Landmark Stop and Frisk Trial: A Cop Testifies Against the NYPD, and The City Reveals Its Drip, Drip, Drip Strategy
In the second day of the historic stop and frisk trial in federal court in Manhattan yesterday, there was the start of testimony from Adyhl Polanco, an eight-year veteran of the NYPD who has made the highly unusual and courageous choice to testify against the city's campaign. Meanwhile, as you can read further down, the city's strategy is emerging with great and disturbing clarity.
Polanco, who first told his story to the Voice back in 2010 for our "NYPD Tapes" series, talked about his period in the 41st Precinct in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, and how his views of policing evolved away from the constant quota pressure.
Polanco talked movingly about how a police officer's job ranges way beyond just making arrests, doing stop and frisks and writing summonses in service of quotas. "Every radio call brings something different," he said. "Our job is to help the needs of the community. We are referees. We are in between moms fighting for their daughters."
As for police policy, he says, "What's on paper, the written policies, is way different from what actually goes on out there. It was all about 'productivity,' it had nothing to do with what we do every day."
Stop and frisks, summonses and arrests "are the easy part of the job," he says. "Sometimes you sit on a dead body. Sometimes, you bring an accident victim to the hospital and he dies in the car. Sometimes you deal with children who are raped, or women."
But his precinct commander, his sergeants and his lieutenants didn't want to listen. They just wanted numbers, he testified. "They only care about one thing--arrests, summonses and stop and frisks."
Plaintiffs lawyer Darius Charney asked: did they care about the number of radio runs you did? The number of domestic disputes you responded to? The number of injure you cared for? "They didn't care," Polanco testified.
"They never cared about the quality of the work we were doing," he testified. "They wanted quantity. And how we got there, they didn't care. They never asked me about the quality of the stop and frisks. They never cared about reasonable suspicion or probable cause."
As the Voice reported more than two years ago, Polanco was even pressured by his own police union delegates, repeatedly. "They were very clear: 'do it or end up working in a Pizza Hut.'"
Polanco was told over and over, 'They can make your life very miserable.' "They can change your tours, they can take you away from your family, they can give you low evaluations," he testified.
If his numbers were down, precinct commanders ordered him to ride with them, and directed him to make arrests, stop and frisk people or issue summonses just to hit his numbers, even when he didn't witness the misconduct alleged. Polanco didn't say it in his testimony yesterday, but that is very possibly a crime of falsifying government records--not that the NYPD has looked into it.
Polanco has a civil lawsuit of his own pending, and is currently assigned to the VIPER unit, a backdoor disciplinary unit for wayward cops in which he earns full salary to essentially just watch security video cameras trained on housing projects. It is a miserable existence. That Polanco, who clearly, based on his testimony, wants to return to doing the job right, is still on the sidelines three years later is something that Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly himself should seriously examine.
Meanwhile, the city's strategy is becoming clear via the insistent tones of Suzanna H. Publicker, a rail-thin, assistant corporation counsel in her late twenties working for the Law Department.
Publicker, an NYU law graduate who records show makes approximately $70,000 lawyering for the city, asks masses of small questions in her efforts to undermine the credibility of the plaintiffs, who claim they were illegally stopped in violation of their civil rights. The city contends the stops mirror crime trends.
The tactic was on display yesterday in Publicker's close questioning of 24-year-old Nicholas Peart, of Harlem, who says he was stopped illegally four times between 2006 and 2011. Describing one of those stops yesterday, which led police to wrongly detain him, Peart wept at the memory.
Later, not moved by his display of emotion, Publicker built from seemingly innocuous questions toward a series of sharp jabs at Peart's credibility, getting him to admit one lie that he claimed to have suffered a cut lip during one stop, when he did not. And she pointed out that he had no documentation for at least two of the stops.
Publicker also used NYPD radio transmissions to try to show that in at least one of the stops, Peart was dressed similarly to someone the police were looking for when he was stopped.
"Your memory isn't very good, is it?" she tells him.
"Regarding your 2006 stops, you didn't give truthful answers, did you?" she says at another point.
And then she turned to perceptions of crime in his neighborhood, which underpins the city's argument: "There are shootings in your neighborhood? Robberies? Rapes? Drugs? You don't believe your community has high crime?" she asks.
Peart responds, "I don't know, compared to what?"
"You don't believe the police officers protect you from crime?"
"Not all of them. I really don't know."
Publicker's drip, drip, drip mode of questioning recalls that old maxim that little questions build brick walls--perhaps she is trying to set up a record for appeal--but we can't help but wonder if they are annoying the judge. On multiple occasions, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin rephrased Publicker's questions and asked them herself. More later today.