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The NYPD Tapes: Inside Bed-Stuy's 81st Precinct
05-14-2010, 01:26 AM, (This post was last modified: 05-14-2010, 01:58 AM by h3rm35.)
Exclamation  The NYPD Tapes: Inside Bed-Stuy's 81st Precinct
It's amazing that this goes up in "The Village Voice" and I haven't heard about it from anywhere else for damn near ten days... this looks like it's going to be a series of articles, with excerpted audio being posted on
The NYPD Tapes: Inside Bed-Stuy's 81st Precinct
By Graham Rayman
published: May 04, 2010

Two years ago, a police officer in a Brooklyn precinct became gravely concerned about how the public was being served. To document his concerns, he began carrying around a digital sound recorder, secretly recording his colleagues and superiors.

He recorded precinct roll calls. He recorded his precinct commander and other supervisors. He recorded street encounters. He recorded small talk and stationhouse banter. In all, he surreptitiously collected hundreds of hours of cops talking about their jobs.

Made without the knowledge or approval of the NYPD, the tapes—made between June 1, 2008, and October 31, 2009, in the 81st Precinct in Bedford-Stuyvesant and obtained exclusively by the Voice—provide an unprecedented portrait of what it's like to work as a cop in this city.

They reveal that precinct bosses threaten street cops if they don't make their quotas of arrests and stop-and-frisks, but also tell them not to take certain robbery reports in order to manipulate crime statistics. The tapes also refer to command officers calling crime victims directly to intimidate them about their complaints.

As a result, the tapes show, the rank-and-file NYPD street cop experiences enormous pressure in a strange catch-22: He or she is expected to maintain high "activity"—including stop-and-frisks—but, paradoxically, to record fewer actual crimes.

This pressure was accompanied by paranoia—from the precinct commander to the lieutenants to the sergeants to the line officers—of violating any of the seemingly endless bureaucratic rules and regulations that would bring in outside supervision.

The tapes also reveal the locker-room environment at the precinct. On a recording made in September, the subject being discussed at roll call is stationhouse graffiti (done by the cops themselves) and something called "cocking the memo book," a practical joke in which officers draw penises in each other's daily notebooks.

"As far as the defacing of department property—all right, the shit on the side of the building . . . and on people's lockers, and drawing penises in people's memo books, and whatever else is going on—just knock it off, all right?" a Sergeant A. can be heard saying. "If the wrong person sees this stuff coming in here, then IAB [the Internal Affairs Bureau] is going to be all over this place, all right? . . . You want to draw penises, draw them in your own memo book. . . And don't actually draw on the wall." He then adds that just before an inspection, a supervisor had to walk around the stationhouse and paint over all the graffiti.

The Voice is releasing portions of the tapes in batches on our website,, and is also publishing several stories to deal with the issues that the recordings present. In this week's installment, we look at the roll calls at the Bed-Stuy precinct and the conflicting instructions given to street cops, who must look busy at all times, while actually suppressing crime reports. (Repeated attempts to get an official response from the police department have been met by silence.)

The Voice obtained the digital audio recordings from Police Officer Adrian Schoolcraft, an eight-year veteran of the NYPD. (The Voice has identified the NYPD bosses speaking at roll calls, but is using initials—different from their names—for most of them.)

Schoolcraft first made headlines in February, when the Daily News reported that he was speaking out about manipulation of crime reports at the 81st. His complaints, the Daily News wrote, had sparked an investigation that had put even the precinct's commander, Deputy Inspector Steven Mauriello, under suspicion. Those stories, however, gave no indication that Schoolcraft was also in possession of the remarkable audiotapes.

Schoolcraft tells the Voice he carried the audio recorder initially to protect himself from the civilian complaints that can result from street encounters. But then he began to document things happening in the precinct that bothered him. After he ran afoul of precinct politics, he recorded what he viewed as retaliation by his bosses.

"How else would you present the fraud being committed on the public?" he asks.

ON JANUARY 28, 2009, PATROL OFFICERS on the evening tour at the 81st Precinct gathered in the utilitarian muster room at the 30 Ralph Avenue stationhouse. They stood on white floors in ranks. The blue-and-white walls are decorated with old Wanted posters, two glass cupboards with crime maps, posters with warnings about sexual harassment and retaliation, and a flat-screen television. There are two tables, three chairs, and a podium used by supervisors to address the cops.

A roll call is the key moment in the workday of any police officer. Think Hill Street Blues and "Let's be careful out there." The sergeants, lieutenants, and, sometimes, the precinct commander relay orders to the rank-and-file. The officers are told about recent crimes and trouble spots in the neighborhood. Officers are subject to inspection and are given training. The language, naturally, is a mix of quasi-military jargon, street slang, rough epithets, and a fair bit of gallows humor—in other words, cop-speak.

The 81st Precinct covers Bedford-Stuyvesant, a densely populated, multiracial patchwork of low-income areas, public housing projects, and blocks going through gentrification. At just 1.7 square miles, Bed-Stuy is geographically small, but a place that, according to the tapes, the officers view as a "heavy precinct."

"You're not working in Midtown Manhattan, where people are walking around, smiling and being happy," a lieutenant tells officers in a November 1, 2008, roll call. "You're working in Bed-Stuy, where everyone's probably got a warrant."

On this particular day, the precinct commander, Deputy Inspector Steven Mauriello, a Lieutenant B., and a Sergeant C. are leading the session.

After attendance has been taken and assignments handed out, Mauriello, a hard-charging boss given to colorful language, exhorts the officers to disperse crowds away from certain buildings, and stop and question people.

"Listen, if it's micromanaging, it's micromanaging," he says. "Just do your job. If you see a large crowd, get out [of your car]. Just do what you gotta do. You know them, you stop them. Go somewhere else. Stay off the radar."

Mauriello then relates how a three-star chief, Michael Scagnelli, closely questioned him on the number of tickets the officers write, and warns them to make their numbers. "He says, 'How many superstars and how many losers do you have?' " Mauriello says. "And then he goes down and says, 'How many summonses does your squad write?' I want everyone to step up and be accountable and work. Don't get caught out there."

He then mentions the patrol borough commander, Marino, who is apparently examining the "activity" of every cop in the 10 precincts he oversees. "If you don't want to work, then, you know what, just do the old go-through-the-motions and get your numbers anyway," he says. "He's taking this very seriously, looking at everyone's evaluations. And he's yelling at every CO [commanding officer] about 'Who gave this guy points?' or 'This girl's no good.' "

Sergeant C. then says the cops should be able to hit their numbers' targets. "I told you guys last month: They are looking at these numbers, and people are going to get moved," he says. "It ain't about losing your job. They can make your job real uncomfortable, and we all know what that means."

