Oh, You Mean Those Quotas

The NYPD stop-and-frisk controversy grows.

In March, I wrote a column detailing a number of credible accusations made against the New York City Police Department (NYPD) for instituting a quota system for arrests and for stop-and-frisk searches. At the same time, additional allegations charged higher-ups in the department with actively discouraging crime victims from reporting crimes—as well as downgrading felonies to misdemeanors—in order to make the city's crime statistics look better. Taken together, these allegations painted an ugly picture of New Yorkers being stopped, hassled, and frisked for either petty offenses or for no offense at all, while the victims of acutal crimes faced unsympathetic law enforcement officials.

The quota allegations stemmed from several audio recordings made by Officer Adil Polanco of instructions given to him and other officers by various superiors. When the recordings surfaced, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said officers are encouraged to meet "goals," but denied the existence of arrest or citation quotas. As for the charge that the NYPD was burying reports of actual crime, those allegations came from a survey of retired high-ranking NYPD officers conducted by two Molloy College criminologists. The NYPD dismissed the study, while critics such as the Manhattan Institute's Heather Mac Donald called it "irredeemably flawed."

Now comes another set of recordings from another New York precinct that validates both the Molloy study and Polanco's allegations. Earlier this month, the Village Voice obtained over 100 recordings of roll call meetings in Brooklyn's 81st precinct made by Officer Adrian Schoolcraft. They're damning.

Schoolcraft, for example, recorded a fellow officer lamenting that he'd been instructed to downgrade a car theft to "unauthorized use of a vehicle," as well as to find a way around reporting the thefts of a cell phone and video game system. In another recording, Schoolcraft captured the results as he voiced his concerns about crime stats manipulation to a unit within the department that audits such data. One officer with the unit acknowledged the political pressure to juke the stats. "The mayor's looking for it, the police commissioner's looking for it...every commanding officer wants to show it," he said. "So there's motivation not to classify reports for the seven major crimes."

In other words, the statistical manipulation extends beyond property crimes. Journalist Debbie Nathan, who was sexually assaulted in a city park last February, says that she was shocked to learn that the officers who wrote up her report classified the crime as a misdemeanor. It was later upgraded to a felony, but only after Nathan went to the district attorney. And according to the DA's investigation, the six officers who responded to Nathan's attack admitted leaving key portions of her story out of the report. As Nathan told the Village Voice, rape crisis centers throughout New York City have documented similar complaints from victims of sexual assault.

Schoolcraft also documented evidence of the hard quotas officers had to meet with respect to both arrests and citations. As the Voice summarized:

Police officers were routinely threatened with discipline (transfers, shift changes, partner changes, and assignment changes) by their superiors if they did not make their monthly quota of summonses, stop-and-frisks, arrests, and community visits.

Officers were instructed to arrest people for "blocking the sidewalk," for not possessing ID (even while just feet from their homes), even for no reason at all (cops were told to "articulate" a charge at a later time). The cops were told to make arrests even if they knew they'd be voiding the charge at the end of their shifts. As a sergeant implores in one recording, "Again, it's all about the numbers."

About those numbers: While only about one tenth of 1 percent of the stops yielded a gun (at present it's nearly impossible to legally carry a gun in New York), the practice has helped drive up the city's marijuana arrests from 4,000 in 1997 to 40,000 in 2007. Marijuana for personal use was actually decriminalized in New York during that period. But you still can't display your pot in public. So the police simply stop people, trick them into emptying their pockets, and then arrest them for displaying marijuana in public.

This is the natural progression of two related policing trends in New York: Broken Windows, which posits that cracking down on petty crime leads to a reduction in more serious crime, and COMPSTAT, a data-driven method of policing. There's debate over the effectiveness of both policies, but even if they do work to drive down crime, it's important to understand the political realities of the institutions that are using them.

Politicians want lower crime rates. This is the demand they make of the police officials who report to them. If your policing philosophy is Broken Windows, and your method of accountability is COMPSTAT, over time there will be a natural pull on the police department to enforce increasingly petty offenses and to manipulate data on more serious crimes. The department brass knows they're evaluated on the serious crime rate, and they've bought into the idea that the best way to control the serious crime rate is to aggressively enforce the low-level stuff.

