Secret Tape Has Police Pressing Ticket Quotas

The New York Times | September 9, 2010
By Al Baker and Ray Rivera

For nearly every New Yorker who has received a summons in the city — caught at a checkpoint monitoring seat-belt use, or approached by a small army of police officers descending on illegally parked cars — quotas are a maddening fact of life.

No matter how often the Police Department denies the existence of quotas, many New Yorkers will swear that officers are sometimes forced to write a certain number of tickets in a certain amount of time.

Now, in a secret recording made in a police station in Brooklyn, there is persuasive evidence of the existence of quotas.

The hourlong recording, which a lawyer provided this week to The New York Times, was made by a police supervisor during a meeting in April of supervisors from the 81st Precinct.

The recording makes clear that precinct leaders were focused on raising the number of summonses issued — even as the Police Department had already begun an inquiry into whether crime statistics in that precinct were being manipulated.

The Police Department’s chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne, did not respond Thursday to three e-mails and three phone calls requesting comments on the tape. He was sent extensive excerpts from the recording.

On the tape, a police captain, Alex Perez, can be heard warning his top commanders that their officers must start writing more summonses or face consequences. Captain Perez offered a precise number and suggested a method. He said that officers on a particular shift should write — as a group — 20 summonses a week: five each for double-parking, parking at a bus stop, driving without a seat belt and driving while using a cellphone.

“You, as bosses, have to demand this and have to count it,” Captain Perez said, citing pressure from top police officials. At another point, Captain Perez emphasized his willingness to punish officers who do not meet the targets, saying, “I really don’t have a problem firing people.”

The recording is the latest in a series of audiotapes from the precinct that have raised concerns among community leaders and residents of the neighborhoods it covers, Brownsville and Bedford-Stuyvesant. Those Brooklyn residents contend that the tapes show a department fixated on the number of summonses and low-level arrests, and that the result is a pattern of harassment.

Critics say this is the flip side of CompStat, the Police Department analysis system that has been credited with bringing down major crimes but faulted as creating a numbers-driven culture.

Police officials have long denied the existence of a quota system, but they add that they do have “performance goals” they expect officers to meet.

A previous set of recordings of station-house roll calls was made in 2008 and 2009 by Patrol Officer Adrian Schoolcraft, who has filed a lawsuit against the department claiming retaliation after he reported accusations to the Internal Affairs Bureau.

Officer Schoolcraft accused supervisors in the precinct of manipulating crime statistics and enforcing ticket and arrest quotas, which are a violation of state labor law.

The accusations are at the center of a broad internal investigation of how the precinct recorded crime statistics. Amid the inquiry, Deputy Inspector Steven Mauriello, who had been the commander at the 81st Precinct, was transferred in July to a transit district in the Bronx.

The latest recording was made on April 1, as the internal inquiry was under way, and after some of Officer Schoolcraft’s allegations had become public in The Daily News and The New York Post.

Inspector Mauriello invoked Officer Schoolcraft’s name at the April 1 meeting, as he warned precinct leaders about “rats coming out of here wearing tape recorders.”

The person who made the recording gave it this week to Officer Schoolcraft’s lawyer, Jon L. Norinsberg, in an effort to show that Officer Schoolcraft, who has been suspended from the force, was not alone.

“He wanted to do anything in his power to support Schoolcraft, and I think this is his way of corroborating Schoolcraft’s allegations,” said Mr. Norinsberg, who said the new recordings would be used as evidence in his case. “It is evidence the quota system is ongoing. Subsequent to the public revelations that have taken place, it’s business as usual in the N.Y.P.D.”

At one point in the new tapes, Inspector Mauriello introduced Captain Perez, who the supervisor said was second in command, as someone who “wants his summonses.”

“They’re counting seat belts and cellphones; they’re counting double parkers and bus stops,” Captain Perez said, referring to types of low-level summonses typically tracked by the department’s TrafficStat program. “If day tours contributed with five seat belts and five cellphones a week, five double-parkers and five bus stops a week, O.K.

“Your goal is five in each of these categories, not a difficult task to accomplish on Monday,” he added. “If it’s not accomplished by Monday, you’ve got to follow up with it on Tuesday. But there’s no reason it can’t be done by Thursday. So whatever I get by Friday, Saturday, Sunday is gravy. I’m not looking to break records here, but there is no reason we should be losing this number by 30 a week.”

Losing by 30 a week refers to a decline in the activity as reflected in departmental CompStat reports, which tally the weekly summons totals and the year-to-date totals for every command, said the person who made the recording. He spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation and of risking his standing with people in the department.

Asked if the conversations were evidence of a quota, he said, “Absolutely,” adding that he had seen evidence of it in several boroughs.

He added that his concerns about the precinct’s integrity led him to begin recording meetings, well before he had ever met Officer Schoolcraft.

Roy T. Richter, the president of the Captains Endowment Association, said he did not believe that what Captain Perez, a member of his union, said “articulates a quota.”

From several references in the new recording, and in a separate recording made after April 1 and given to Officer Schoolcraft’s lawyer, it is clear that Inspector Mauriello and other supervisors were out to push underproducing officers — and punish them if they did not deliver.

“What I plan on doing — three cops are getting bounced to midnights, and three midnight cops are getting bounced to day tours,” Captain Perez said in the April 1 meeting.

“I don’t care about people’s families, if they don’t want to do their job,” he said. “Their paycheck is taking care of their family. If they don’t realize that, they’re going to change their tour; they’re going to start being productive if they want a tour that works for their family.”

He explained how punishment for failure would proceed.

“After I bounce you to a different platoon for inactivity, the next thing is to put you on paper, start rating you below standards and look to fire you,” Captain Perez said on the tape.

“I really don’t have a problem firing people,” he continued. “I don’t need to carry you. So that’s the attitude that you’ve got to sell to the cops.”

At one point in the second recording, made after the tapes by Officer Schoolcraft were put online in May by The Village Voice, Inspector Mauriello told supervisors to get officers out of squad cars and onto the streets.

People in the community “think cops are on the take,” Inspector Mauriello said. “I know it ain’t true, but that’s what they say: ‘Man, I need help. I got drug dealers in front of my house, and they’re in their car and they’re not getting out, not moving them.’ ”

He also told supervisors not to emphasize specific numbers, even while pressing their officers for more activity. And at one point, he made clear the pressure he felt from his bosses.

“I’m going to get beat up,” Inspector Mauriello said. “Everybody took a shot at me at CompStat, like a piñata last time, so I’m expecting that again.”