Next, Lieutenant B. cites the declining numbers of officers in the department. "A lot of people are leaving the job," he says. "They aren't getting new recruits. Patrol is not getting new people. It's more accountability, it's less people. They got this catchphrase, 'Do more with less,' right? And they're looking at the numbers."

He adds that the top bosses are pressuring the precinct commander, who is pressuring his supervisors, who then have to pressure the cops.

"Unfortunately, at this level in your career, you're on the lowest level, so you're going to get some orders that you may not like," he says. "You're gonna get instructions. You're gonna get disciplinary action. You gotta just pick up your work. I don't wanna get my ass chewed out, in straight words. I'm sick of getting yelled at."

THE SAME THEMES—of shit rolling downhill, and that constant pressure to do more with less—appear again and again throughout the tapes dating back to June 1, 2008.

Bosses spend more time in the roll calls haranguing the officers for "activity"—or "paying the rent," as it was known—than anything else. In other words, writing summonses, doing stop-and-frisks (known as "250s"), doing community visits, and making arrests. Or else.

Officers were under constant pressure to keep those numbers high to prove that they were doing their jobs, even when there was little justification for it. Like a drumbeat, this mandate was hammered home again and again in almost every roll call.

"Again, it's all about the numbers," a Sergeant D. tells his officers on October 18, 2009.

Command often set up special summons duty to artificially increase the numbers of tickets issued. On December 13, 2008, there was this from a Sergeant E.: "In order to increase the amount of C summonses patrol is writing, they are going to try to, when they can, put out a quality-of-life auto. Your goal is to write C summonses, all right?"

A "C summons" requires a warrant check and covers a wide range of offenses, like public drinking, disorderly conduct, littering, blocking the sidewalk, and graffiti. An "A summons" is for illegal parking, and a "B summons" is for traffic violations like running a red light or using a cell phone while driving.

Certainly, there's enforcement value to issuing tickets and stopping people on the street, but the true value of this "activity," the tapes indicate, was that it offered proof that the precinct commander and his officers were doing their jobs. With those numbers, the precinct boss could go to police headquarters with ammunition. Low numbers meant criticism and demotion; high numbers meant praise and promotion.

The NYPD has always claimed that there are no specific numerical targets or quotas. Most recently, police spokesman Paul Browne denied the existence of quotas in early March, but said that "police officers, like others who receive compensation, are provided productivity goals, and they are expected to work."

The tapes show, however, that, of course, quotas exist.

On June 12, 2008, Lieutenant B. relayed the summons target: "The XO [second-in-command] was in the other day. He actually laid down a number. He wants at least three seat belts, one cell phone, and 11 others. All right, so if I was on patrol, I would be sure to get three seat belts, one cell phone, and 11 others.

"Pick it up a lot, if you have to," he says. "The CO gave me some names. I spoke to you."

While the NYPD can set "productivity targets," the department cannot tie those targets to disciplinary action: "What turns it into an illegal quota is when there is a punishment attached to not achieving, like a transfer or loss of assignment," says Al O'Leary, a spokesman for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

In the 81st Precinct, however, the tapes indicate that "activity" was routinely tied to direct and implied threats of discipline. The message, relayed down the chain from headquarters, is repeated over and over again in the roll calls by the precinct commander, the lieutenants, and the sergeants.

On October 28, 2008, for example, the precinct commander, Mauriello, tells officers he will change their shifts if they don't make their numbers: "If I hear about disgruntled people moaning about getting thrown off their tours, it is what it is. Mess up, bring heat on the precinct—you know what, I'll give you tough love, but it doesn't mean you can't work your way back into good graces and get back to the detail and platoon you want."

He adds: "If you don't work, and I get the same names back again, I'm moving you. You're going to go to another platoon. I'm done. I don't want to be embarrassed no more."

On July 15, 2008, he says, "I don't want to see anyone get hurt. This job is all about hurting. Someone has to go. Step on a landmine, someone has to get hurt."

On December 8, 2008, he excoriates officers who failed to write enough tickets for double-parking, running red lights, and disorderly conduct, and who failed to stop-and-frisk enough people.

"I see eight fucking summonses for a 20-day period or a month," he says. "If you mess up, how the hell do you want me to do the right thing by you? You come in, five parkers, three A's, no C's, and the only 250 you do is when I force you to do overtime? I mean it's a two-way street out here."

Later, he adds, "In the end, I hate to say it—you need me more than I need you because I'm what separates the wolves from coming in here and chewing on your bones."

In the same roll call, Sergeant C. adds: "When I tell you to get your activity up, it's for a reason, because they are looking to move people, and he's serious. . . . There's people in here that may not be here next month."

The pressure is the worst at the end of the month and at the end of every quarter, because that's when the precinct has to file activity reports on each officer with the borough command and police headquarters. (Put another way: If you want to avoid getting a ticket, stay away from police officers during the last few days of the month, when the pressure for numbers is the highest.)

From the tapes, it's not hard to imagine an officer desperately driving to the precinct, looking for someone smoking pot on a stoop or double-parking to fill some gap in their productivity.

In a roll call from September 26, a Sergeant F. notes that the quarter is coming to an end, and a deadline is nearing for applying to take the sergeants' exam. "If your activity's been down, the last quarter is a good time to bring it up, because that's when your evaluation is going to be done," he says. "We all know this job is, 'What have you done for me lately?' "

He goes on to lay on the pressure for more numbers. "This is crunch time," he says. "This is Game Seven of the World Series, the bases are loaded, and you're at bat right now. . . . It's all a game, ladies and gentlemen. We do what we're supposed to, the negative attention goes somewhere else. That's what we want."

And take August 31, 2009. Sergeant Rogers tells his officers, "Today is the last day of the month. Get what you need to get."

Or as Sergeant F. says just a few days before that: "It's the 26th. If you don't have your activity, it would be a really good time to get it. . . . If I don't have to hear about it from a white shirt [a superior officer], that's the name of the game."

IT'S ALSO CLEAR FROM THE recordings that supervisors viewed the constant pressure for numbers as an annoyance, busy work to fill the demand from downtown. "We had a shooting on midnight on Chauncey, so do some community visits, C summonses over there, the usual bullshit," Sergeant A. says in an August 22, 2009, roll call.

The obsession with statistics at police headquarters bleeds out into the borough commands as well. In early 2009, the Brooklyn North patrol command started holding its own CompStat meetings, reviewing everything from crime stats to the number of tickets written by each officer to sick reports.

The move was seen in the precinct as yet another layer of unnecessary oversight. "This job is just getting tighter and tighter with accountability," Lieutenant B. says on January 13, 2009. "So there are certain things I'd like to get away with, but I can't anymore. It just goes down the line and, eventually, it falls on you."