In addition to the obvious civil liberties concerns about stopping, arresting, and holding people for non-crimes, these practices also poison police-community relations, particularly among minority groups. Harass people for non-crimes while brushing off actual crimes, and the people are eventually going to lose trust in law enforcement. Blacks and Latinos made up an incredible 90 percent of the stop-and-frisks in 2009, yet the arrest rate among those stopped was about the same as that of whites. (It isn't clear how many arrests led to actual convictions.) And while the city's crime rate has dropped dramatically since the early 1990s, the stop-and-frisk phenomenon is relatively recent and growing fast. The rate has tripled since 2003.

Unfortunately, the current political class in New York has bought into the idea that these policies are responsible for the drop in crime. It seems odd to say that it will take an unusually conscientious politician to call for a crime policy that doesn't involve suppressing real crimes, manufacturing fake ones, and harassing the citizenry. But that is precisely what it will take.

Radley Balko is a senior editor at Reason magazine.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    Geez, guys, give the cops a break. They can't pay the rent issue tickets and fines if they're busy checking on actual crime. They're not super heroes!

  • ||

    And how much revenue do arrests for petty things like rape and robbery produce?

  • mutter... mutter...||

    troubling... troubling....

  • Kroneborge||

    I still can't believe those stop and frisks are consitutional. Just goes to show how far we've fallen.

  • ||

    just because the Supreme court says it is doesn't mean the founders would aggree

  • ||

    I still can't believe those stop and frisks are consitutional.

    They aren't.

    -jcr

  • ||

    Reminds me of a line in a W.C. Fields movie.

    Actor: "Is this a game of chance?"

    Fields: "Not the way I play it, no."

    Stop and frisk is ok when the cop has a reason to suspect something illegal. It's for his/her protection. But what do you do when you can't trust the cops? Sounds like the makings of an alternate history novel. Fire fighters used to get paid by the fire and according to which fire company put it out. It resulted in fire fighters fighting each other and engaging in arson.

    Can you picture NYC trying to replace its whole police force--especially when they have to belong to this union?

    Politicians and Unions--if they didn't have each other they'd have to turn to organized crime to steal from the public. Of course, maybe they ARE organized crime. It's just a matter of semantics.

  • ||

    They aren't but the cops can just claim the person consented to a search. Sometimes people do consent because they feel bullied and powerless to refuse. Other times they do refuse and the cops just lie and claim consent.

  • ||

    The other day I read an article that made the case that Chicago *needed* to make guns illegal, because it made Stop-and-Frisk so effective: a cop could see someone with a bulge and stop them.

    I found this line of reasoning very offensive! The person was saying that we needed to infringe on our second amendment right so that infringements on our fourth would be so much easier.

    Never mind that, if it were legal to carry a gun, there would be no need to consider that bulge "suspicious".

  • ||

    I can't believe how anyone has bought "we don't have quotas"...ever.

  • ||

    We already pay protection money to these guys. Why do they keep shaking us down?

  • ||

    Look, ProL, I pay off to you every month like a green grocer--a lot more than the schmatta--and I'm sick of getting the high hat.

  • ||

    Ah, old Coen brothers. Nice. Exactly the analogy I was going for. I pay my taxes, Blue Mob. Back the fuck off.

  • ||

    Actually making a government worker achieve some level of production is a positive. It's just too bad that it's the police department.

  • André||

    Zing!

  • ||

    I guess you heard the joke about the bureaucrat who rubbed the lamp and got three wishes. His third wish was "I wish I never had to work another day in my life" and he reappeared in his office at his desk.

  • No Name Guy||

    A classic case of managing to the chosen metrics. Never mind if it makes sense doing so. But hey, instead of actually fighting crime and criminals, we can just push those numbers down (or up) with a little fiddling instead of doing the hard work.

  • Anonymous Backstabber||

    rape crisis centers throughout New York City have documented similar complaints from victims of sexual assault.

    This aspect alone seems worthy of a high-level headrolling or two.

  • Some Guy||

    I wouldn't be upset if the police commissioner was butt-raped by a victim who was told to fuck off.

    I would absolutely jury nullify that.

  • ||

    Wow, thats pretty sad isnt it? Can you imagine?

    Lou
    www.total-anonymity.se.tc

  • WTF||

    SRSLY!! LOL!!

