Outgoing NYPD Chief of Department Joseph Esposito testified in a federal-court challenge to stop-and-frisk practices Wednesday that he had never received a complaint of racial profiling from an individual who had been stopped.
After a decade of controversy over disproportionate targeting of minorities, the assertion prompted an incredulous reaction from U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, who is hearing the case. "You never had a complaint?" she interjected.
Esposito, who was the top-ranking uniformed officer from 2000 until his retirement last month, said, "I don't get it from individuals," although he had heard the complaint from the Civil Liberties Union and from elected officials.
"You never heard it from a community organization?" the judge asked.
"From community people, no," testified Esposito, a plain-spoken 44-year veteran. " . . . I have not had anyone come and tell me 'I was stopped because of my skin color.' I have heard it from Al Sharpton's group."
Street stops grew sevenfold to more than 600,000 annually under Esposito. Scheindlin is considering claims that police illegally stop people with less than the "reasonable suspicion" required by law, producing an arrest or summons in only one of 10 stops, and targeting minorities 80 percent of the time.
During two days of testimony, in addition to denying racial profiling complaints, Esposito attributed a significant part of the growth in stops to cops being more diligent in filling out their paperwork, and said he relied on a talented cadre of precinct-level supervisors to weed out officers making unjustified stops.
The plaintiffs argue that a numbers-driven approach to policing at headquarters led to a quota system that produced abuses. Lawyer Jonathan Moore told reporters that Esposito's testimony suggested he was an uninquisitive manager who "had his hands over his ears for the last twelve years."
"He demonstrated why there has to be a wholesale change," Moore said. "For him to say that because we have good supervisors there's no problem with stop-and-frisk is just putting his head in the sand."
Esposito, like previous police witnesses, said that the skewing of stops toward blacks and Hispanics reflected crime patterns and demographics, not profiling. He said that, while every stop was based on reasonable suspicion, "young men of color in their late teens and 20s" were the people who were most often shot and most often identified as shooting suspects. "When we're out there we're going to try and prevent them from getting shot," he said.
Esposito said some efforts by police brass to monitor precinct data -- like the numbers of stops, and number of stops per officer -- in so-called Compstat sessions were to make sure cops were working hard, not to motivate cops to make unnecessary stops.
"You have 10 percent that will work as hard as they can," the ex-chief said. "You have 10 percent on the other side that are complete malcontents who will do as little as possible."