Eight days later, he offers his view of these so-called Boro Stat meetings, on January 21, 2009: "Robbery spikes, crime spikes, on and on and on. It's a lot of horseshit I gotta sit through, but it's accountability, all right?"

As a result of this outside pressure, the precinct was constantly worried about violating bureaucratic rules that would result in even more scrutiny, and result in Command Disciplines (CDs), a penalty that could carry a loss of vacation days.

Take one example: A sergeant spends a roll call upbraiding his officers for not having the proper equipment. "Nobody's got your whistle holder, and half of you don't have your whistle," he says. "That's unacceptable. When I fall down the mine shaft, I'm the only one that's going to be able to call for help. The rest of you are going to have to fire off your gun, and they'll give you a CD for that."

The officers in Bed-Stuy viewed a unit called Brooklyn North Inspections with a particular measure of contempt. Inspections, known as "the hounds," would slip into the precinct, look for rules violations, and then hit officers with CDs.

"Inspections—they pull you over like a perp, and you know it's disrespectful to us, but this is what they're doing," Lieutenant B. says on June 12, 2008. "So Inspections is not really our friend. Let's leave it at that."

On November 12, 2008: "Brooklyn North Inspections is not our friend. I'm just going to lay it out there right on the line," he says. "If you see they're here, they're probably here to hurt someone."

Hurting someone means issuing a CD for, say, not having your shirt tucked in, or reading the newspaper on duty. In one instance, in October 2008, four officers were given CDs for leaving the precinct to have lunch. (81st Precinct officers seemed to believe there weren't any decent restaurants in the precinct itself.)

During a roll call on October 30, 2008, Sergeant C. upbraids the officers for their appearance. "It keeps the hounds off," he says, adding, "That includes smirks. One smirk cost the whole borough 13 CDs last week."

ONE OF THE MOST BASIC THINGS a police officer does is take crime complaints from victims. But that very simple edict evolved into something substantially different in the 81st Precinct.

Usually, an officer arrives at a crime scene and begins taking information. Then, either on the scene or at the precinct, the officer fills out a report known as a "61" and presents it to the desk officer, a sergeant, for his signature.

After the sergeant classifies the crime, the 61 is then entered into a computer system, making it official, and it's passed on to the detective squad for investigation. Police veterans say their standard was always, "Refer the complaint, not the complainant." In other words, if someone wants to make a report, you take it, and let the squad check it out. It was the squad's job to determine whether the complainant's story was worth checking further.

In the 81st Precinct, that traditional discretion of a street cop was being taken away from them, the tapes indicate. There was constant second-guessing and questioning of crime complaints and crime victims before cases were ever entered into the computer. The message to street cops was to exercise extreme skepticism with crime victims—unless you didn't mind getting yelled at.

Officers were told that, unlike in the past, their bosses would need to be present at the scene of a possible robbery, for example, to look over their shoulders. "There are certain jobs that I must be present on," Sergeant C. says on October 13, 2008. "If I'm not present, you gotta call me up. You can't come in here with a robbery, and I don't know anything about it."

Rank-and-file cops don't like the change, which is reflected on Internet bulletin boards, where they leave messages like this recent posting: "It used to be that a radio car turned out and two partners went from job to job making decisions, applying common (uncommon) sense to solve problems," an officer writes. "A Sgt. or Lt. was not called to the scene unless there was a death or serious incident. Patrol officers now have been indoctrinated that they are not qualified to make any decisions about anything."

During a September 12, 2009, roll call, a fellow cop tells Schoolcraft: "A lot of 61s—if it's a robbery, they'll make it a petty larceny. I saw a 61, at T/P/O [time and place of occurrence], a civilian punched in the face, menaced with a gun, and his wallet was removed, and they wrote 'lost property.' "

The practice of downgrading crimes has been the NYPD's scandal-in-waiting for years. The NYPD claims that downgrading happens only rarely, but in the course of reporting this story, the Voice was told anecdotally of burglaries rejected if the victim didn't have receipts for the items stolen; of felony thefts turned into misdemeanor thefts by lowballing the value of the property; of robberies turned into assaults; of assaults turned into harassments.

How widespread that kind of thing was in the 81st Precinct is unclear just from the recordings, but Schoolcraft claims it was common. Of course, caution in taking a complaint is prudent. But the fact that the precinct commander discourages the taking of robbery complaints has to influence other decisions down the chain.

So officers get marching orders like the following, which was recorded October 4: "If it's a little old lady, and I got my bag stolen, then she's probably telling the truth, all right?" Sergeant D. says. "If it's some young guy who looks strong and healthy and can maybe defend himself, and he got yoked up, and he's not injured, he's perfectly fine—question that. It's not about squashing numbers. You all know if it is what it is—if it smells like a rotten fish—then that's what it is. But question it. On the burglaries as well."

LAST OCTOBER 11, TWO PATROL officers made a terrible mistake: They took a robbery complaint. A man reported that some suspects had forcibly taken his cell phone, but the victim didn't want to immediately accompany officers to the precinct to talk to the detective squad. The victim, the tapes show, told the officers he didn't want to go back with them because he didn't want to be seen getting into a marked police car.

The next day, Mauriello took out his anger on what the officers had done on their sergeant, the tapes show. And she, in turn, took it out on the officers.

"OK, so he [Mauriello] was flippin' on me yesterday because they wrote a 61, and the guy talking about he not coming in to speak to nobody," says a Sergeant G. in the October 12 roll call. "He don't want nobody see him getting in the car."

While one of the core duties of a police officer is to take crime complaints, the 81st Precinct had a controversial policy that held that if a victim refused to come to the stationhouse and speak to the detective squad, officers should refuse to take the complaint.

"You know, we be popping up with these robberies out of nowhere, or whatever," Sergeant G. tells her officers in the roll call. "If the complainant does not want to go back and speak to the squad, then there is no 61 taken. That's it. They have to go back and speak to the squad."

In effect, under this policy, a robbery complaint would be rejected if the victim was unable to come to the stationhouse. It didn't matter if a victim was unable to come down because he or she had to work or take care of kids. Perhaps not coincidentally, that would also be one less robbery to count against the precinct's crime statistics.

The sergeant went on to suggest that the victim was lying: "How do we know this guy really got robbed?" she asked. "He said he had no description. Sometimes they just want a complaint number—you know what I'm saying?—so if he don't wanna come back and talk to the squad, then that's it."

This policy was mentioned repeatedly starting last August. The sergeant repeated the directive on October 24. "If the complainant says, 'I don't want to go to the squad, I don't want to go to the squad,' then there's no 61, right?" she says. "We not going to take it, and then they say they're going to come in later on, and then the squad speaks to them and usually they don't want to come in."

