midst our handwringing over police corruption, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there are police officers who jeopardize their safety and careers to expose racial profiling, arrest quotas and other legal and ethical lapses within the NYPD. A reminder of that came yesterday when a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit of an officer who alleged he was being retaliated against for complaining internally about arrest quotas. In his lawsuit, Officer Craig Matthews alleged that the illegal quotas in place at the 42nd precinct have led to harsh punishments for officers who don’t meet them. Matthews sought in the suit to end the retaliation he had experienced and to be awarded money, on the grounds that his supervisors were violating his First Amendment rights. Judge Barbara Jones of the Southern District of New York dismissed his suit, saying that his speech wasn’t protected by the First Amendment because his speech was job-related.
Face. Palm. Depression.
The New York Civil Liberties Union plans to appeal the decision. Its associate legal director, Christopher T. Dunn, told The New York Times, “The court’s ruling that police officers have no First Amendment protection when they disclose serious police misconduct not only betrays the Constitution, but is also disastrous for the public’s ability to learn about hidden police scandals.”
Matthews is one a growing chorus of NYPD officers complaining about police violation of civil rights and one of the 5 we believe deserve kudos.
1. Officer Craig Matthews says he was humiliated by his supervisors in front of other cops and assigned especially dangerous duties, such as transporting several prisoners without the standard number of back-up officers, according to the New York Dailey News. He says officers who complain about the illegal quotats are punished with undesirable assignments and lose overtime hours.
2. Officer Frank Palestro, a union delegate for his precinct, reported an allegedly corrupt lieutenant to Internal Affairs. Palestro fingered Lt. Susana Seda, whom he says ordered cops to write summonses for traffic violations they did not witness, refused to take crime complaints and tampered with a gun at a crime scene. For his safety, Palestro was transferred to another command after his identity was revealed.
3. Former Officer Vanessa Hicks alleges in a lawsuit she filed in May that the NYPD fired her for repeatedly failing to meet unrealistic and illegal quotas. The demands placed on her ratcheted up after she clashed with a sergeant, she says. She alleges that her superiors gave her quotas requiring her to ticket drivers for moving violations while she was assigned to foot patrol.
4. Officer Adrian Schoolcraft is perhaps the best well-known of the recent whistleblowers. He secretly taped 117 roll calls at the 81st precinct in Bed Stuy Brooklyn, as well as many other conversations with his fellow cops that show a pattern of police downgrading crimes, intimidating crime victims, and enforcing quotas for writing tickets and performing stop-and-frisks. In a series called “The NYPD Tapes” the Village Voice made those recordings public. In one recording, a superior officer says during roll call that he wants policing so aggressive that no one is left in the streets: “I want a ghost town. I want to hear an echo from one end of the street to the other. You understand, that’s what I want in a perfect world. So that’s your mission.” After Schoolcraft blew the whistle, fellow officers came to his apartment one day and committed him to a psychiatric ward for 6 days, costing him over $7,000. He has been suspended from his job without pay.
5. Officer Adil Polanco reported to Internal Affairs and complained to his superiors that officers at the 41st precinct were being ordered to make arrests and write summons for misconduct they hadn’t actually witnessed. He also reported his objections to ticket-writing quotas and demands for stop-and-frisks, which he thought violated the civil rights of black and hispanic youth, according to the Village Voice. He also reported the corruption allegations to the media. The department responded by accusing him of insubordination and he is now fighting those charges.
With so many of these officers fighting in court to have their names cleared and receive damages, it’ll be interesting to see whether the court cases will help bring about any watershed changes in the department.