ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This week in New York City, a federal judge is hearing a lawsuit challenging the police department's stop-and-frisk policy. In court, police officers have described how they were ordered to increase their number of arrests, summons, and what are known as 250's, the code for stop, question and frisk.
NPR's Margot Adler has been in the courtroom.
MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: Some five million street stops of mostly black and Latino men have taken place in this city in the last decade. The city contends they have made New York safer, leading to record low crime rates, and that they take place in areas where crime is often minority on minority. The plaintiffs contend the policy pressured police officers to increase their street stops and their supervisors and union reps only cared about numbers.
In opening statements, the city said there were safeguards in place and these were simply performance goals. Not so, says Jonathan Moore, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
JONATHAN MOORE: This is about quotas. At the end of the day it is about quotas. That's why there is such an epidemic in these communities of people getting stopped and frisked because the police are told to get numbers. And they're not interested in the numbers of radio runs or who they help. They're interested in arrests, summons and 250s.
ADLER: Adhyl Polanco, an eight-year police veteran, testified that his supervisors in a Bronx precinct in 2009, insisted on 20 summons, five street stops and one arrest per month. If you didn't make that number, he said, you could be denied days off, overtime and given a poor evaluation. Polanco said officers who didn't make their quotas were some times forced to, quote, "drive their supervisors," who would make them give out summons and make street stops, sometimes of people they had not even observed.
Polanco and a second witness, Pedro Serrano, a nine-year police veteran from a different Bronx precinct, taped discussions with supervisors during the daily roll call. They are hard to hear and include a wealth of foul language. Here's an excerpt.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Twenty and one is what the union is backing up.
ADLER: You hear a supervisor saying that the goal is at least one arrest per month and 20 summons and the union is backing this up. In a later recording, a supervisor says this is nonnegotiable, and if you don't do what's required you could become a pizza delivery man.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Things are not going to get any better. It is going to get a lot worse. And if you think 1-and-20 is (CENSORED) breaking your (CENSORED), guess what you are going to be doing? You're going to be doing a lot more than what you think.
ADLER: Officer Polanco said his supervisors did not think breaking up fights, ending domestic disputes, and other police duties were as important as the numbers. In cross-examination, the city's lawyers tried to show that in Polanco's monthly reports - from January through August of 2009 - he had never fulfilled this quota and he was not punished in any way. But later, he was suspended with pay over a different incident and his case is still being reviewed.
Darius Charney is a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights that brought the class action suit.
DARIUS CHARNEY: Even if you discredit officer Polanco, the recordings say what they say. And you hear actual supervisors on these recordings, you know, saying this is mandatory, it's not negotiable; you need to do this, if you don't do it, you know, find yourself another job.
ADLER: The second officer, Pedro Serrano, told similar stories and said he was called a rat by his fellow officers and rodent stickers were put on his locker.
The lawyers for the plaintiffs contend these orders filtered down from the top. That assertion will clearly be argued by both sides in what may be a six-week trial.
Margot Adler NPR News, New York.
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