She repeats the admonition again on October 27, and this time, a Lieutenant K. adds, "Don't take that report. That's it. It's over."

There's no reference to this policy in the NYPD Patrol Guide, the department bible of practices and procedures.

Retired detectives tell the Voice that the practice is highly questionable: "I've never heard of something like that," says Greg Modica, who retired in 2002 as a Detective First Grade after 20 years with the Manhattan Robbery Squad. "And I don't think the commissioner would care for it. If the complainant couldn't come in on the spot, patrol would take the complaint, turn it over to us, and we'd follow up.

"If the victim can't come in for some reason—maybe they have a babysitter at home or they have to work—you take the report and tell them the detectives will make an appointment to see them," he adds.

Modica and other ex-detectives say it simply isn't patrol's job to determine whether or not a victim is lying. Their job is merely to take the report and turn it over to the detective squad.

"You might get a feeling on the street, but that doesn't mean you don't take it," he says. "It's the detective's job to determine that. And anyway, [a false report] didn't happen that many times. Robbery is a very serious crime."

ALL OF WHICH BRINGS UP something known as a "callback"—which occurs when an officer or a detective makes a follow-up call to a crime victim, usually when he needs another piece of information or has to check his information. That's the traditional definition.

In the 81st Precinct, it meant something substantially different, Schoolcraft says. It meant calling a crime victim and questioning them closely on the details of their complaint with an eye toward downgrading it or scrapping it.

"It's, 'Are you sure you want to do this?' " Schoolcraft says, describing the practice. "Sometimes, it's, 'Have you ever been arrested?' or 'We're going to know if you're lying or not.' "

Mauriello himself and at least two of his lieutenants were doing their own callbacks.

Mauriello's involvement in callbacks is confirmed in an October 4, 2009, roll call, during which Lieutenant K. tells the officers, "Whether it's CO, Lieutenant L., or [Sergeant] M., they always do callbacks. So a lot of time, we get early information and they do callbacks."

"And then we look silly," Sergeant D. adds. "A woman says, 'Hey, my boyfriend stole my phone.' He didn't really steal the phone. It's his phone, and he was taking it. Did he snatch it out of her hand? Yeah. Is it a grand larceny? No, because I'm telling you right now the D.A. is not going to entertain that."

Modica and other retired detectives say they're stunned that a precinct commander and his aides would be calling crime victims directly and asking about their complaints. "I don't think he should be doing it," Modica says. "It's the detectives' job. If the captain comes up and says, 'It's not a robbery,' I say, 'That's OK, but we have a case, and it's up to us to investigate it now.' It makes you wonder whether they are doing it to cut down on statistics."

It's also unclear why a patrol sergeant would worry about what a prosecutor would do with a complaint, unless he was looking for a reason to reject it before it reached the prosecutor's desk.

"Whether a district attorney decides to take a case or not is not something for a precinct supervisor to worry about," says John Eterno, a retired NYPD captain who is now a professor of criminal justice at Molloy College. "He is making a judgment call based on what he thinks the D.A. will do. But the person made a complaint. That complaint needs to be taken."

THE NYPD HAS A UNIT THAT audits precinct crime stats, known as the Quality Assurance Division (QAD). The unit operates something like Internal Affairs, but is actually attached to the management and planning office.

On October 7, Schoolcraft was ordered downtown by QAD for a nearly-three-hour formal, on-the-record interview with an inspector, a lieutenant, and three sergeants.

Schoolcraft was advised that he could have an attorney represent him in the meeting, but he chose not to. It's also important to note that if he had lied during the interview, he could have been brought up on department or criminal charges. Plus, he was laying his career on the line by discussing misconduct he claimed to witness. He also supplied documentation of his claims. And the interview took place prior to his controversial suspension, and months before he spoke to the media. In short, he had little to gain and a lot to lose by speaking with the investigators.

Once again, Schoolcraft had brought along his audio recorder, and recorded the meeting without the knowledge of the others in the room. During the meeting, the QAD officers make some interesting off-handed observations about the extent of crime statistic manipulation in the precincts.

After a long description of how he does investigations, one of the supervisors says, "You know, I've been doing this over eight years. I've seen a lot. The lengths people will go to try not to take a report, or not take a report for a seven major [crime]. So nothing surprises me anymore."

The supervisor notes such instances can be criminal [falsification of business records], but district attorneys typically "don't want to touch" cases of officers manipulating statistics. "They'll give it back to the department to handle it internally," he says.

He goes on to note that, yes, precincts do downgrade reports: "We look at grand larceny because, as you know, they don't want to take the robbery," he says. "They punch a lady in the face, and they took her pocketbook, but they don't want to take that robbery, so they'll make that a grand larceny."

Schoolcraft tells the QAD officers that sergeants and lieutenants were berated for taking major crime reports. "Just about all of them, if they work patrol," he says. "When they come out, they say, 'It is what it is. It was a robbery—what could I do about it?' "

During the meeting, Schoolcraft provides documentation on an incident from December 5, 2008, that was initially taken as an attempted robbery—a teen reported that he was attacked by a gang of thugs who beat him and tried to take his portable video game—and later downgraded by a sergeant to an misdemeanor assault.

In the meeting, the QAD officers check their computer files and find that, indeed, the incident was classified as a misdemeanor assault.

Schoolcraft also provides documents from a June 29, 2009, auto theft report, in which the victim came in to obtain the report number, but no report existed. A sergeant told Schoolcraft to do a new report.

Schoolcraft tells the QAD officers that Mauriello came to the desk and told him, "I'm not taking this. Have the guy come in. I've gotta talk to him."

A couple of days later, the man arrived and was ushered into Mauriello's office. Mauriello interrogated the victim and his cousin. "There was yelling," Schoolcraft says. "They were in there for about 40 minutes. The cousin stormed out of the office yelling and screaming."

The stolen car complaint became an unlawful use of a motor vehicle, Schoolcraft said.

In another incident, an elderly man walked in off the street to report that someone had broken the lock on the cash box in his apartment and had stolen $22,000. When he reported the incident at another precinct, he was told that it was a "civil matter" and to call 3-1-1, the city's complaint hotline.

The desk sergeant told Schoolcraft to send the victim back to the other precinct because he was "loopy."

The Voice asked a retired detective about this incident. If it had been handled properly, he replied, someone would have checked his apartment for signs of a burglary. "Even if they don't believe the guy, it's still a crime," the ex-detective says. "You take the report. The detectives investigate it. They determine whether he was lying."

Among many other incidents Schoolcraft discussed were:

* A man walked in to report that he was choked unconscious and robbed of his wallet. He left with a slip that would allow him to renew his driver's license. Then, a detective came down and said, "If that guy comes back, don't let him upstairs."

