A police sergeant in a high-crime Brooklyn precinct urged officers to produce high numbers of street stops to satisfy supervisors and "keep the hounds off," according to a secretly recorded tape played Thursday in a federal trial challenging NYPD stop-and-frisk tactics.
"The less people on the street the better for us," the sergeant said during a roll call in Bedford-Stuyvesant, before referencing the "UF-250" form police use to record stop-and-frisks. "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."
The tapes were played in federal court in Manhattan, where U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin is considering whether to rein in stop-and-frisk tactics. Street stops have quintupled during the Bloomberg administration, but triggered complaints that police have put minority neighborhoods under siege.
The lawsuit charges that stops are initiated without the reasonable, articulable suspicion that a crime is afoot required by the Supreme Court, and disproportionately target blacks and Hispanics. More than 80 percent of stops involve minorities. The city contends they are a key component of a "proactive" policing approach.
The plaintiffs say the tapes from Brooklyn illustrate how a numbers-driven NYPD culture at headquarters eroded constitutional standards on the street. They were recorded by Officer Adrian Schoolcraft in the 81st Precinct in 2008 and 2009. Schoolcraft has been suspended without pay and has a lawsuit pending against the city. He is not expected to testify.
In more than a dozen recordings played Thursday, various supervisors repeatedly urged patrol officers to improve the activity numbers to avoid negative scrutiny from higher-ups. On one tape, a supervisor said, "If you don't want to be on foot patrol, grab someone . . . Stop someone."
Commanders told their cops to "get all the -- -- riffraff off the corners," and show that "they don't own the block, we own the block" on some tapes. On others, bosses sarcastically told the patrol officers targets should be easy to find.
"You're not working in midtown Manhattan where everybody's walking around smiling and being happy," one supervisor said. "You're working in Bed-Stuy where everyone's probably got a warrant."
Before the tapes were played Thursday, Bronx cop Pedro Serrano finished testifying about a quota system for stops and tearfully explained why he opposed unjustified stops.
"As a Hispanic walking in the Bronx, I've been stopped many times," he testified. "I promised that as an officer I would respect everyone to my abilities. I just want to do the right thing."