  • Chris||

    I don't agree with the stop-and-frisk, but if they're going to do it, I'd think that and equal likelihood of arrest among any identifiable group would be evidence that they're doing it right, statistically. That is, that they likelihood of a person being harassed by the police is proportional to the likelihood of that person being liable of arrest.

    If the stop-and-frisks are done purely at random, and the arrest decision is made objectively, than equal arrest rates among groups is evidence of equal offense rates among groups.

    But if minorities are 9x more likely to be subjected to stop-and-frish, then the decision on who to stop and frisk is clearly not random. In this case, equal arrest rates indicate that the cops' hunches are equally [in]accurate for each group. If they were to stop fewer minorities, it would mean acting only on their strongest hunches, and presumeably they'd be right more often, and have a higher arrest rate. Or if they stopped more whites, they'd be acting on weaker hunches and the arrest rate would go down for whites.

  • ||

    Your analysis isn't worth much in cases where a "person being liable of arrest" is unrelated to anything except the officer's need to meet his quota from arrests. Did you miss this part Balko's post: Officers were instructed to arrest people for . . no reason at all (cops were told to "articulate" a charge at a later time). The cops were told to make arrests even if they knew they'd be voiding the charge at the end of their shifts.

  • ||

    Here are the crime data: blacks committed 66 percent of all violent crimes in the first half of 2009 (though they were only 55 percent of all stops and only 23 percent of the city’s population). Blacks committed 80 percent of all shootings in the first half of 2009. Together, blacks and Hispanics committed 98 percent of all shootings. Blacks committed nearly 70 percent of all robberies. Whites, by contrast, committed 5 percent of all violent crimes in the first half of 2009, though they are 35 percent of the city’s population (and were 10 percent of all stops). They committed 1.8 percent of all shootings and less than 5 percent of all robberies. The face of violent crime in New York, in other words, like in every other large American city, is almost exclusively black and brown. Any given violent crime is 13 times more likely to be committed by a black than by a white perpetrator—a fact that would have been useful to include in the Times’s lead, which stated that “Blacks and Latinos were nine times as likely as whites to be stopped.” These crime data are not some artifact that the police devise out of their skewed racial mindset. They are what the victims of those crimes—the vast majority of whom are minority themselves—report to the police.

  • Fluffy||

    The data about the drop in the NYC crime rate has always been fishy.

    NYC experienced about the same drop in crime as every other major metropolitan area - but the stated perception of safety among New Yorkers increased much more than the average.

    I've long suspected that New Yorkers were made to feel safer, not by an extraordinary or unusual drop in the real crime rate, but by the visible abuse that was inflicted on minority males. It just made people FEEL better to see black kids harassed. It was security theater before there was security theater.

  • Brett L||

    Meh. They certainly moved it out of the tourists' view. Times Square and the subway had the aggressive grifters run off. Last time I was there, I had one guy hit up one subway car for change and it was like the Disney version. He said his little speech and moved on down the line.

  • Robert||

    This is the first I've heard that Debbie Nathan was sexually assaulted. That's like...poetic gold. It's like when Dillinger robbed a police station. Sucks for her, though.

  • FUCK||

    YOU

  • People Power Hour||

    Yeah...it sucks it wasn't you....

  • Hunter||

    Lots of interesting stuff at that web site linked off your name, isn't there?

  • ||

    It was consensual!

  • ||

    You drag a twenty-dollar bill through a newsroom, what do you think you're gonna get?

  • ||

    I'm standing by my man.

  • Sandy Berger||

    Have you been throwing gobs of Elmer's glue on the back of my suit again?

  • ||

    the Manhattan Institute's Heather Mac Donald

    There's somebody whose head I wouldn't mind seeing in a wicker basket.

  • jacob||

    She's not a bad writer, but the gist of her writing is that "blacks should not be pissed off about police brutality."

  • Eric||

    You misspelled actual in the 1st paragraph: "while the victims of acutal crimes faced unsympathetic law enforcement officials."

    Good article though.

  • Richard Castle||

    I am going to write about this in my next Niki Heat novel.

  • PIRS||

    Is there some way we can stop with the Pingback spambots? This is FAR more annoying than the (by comparison) mild anonymity bots.