* Another downgraded robbery from October 23, 2008: Two officers responded to a robbery and found a guy beaten up and bleeding. A lieutenant responded to the scene and said, "We can't take this robbery." It came in as a lost property.

Schoolcraft says he contacted the victim, who sent him a written statement detailing what had happened.

By the end of the meeting, Schoolcraft seems to have their attention. "I'm not looking to burn anyone," he tells the investigators. "What this is doing is it's messing with the officers. They're losing track of what's real and what's not real, what their duties are and what their duties aren't."

The investigators are heard pledging a thorough examination of the precinct's crime reports. "We're very serious about this, and we will do a thorough investigation," an Inspector H. says. "That, I can promise you." Later, he adds, "Personally, I appreciate you coming in and bringing this to our attention. I know it's not an easy thing to do."

After the meeting ends, a supervisor makes a couple of other off-handed comments to Schoolcraft, noting that the pressure to artificially lower crime statistics is fueled by the bosses downtown. "The mayor's looking for it, the police commissioner's looking for it . . . every commanding officer wants to show it," he says. "So there's motivation not to classify the reports for the seven major crimes. Sometimes, people get agendas and try to do what they can to avoid taking the seven major crimes."

It is unclear what direction the QAD investigation has headed, but a law enforcement source assured the Voice that it is ongoing. The source declined to detail any findings.

Curiously, after questions were raised earlier this year about the 81st Precinct statistics, crime there jumped by 13 percent.

That increase has remained steady, fueled chiefly by a huge 76 percent jump in felony assaults. That jump in assaults is far ahead of the citywide increase of 4.6 percent.

In the 81st Precinct, at least, it appears that assaults are no longer being downgraded since Schoolcraft blew the whistle.

Schoolcraft decided to give the tapes to the Voice out of frustration that his attempts to report questionable activities went largely ignored within the NYPD. Instead of the department acting on his complaints, he says, he was subjected to retaliation by precinct and borough superiors.

Three weeks after his meeting with QAD investigators, on October 31, Schoolcraft felt sick and went home from work. Hours later, a dozen police supervisors came to his house and demanded that he return to work. He declined, on health grounds. Eventually, Deputy Chief Michael Marino, the commander of Patrol Borough Brooklyn North, which covers 10 precincts, ordered that Schoolcraft be dragged from his apartment in handcuffs and forcibly placed in a Queens mental ward for six days.

Today, he lives upstate, north of Albany, and is still hoping that the department will take his concerns seriously.

THE VOICE SHOWED TRANSCRIPTS OF the roll calls to Eterno, the Molloy College professor who has, in the past, testified for the NYPD as an expert witness, and Eli Silverman, a John Jay College professor who wrote a 1999 book on NYPD crime fighting strategies that was well received in the department.

Earlier this year, Eterno and Silverman published a survey of retired NYPD supervisors, more than 100 of whom said the intense pressure to show crime declines led to manipulation of crime statistics. (That survey was roundly attacked by the NYPD, the mayor's office, and some commentators.)

"These tapes are an independent source of data that supports just about everything we found," Eterno said, speaking for both professors. "You're seeing relentless pressure, questionable activities, unethical manipulation of statistics. We've lost the understanding that policing is not just about crime numbers, it's about service. And they don't feel like they're on the same team. They are fighting each other. It's, 'How do I get through this tour, making a number, without rocking the boat?' "

"The pressure comes from the commanding officer, because of CompStat, and you're seeing the sergeants and lieutenants trying to deal with it and translate it into actionable terms."

And the police said Adrian Schoolcraft was crazy.

They whisked him off for psychiatric evaluation against his will. But the tapes reveal crazy behavior by the bosses of the nation's largest police force.

In the next "NYPD Tapes" article, the Voice will examine the effects of these behaviors on the community—particularly the campaign by the precinct commander to "clear" corners and buildings in the precinct, as well as staffing shortages, why stop-and-frisk numbers have skyrocketed, and how training requirements were fudged.

And, in another installment, we'll look at what happened to the whistleblower himself, Schoolcraft, when he dared to question what was going on around him.
Follow continuing coverage of the NYPD Tapes here at our Runnin' Scared blog.

In the summer of 2008, NYPD officers in Brooklyn's 81st Precinct embarked on an aggressive campaign to reduce crime by arresting citizens for doing no more than standing on certain street corners and building stoops.

This program emerges on the remarkable audio recordings the Voice began making public last week. Over a 17-month period ending in October 2009, police officer Adrian Schoolcraft secretly recorded conversations at Bedford-Stuyvesant's 81st Precinct, including 117 roll calls, during which superior officers like precinct commander Steven Mauriello can be heard instructing cops to arrest people for things like "blocking the sidewalk."

Supervisors told officers to make an arrest and "articulate" a charge later, or haul someone in with the intent of voiding the arrest at the end of a shift, or detain people for hours on minor charges like disorderly conduct—all for the purpose of getting citizens off the street. People were arrested for not showing identification, even if they were just a few feet from their homes. Mental health worker Rhonda Scott suffered two broken wrists during a 2008 arrest for not having her ID card while standing on her own stoop.

The precinct's campaign led to a 900 percent increase in stop-and-frisks in the neighborhood, which commanders demanded from officers in order to hit statistical quotas. It also resulted in several dozen gun arrests, hundreds of arrests on other charges, and thousands of summonses for things like disorderly conduct, trespassing, and loitering.

Defense attorneys and civil rights groups say Mauriello's instructions to his troops appear to have strained the limits of probable cause, and raise questions about the legality of the many arrests. The tactics, which are used in many other parts of the city, also caused an undercurrent of resentment among residents.

"The Police Department is using these numbers to portray themselves as being effective," says Marquez Claxton, a retired NYPD detective and the director of the Black Law Enforcement Alliance, which studies police issues. "In portraying that illusion, they have pushed these illegal quotas which force police officers to engage in illegal acts."

And all of it—the questionable arrests, the campaign of aggression—occurred with the added pressure of severe shortages in manpower and patrol cars. The tapes show that the shortages got so bad that some days the most effective way to fight crime was just to pray for rain.

In the first installment of "The NYPD Tapes," the Voice showed that police in this city are under enormous pressure from their superiors to meet quotas for writing tickets and collaring suspects on minor charges—and these pressures seemed to have nothing to do with what was actually happening in the precinct itself.

Bed-Stuy, for example, is a lot better off now than it was in the early- to mid-1990s. In 1995, there were 35 murders in the 81st Precinct. Last year, there were 13.

In recent years, the neighborhood has experienced gentrification and new construction. There are still sectors of the precinct, however, that are prone to shootings, robberies, and other types of street crime.

