-frisk, has overwhelmingly targeted people of color — and only rarely resulted in any arrests.

Data from the ACLU.

The civil trial is meant to hold the NYPD accountable for the practice. Plaintiffs have argued that the NYPD's enforcement of a quota for its officers to stop people has resulted in a practice widely condemned as biased and a violation of civil rights. The police department's argument is that no such quotas exist, and that any evidence implying that they do is simply how they tried to motivate bad cops. The New York Times reports:

[W]hen Joseph J. Esposito, the department’s highest-ranking uniformed member until his retirement last month, testified in the trial, he offered candid insight into management’s view.

“You have 10 percent that will work as hard as they can, whenever they can, no matter how bad we treat them, how bad the conditions are,” Mr. Esposito said. These officers “love being cops and they’re going to do it no matter what.”

On the other extreme, Mr. Esposito said, “You have 10 percent on the other side that are complete malcontents that will do as little as possible no matter how well you treat them.”

One deputy commissioner testified that the entire trial was about how the department was "trying to get the police officers to work, do the things that they’re getting paid for."

The latter ten percent mentioned by Esposito includes the officers who leaked damaging recordings and written messages to the press, according to lawyers for the city. Those recordings presumably include an inspector in the Bronx who told an officer to focus on the people creating the most problems, according to The Times.

“The problem was, what, male blacks,” Inspector McCormack said. “And I told you at roll call, and I have no problem telling you this, male blacks 14 to 20, 21.”

That's an unusually narrow representation of "Operations Order 52," which is "a Police Department policy that stresses the importance of 'proactive enforcement activities,' including 'the stopping and questioning of suspicious individuals.'"

Displaying the five-page document on a projector screen in the courtroom, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, Jonathan C. Moore, asked, “Now, as a police officer, how did you interpret that?”

Officer Serrano offered a memorable answer: “It says, quota, quota, quota, quota and quota.”

The trial, which is expected to end shortly, comes down to this question: Either the police department set numbers that police officers were encouraged to meet resulting in searches of thousands of people suspected of no criminal activity whatsoever, or a small group of cops that didn't want to do their jobs is disparaging their bosses. No matter the eventual verdict, it's hard to see how the NYPD wins.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.