  • Robert Laptad||

    Hey man those are my bros ya know?? LOL

    Bob
    www.total-anonymity.se.tc

  • Max||

    Ah for the good old days when private cops ruled the roost. Fuck you, balko.

    The Pinkerton National Detective Agency, usually shortened to the Pinkertons, was a private U.S. security guard and detective agency established by Allan Pinkerton in 1850. Pinkerton became famous when he foiled a plot to assassinate president-elect Abraham Lincoln, who later hired Pinkerton agents for his personal security during the Civil War.[citation needed] Pinkerton's agents performed services ranging from security guarding to private military contracting work. At its height, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency employed more agents than there were members of the standing army of the United States of America, causing the state of Ohio to outlaw the agency due to fears it could be hired out as a private army or militia.[citation needed] Pinkerton was the largest private law enforcement organization.[1]

    During the labor unrest of the late 19th century, businessmen hired Pinkerton agents to infiltrate unions, and as guards to keep strikers and suspected unionists out of factories. The best known such confrontation was the Homestead Strike of 1892, in which Pinkerton agents were called in to enforce the strikebreaking measures of Henry Clay Frick, acting on behalf of Andrew Carnegie, who was abroad; the ensuing conflicts between Pinkerton agents and striking workers led to several deaths on both sides. The Pinkertons were also used as guards in coal, iron, and lumber disputes in Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania, as well as the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.

  • dhex||

    did it hurt?

    when you fell from heaven, i mean.

  • ||

    Max|5.17.10 @ 8:40PM|#
    "The best known such confrontation was the Homestead Strike of 1892, in which Pinkerton agents were called in to enforce the strikebreaking measures of Henry Clay Frick, acting on behalf of Andrew Carnegie, who was abroad; the ensuing conflicts between Pinkerton agents and striking workers led to several deaths on both sides."

    Max, as is obvious by now, you're a lying sack of shit.
    I refer you to "Meet You in Hell" (Standiford; certainly no 'capitalist tool'), ppg 156----.
    The Pinkertons attempted to defend the plant; they were attacked by union thugs.
    Let me revise my earlier comment: You're an sewer-sucking, brain-dead, lying sack of shit whose grasp of history approaches that of a kindergarten student.

  • Max||

    Go suck Ron Paul's cock, you right-wing piece of dog shit.

  • Sandy Berger||

    Spoken as one with a voice of experience, Max. Now get your pretty little mouth back on my pole where it belongs.

  • freedomonthetundra||

    Nice, well pointed come back there Max. Why would you actually argue facts? That would be ridiculous...no, ad hominem attacks are much better.

  • ||

    Ron L,

    I don't think you're being fair at all to kindergarten students.

    -jcr

  • ||

    Ahhh....an argument for Blackwater perhaps?? You want performance quotas? Go with contracted law enforcement.

  • Fluffy||

    Shorter Max: "I love me some racist cops!"

  • ||

    Even shorter:
    "I'm an ignoramus"

  • Alan Vanneman||

    Great, though greatly depressing article, Radley, but "Chris" is right. If the arrest rate is the same for whites versus blacks and Latinos, the cops aren't discriminating, presuming that they aren't arresting blacks and Latinos for crimes for which they let whites walk. Whether the arrest rate is high enough to justify the the whole stop and frisk procedure is another matter.

  • π||

    I haven't looked at the sources used for this, but this is from an article that was on city-journal dot org:

    "Here are the crime data that the Times doesn’t want its readers to know: blacks committed 66 percent of all violent crimes in the first half of 2009 (though they were only 55 percent of all stops and only 23 percent of the city’s population). Blacks committed 80 percent of all shootings in the first half of 2009. Together, blacks and Hispanics committed 98 percent of all shootings. Blacks committed nearly 70 percent of all robberies. Whites, by contrast, committed 5 percent of all violent crimes in the first half of 2009, though they are 35 percent of the city’s population (and were 10 percent of all stops). They committed 1.8 percent of all shootings and less than 5 percent of all robberies. The face of violent crime in New York, in other words, like in every other large American city, is almost exclusively black and brown. Any given violent crime is 13 times more likely to be committed by a black than by a white perpetrator—a fact that would have been useful to include in the Times’s lead, which stated that “Blacks and Latinos were nine times as likely as whites to be stopped.” These crime data are not some artifact that the police devise out of their skewed racial mindset. They are what the victims of those crimes—the vast majority of whom are minority themselves—report to the police."

    http://www.city-journal.org/2010/eon0514hm.html

  • Some Guy||

    But how is that relevant to the fact that it's a counterproductive waste of resources and flagrantly unconstitutional?