So precinct commander Mauriello ordered that certain street corners be cleared of people. Officers were told to ask people to move, and if they refused, to arrest them on some minor charge, such as disorderly conduct, hold them in the precinct cells for a few hours, and then release them.

Mauriello would often roam the precinct in his car. When he saw groups on particular corners, he would call in officers to arrest the people on low-level charges. These collars came to be called "Mauriello Specials."

On June 12, 2008, a sergeant tells the precinct's officers to make the arrests even if they have to cancel the charges at the end of their shift. "Guy's on the corner? You gotta leave. Bounce. Get lost," he says. "You'll void it later on in the night so you'll all go home on time."

On July 1, 2008, a sergeant tells his cops: "Be an asshole. They gonna do something, shine a light in their face. Inconvenience them. It saves trouble later on. Some of you with good activity are going to be moving up."

The following day, a precinct supervisor orders cops to make an arrest, when in the past, a dispute might have been talked out.

"The days of mediating between a perp and a store owner are over," a sergeant says on July 2, 2008. "If the guy is in the back with five sticks of deodorant, you gotta collar him," the sergeant says. "There's no more mediating."

By that July, Mauriello was a fixture in the roll calls at the start of the evening tour. "They wise off, they fucking push you, I expect them handcuffed, all right?" he says in a July 15, 2008, roll call, adding later, "Anybody gets stopped and it's a summonsable offense, I want them handcuffed and brought into the precinct. . . . zero tolerance."

Mauriello tells them that day that he wants block parties shut down after 8:30 p.m. "After 8:30, it's all on me and my officers, and we're undermanned," he says. "The good people go inside. The others stay outside."

Mauriello also targeted certain troubled buildings, such as 120 Chauncey Street, which he repeatedly said he wanted "blown up."

"I'm getting rocked today," Mauriello says on another day. "Since the midnight [shift], I've got five fucking robberies already and burglary assaults. So the game plan tonight is Operation Zero Tolerance. If they fuckin' break the law on the corner, I'm scooping them all up, putting them in the cells."

In the roll call on Halloween night 2008, Mauriello ordered the troops to pay special attention to 120 Chauncey. "Everybody goes. I don't care. You're on 120 Chauncey and they're popping champagne? Yoke 'em. Put them through the system. They got bandannas on, arrest them. Everybody goes tonight. They're underage? Fuck it."

He added: "You're on a foot post, fuck it. Take the first guy you got and lock them all up from 120 Chauncey. Boom. Bring 'em in. Lodge them. You're going to go back out and process it later on."

Later in the roll call, a lieutenant adds, "Jump out, ground-and-pound, 'cuff 'em up, and hand 'em off to somebody."

As the campaign went on into the winter of 2008, Mauriello seemed to be aware that there was some resentment in the community, but he justified the campaign by saying the "good people" were supportive.

"Fuck 'em, I don't give a shit," he says on November 8, 2008. "They are going to come to a community council meeting, yell at me, whatever, I know the good people over there are happy we have officers there."

A lieutenant follows up, telling the cops to be more aggressive. "If they don't move, they are going to get out of control and think that they own the block. They don't own the block. We own the block. They might live there, but we own the block. We own the streets here."

A similar order was given by a sergeant on November 23, 2008: "If they're on a corner, make 'em move. If they don't want to move, lock 'em up. Done deal. You can always articulate [a charge] later."

On December 9, 2008, Mauriello orders the officers to focus on a pizzeria. "No one hangs out there. Nobody. I want a ghost town. I want to hear the echo from one end of the street to the other. . . . That's your mission."

On March 13, 2009, a sergeant says, "Make 'em move. If they won't move, call me up, and lock them up, discon [disorderly conduct], no big deal. Leave them out there all night and come get them. The less people on the street, the easier our job will be."

On April 27, 2009, Mauriello tells officers to make the arrest, drop suspects at the precinct, go back out, and then come back later to process the arrests. "You bring 'em in here, leave 'em in the cells for a little while, go back out, do your job, and come back and release them outta there," he says. "If they're acting like assholes on the street, why should I rush them out of here?"

On July 21, 2009, Mauriello once again talks about destroying a troubled building: "I'm gonna burn that motherfucking place down. . . . Listen, let them shoot each other and we'll go clean up."

Judging by what superior officers say on the tapes, the rank-and-file cops weren't entirely happy with the policy of mass arrests.

"I know you don't want to take these shitty collars, but you can't let the CO [commanding officer] go over the air and no one answers the radio," a lieutenant tells the officers on February 27, 2009. "It's disrespectful and also could be a safety factor. . . . Unfortunately, he likes to work the majority of our tour because it's the busiest so you gotta do what you gotta do."

On March 28, 2009, a day after five robberies, a sergeant reminds officers that if Mauriello calls, they have to go to the scene and arrest people. "If you don't want the collar, too bad," a sergeant says. "If he calls for a car, somebody's gotta go. That's the way it is."

One problem with the "Mauriello Specials" was that the officers were at times being ordered to make arrests for misconduct that they hadn't actually witnessed—legally, a questionable practice.

In an October 14, 2009, roll call, a police union delegate warns officers about this: "Make sure you don't sign anything that says you witnessed the arrest if you didn't," he says. "There's been a lot of cases overturned, and officers now being brought up on perjury charges."

In another roll call from October 31, 2009, an officer warns other officers: "The D.A.'s Office is watching supporting depositions. They have one cop up on, like, eight counts of forging."

The larger problem with the precinct's strategy, however, was that it seemed to stretch the legal definition of the "probable cause" standard. Police officers need to witness illegal conduct to justify placing someone in handcuffs and detaining them for hours. An arrest without a clear justification under the penal code is illegal.

Grabbing someone for "blocking the sidewalk," for example, requires that the person actually block the sidewalk—not just stand on it.

Instead, officers were being asked to arrest citizens after having witnessed them doing nothing more than standing around, just to let them go a few hours later with no charges filed.

Defense attorneys question the legality of that strategy.

"Some of those statements are very damning," says Dino Lombardi, a defense attorney and former prosecutor. "I don't know how any commanding officer explains that in any way that passes muster. It's just 'Arrest them and we'll sort it out later.'

"No police expert or prosecutor is going to say it's permissible to arrest someone without a clearly articulated basis, and then articulate it later on," Lombardi adds. "It's absolutely a violation of criminal procedure law."

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, says officers can ask pedestrians their name, but they can't pat them down without suspicion of a crime, nor can they haul them into the precinct just to clear a corner.

"Standing on the corner doesn't become wrong because of which corner you're on and the color of your skin," she says. "And locking a guy up just to get him off the street is a flagrant violation of constitutional rights. Turning a community of color into a ghost town is not a law enforcement objective. The department opens itself up to massive civil rights lawsuits when it engages in this type of abusive policing."

Now two weeks into this series, the Voice still awaits a response from the NYPD.

A key tactic in the 81st Precinct's aggressive campaign was the stop-and-frisk, known to cops as a "UF-250," for the title of the form officers use to record them.

The "250" has become a ubiquitous tool used by police in New York City. More New Yorkers have been stopped and frisked each of the past three years—rising from 468,000 in 2007 to 575,000 last year.

The department justifies those numbers by saying stopping and frisking people is an effective way to fight crime. Officers are sent to do stop-and-frisks in troubled areas to respond to a rash of street crime.

However, close to 90 percent of those stopped are black or Hispanic, and a very small percentage of arrests—only 6 percent in 2009—result from them.

The 81st Precinct's stop-and-frisks more than quintupled from 774 in 2004 to 4,088 in 2006, and then doubled again to 8,108 in 2009—an 800 percent increase in six years.

Stops were used to move loiterers off corners and away from troubled buildings, the tapes indicate, but they were also done for the sake of getting the numbers, pleasing the bosses, and avoiding "negative attention."

In an October 12 roll call, a sergeant tells her troops: "If y'all try to do a canvass, try to get at least a couple of 250s and put robbery down just to say that we was out there. You stop somebody, get a 250. Go over, let them see y'all doing something about it or whatever. OK?"

She makes another reference to 250s in the roll call: "Just stop a couple of people, you know that," she says.

"Anybody walking around, shake them up, stop them, 250 them, no matter what the explanation is," a sergeant says in a December 8, 2008, roll call. "If they're walking, it doesn't matter."

Another sergeant on March 13, 2009: "How hard is a 250? I'm not saying make it up, but you can always articulate robbery, burglary, whatever the case may be. . . . It's still a number. It keeps the hounds off."

In another roll call, the officers are told that if they don't write more summonses and 250s, they will be moved. They are also told that when they do 250s, they should write a "C summons"—a citation for an actual crime—in order to justify the stop.

"When you do a 250, you should do C's and knock out both of those columns in your activity reports," a sergeant can be heard saying at a roll call. "Is that understood?"

The pressure for 250s was so great, Schoolcraft says, he witnessed officers in a patrol van at the end of the month simply filling in 250 forms just to hit the quota. He says officers would write that a person refused to give his name to avoid inventing a name. These were known in the precinct as "Ghost 250s." (A Bronx officer was once caught filing false 250s using names from gravestones in a cemetery near his precinct.)

In a July 2, 2008, roll call, a lieutenant is heard redressing officers for filing too many 250s without names. "We had ninety-six 250s, all refused," he says. "We can get some people refusing, but it can't be every 250 that you do."

Lieberman, the NYCLU's executive director, points out that as the number of stop-and-frisks has increased, the arrest rate from those stops has dropped. "When you demand a high stop rate, you get high stop rates, but the price is that hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers are subjected to police interactions. This is an unfortunate example of what happens when you go for the data and not for the results.

"The police have no business stopping people to 'shake them up,' " she adds. "I believe that is unlawful. That's not policing in a democratic society."

A former high-ranking NYPD official says that an officer's number of 250s should not be taken as a measure of his activity.

"If that's going on, that's stupid," he says. "You should be stopping people when you have reasonable suspicion. You should not be making out as many of those reports as you can, or getting credit for doing more of them."

But he also cautions that block parties do get out of control, and people congregating to drink or play dice can be a flashpoint for violence.

"Cops don't like to do quality-of-life enforcement," he says. "They want to make the sexy arrest. But the lower-level stuff is very important because if you let it go, it will lead to more violent crime."

At the same time, supervisors have to be careful about what they say to officers. "You have to show you're in control of the streets, but you also have to constantly remind the officers to do it the right way, so that they're not being asked to stretch the law," he says.

City Councilman Peter Vallone has asked Commissioner Kelly to stop keeping a database of the people stopped on privacy grounds.

The 81st Precinct's aggressive campaign resulted in 3,882 total arrests in 2008, and 4,189 arrests in 2009, state figures show.

But if overall arrests went up, arrests for serious crimes—felonies—were actually down. Felony arrests in the precinct dropped from 1,428 in 2007 to 1,373 in 2009. (Misdemeanor arrests climbed by 22 percent—from 2,308 in 2007 to 2,816 in 2009.)

Not surprisingly, the campaign also led to an increase in complaints against police officers. The Civilian Complaint Review Board reports that complaints in the 81st jumped 60 percent, from 80 in 2005 to 127 in 2009.

Mental health worker Rhonda Scott, 39, of Chauncey Street, says that on one day in 2008, she had just come back from returning a plate she'd borrowed from a neighbor, and was stopped and challenged by officers. Her ensuing arrest left her with two broken wrists, which put her out of work for seven months.

The incident took place on August 2, 2008, on Chauncey, east of Howard Avenue, records show. It was a warm night. There were a lot of people socializing on their stoops and on the sidewalks. Police were already on the block, evidently trying to move people from a stoop across the street.

She crossed the street to return the plate, but was stopped by an officer who she says told her to "be quiet."

She returned to her home and asked her boyfriend to obtain the officer's name and shield number. By the time the boyfriend returned, many more officers had arrived on the block.

Scott went outside and stood behind the gate on her property to watch what was happening. Two police cars had stopped in front of the house.

They asked for her ID, which she didn't have with her. She says the officers demanded that she show them ID or they would arrest her. She told the officers that she lived there, and asked a friend to check her car, parked across the street, for her driver's license.

Scott says the police didn't believe her, and as she stepped onto the sidewalk to help her friend find the ID card, one of the officers told her, "I'm locking your ass up."

Three officers twisted her wrists behind her back, cuffed her, and put her in the back seat. But she wasn't all the way inside, so an officer grabbed her by the hair and pulled her all the way in. She denies that she struggled with the officers.

She repeatedly asked to be taken to the hospital. She instead was taken to central booking after about 14 hours in a precinct cell. She finally saw a doctor on her own two days later.

"I've lived here my whole life, and I'm a part owner of this building," Scott says. "Yes, there are problems in the neighborhood, but they're treating us all like criminals, and we're not all criminals."

Scott's criminal case was closed with an "adjournment in contemplation of dismissal," which is a provision to dismiss charges if a suspect is not rearrested in the following six months (which she was not). Her civilian complaint was closed, with the Civilian Complaint Review Board siding with the officers.

Scott adds that her boyfriend recently got a ticket for blocking the sidewalk after he was stopped on his way to the corner store.

"If you're walking to the store, and you run into two friends and you're talking on the sidewalk, they'll stop you, put you in handcuffs, and take you to the precinct," she says.

Her brother-in-law, Alston Storey, blames police for not working harder to develop relationships with the precinct's residents. "You can't find a cop who has a relationship with people in this community," he says. "They figure if you live on this block, you're a bad person. But you got hardworking people out here. [The police] come through on an eight-hour shift to dig in people's pockets. They live on Long Island or wherever. You've got to know people."

Walking through the precinct, it isn't hard to find residents with opinions about the rash of arrests.

Robert Jones, 19, of Chauncey Street, says he has been stopped 14 times since the beginning of the year. "This is home for me, but you're trying to go inside or walking to the store, and they ask if you live there, what you're doing, and you get a ticket for blocking the sidewalk," he says. "You can't stand on the sidewalk and talk or sit on someone's stoop."

A young woman named Monique, who lives one block west at Chauncey and Ralph, says she has been stopped and questioned so many times that she has lost count. "Something like 22 times in a month," she says. "They harass you for sitting on your own stoop, and they take you if you don't have your ID."

Kim Carter, a manager of the Unisex Barber Shop on Howard Avenue, showed the Voice a summons she received for having too much cut hair on the floor just after Thanksgiving last year.

"I'm still going to court for it," says Carter, who has worked in the shop for 10 years. "I think it was wrong, and I think it was total harassment. They mess with the people who are working in the neighborhood."

And a little ways west, along Malcolm X Boulevard, there's Henry Rebaza, a 57-year-old security guard, who says he was given a ticket for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk for less than half a block. He says he was on his way to work.

Business owner Butch Johnson, 51, however, says Mauriello has been a help. "His tactics are unorthodox, but it gets the job done," he says. "I don't have a problem getting searched if I did nothing wrong. I don't mind him bending the rules some, because it's a hot zone."

On the west side of the Brevoort Houses, the Voice spoke with several people at 120 Chauncey, a development named for Jackie Robinson. This is the complex the precinct wanted "blown up."

Once known as a home for middle-class families, the complex has sharply deteriorated in recent years. For at least the past two years, it has been targeted as a troubled location by the police, who routinely place a stationary post outside in the evenings.

Since January 1, 2009, the complex owners have been slapped with 39 building complaints and two dozen violations. The elevators break down constantly, and the complex is listed as one of the city's worst elevator offenders. On a recent visit, the odor of marijuana was strong in the hallway, and someone had spilled a beer in the elevator.

In addition, residents have filed 55 complaints for no heat, no hot water, leaks, cracked ceilings, mold, roaches, and flies in the past year. City inspectors have issued 52 violations on the complex since 2003, including leaks, cracks, mice, bugs, garbage in the hallways, and broken door locks.

A resident named Andre Wade reached into his pocket and pulled out a summons for an arrest outside the complex on April 20, 2010. The officer hadn't even written a specific charge on the ticket.

"They pulled up on the sidewalk, and took four of us down to the precinct for nothing," Wade says. "They say you have a warrant, but when you get to the precinct, there's no warrant."

Another resident, E. Jackson, says he recalls one occasion when a precinct supervisor sang "Danny Boy" as his officers cuffed eight young men for standing outside 120 Chauncey Street.

Ron Hayes, 32, a basketball star at Boys and Girls High School who went to SUNY Farmingdale and played overseas, opted to return to 120 Chauncey with his wife and kids. He runs a small rap recording label called Chauncity Music Group.

Hayes says the police campaign has been too aggressive, and has failed to discern between gangbangers and folks just trying to live their lives: "A lot of these kids end up with criminal backgrounds for no reason," he says. "You take a good kid who ends up getting caught up in a sweep, and that's going to show up in a background check when he goes for a summer job or something else."

The aggressive policing strategy should be coupled with an effort to connect with the community, he says. There aren't a lot of outlets for young people.

"They come here and write tickets all day," he says. "Why not have Community Affairs come and work with the kids?—maybe that will change things."

Even after two years of the aggressive campaign, crime has risen so far this year by 11 percent compared to 2008. There have been eight murders in the precinct so far this year, compared to four at this point last year. Moreover, on several recent nights, the corners were still not clear of people.

Given the increase in killings, Hayes wonders whether the campaign is working.

"Don't you think it's time to change the tactics?" he asks.

The sheer number of arrests in the precinct's street-clearing campaign is all the more remarkable when you take into account just how shorthanded the 81st was.

Overall, the NYPD is down 6,000 officers since 2001. By one estimate, there are only half as many officers assigned to patrol than there were in 2001.

The decline has been caused by retirements and other attrition, and by shrinking budgets. But what also makes it tough to put cops on the street are the numerous work rules, special units, and special assignments and details, which draw officers away from their core duty of patrolling the precinct.

In 1999, the 81st Precinct had 201 uniformed officers. Last summer, that number was down to 171. But 47 of those officers were assigned to special units and 10 were executive staff, leaving 114 officers on patrol. Divided into three shifts, that leaves about 38 officers to work the streets at any one time.

But even that number is illusory. On any given shift, a third of the officers have the day off. Others have time off for other purposes, are on vacation, or are ill.

Plus, officers are constantly pulled away from their patrol duties to man parades, to work security at police headquarters, to write tickets for a special effort—like getting motorists to stop talking on their cell phones—and for many other reasons.

And they are pulled away to process arrests, transfer prisoners to central booking, meet with the district attorney, and babysit injured or sick prisoners at the hospital.

As a result, a typical day in the 81st Precinct had only three to nine officers patrolling the streets in an area of more than 60,000 people.

"Where is everybody?" a lieutenant wonders in an October 27 roll call. "This is going to be a bad month."

The tiny number of officers, the sergeant complains, means that they don't have enough people to spare two cops for the mobile surveillance tower known as Skywatch, compromising its law enforcement value. "We'd like to have two people assigned there," he says. "We don't have the luxury to do that. Today, once again, we have one, so the effectiveness of the Skywatch is not there."

And take October 19, 2009, for example, when a sergeant expresses his annoyance after his boss demands he send a cop to guard a vehicle where a gun had been found.

"He said, 'Put a body on it,' " the sergeant says. "He doesn't live in the real world. I didn't have any extra people to have them sit on a car."

In the same roll call, the sergeant says the precinct is so short-staffed that officers can't put in for time-off requests. "We don't have enough people, so it has to be," he says.

One way to deal with the shortage of bodies: pray for rain. "Hopefully, it will rain until 4 o'clock today," a sergeant is heard saying at one roll call. "That would be a big help to us, especially due to our limited manpower."

The shortage forced the precinct commanders to send out cops alone to staff some of the more dangerous corners in the precinct. During a recent visit to the precinct, the Voice observed a lone officer standing outside a bodega at Chauncey and Howard, considered one of the most
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