  • Sandy Berger||

    I was merely replying to the commenter's "if" question by sharing an article I recently read. Personally I find the stop and frisk as repulsive as everyone else. Although I've never suffered one of these incidents myself I have been through enough random DUI check points to know I don't want this type of law enforcement practice anywhere I live. It's my opinion both are clear constitutional violations.

    My apology if I caused any confusion.

  • π||

    Speaking for me now? Yeah, ditto that.

  • π||

    I might add that I'm from Arizona where it's a very rare thing to see a face on death row that isn't white, despite most violent crime being carried out by non-whites.

    If there is any racism involved it's a PC type that singles out whites for stiffer penalties.

    Nonetheless, quotas have never ever sat well with me, the very idea of quotas is disturbing for obvious reason. Law enforcement quotas have worldwide resulted in many unfortunate innocents suffering imprisonment and even death. I'm strongly opposed to implementation of any form of quota system, period.

  • ||

    Death Row penalties are often determined by the race of the victim, not the race of the perpetrator. Because the vast majority of murders are "intra-racial" and not "inter-racial"... I think that's why you'll see more white faces on death row. A white will often kill a white, a black will often kill a black.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    And yet, that bitch Carolyn McCarthy does not want to disarm the NYPD.

  • ||

    But does she want to take away their barrel shrouds?

  • ||

    Guns don't kill people. Bullets kill people.

  • π||

    The first instinct of power is to hold on to power...

  • ||

    Which explains why the most populous areas seem to trend Democrat over time. They're always for the little guy, and the working man, right? Never for those fat cat union officials and "civil servants," right?

    When big business CEOs become Democrats, you know that they've figured out how to get some competitive advantage from leveraging big government through lobbying and/or campaign contributions. Right?

    And when Republicans are in office too long, they start to think this is how politics has to be.

  • π||

    Republicans are not immune to the same temptations of power. And it's amazing how many CEOs are former Democratic administration members, especially in the news media. Giving and gaining leverage all literally by the same hand? If so not surprising, it's not called the sinister for no reason.

  • Some Guy||

    The entire chain of command needs to be purged of anyone who had any part in manipulating the crime data. If there were any justice, they'd be sent to jail for it themselves as accessories after the fact.

  • ||

    Isn't it a crime to file a false police report? That would include internal administrative reports, wouldn't it?

    -jcr

  • π||

    That would seem logical, but most likely not what they had in mind by "police report." The heads of these large law enforcement departments are politicians making them eligible for the "rules don't apply to us" program. Can't fry smaller fish in the chain who operated under their orders because it would reflect badly on the big fishes.

  • JoshINHB||

    So the douche bags that enabled stop and frisk and police lying about actual crimes are the same douche bags that are all worried about an AZ cops asking for DL at traffic stops?

    Classic.

  • ||

    The main priority for the NYPD are drug and gun arrests. I suspect this has to do with federal programs that guarantee a city federal funds for higher drug numbers.

    As for the other real crimes, the NYPD at a precinct level will try to focus on "crimes" that have a high clear rate. So they'll arrest hundreds of kids for "loitering:, knowing the kids will plead out to a misdemeanor (because they're poor and can't afford lawyers)

    Crimes such as theft, rape, grand auto; which are often hard to solve are avoided as much as possible. The Precinct Commander will direct his officers to discourage crime victims from reporting those crimes, or lower the charges; because unsolved crimes affects that stats at that precinct.

    It's sloppy lazy policing where innocents are charged with crimes and the guilty are often not even pursued. This is well known and has been encouraged by Mayor Bloomberg, Kelly, and Speaker Quinn.

  • ||

    Lies.Damn lies. Statistics.
    Figures lie. Liars figure.
    Politicians.

  • Discord||

    Is it useless to try and resist stop and frisk in NYC? Random searches at the WTC? I've been flirting with the idea of trying, but from some of the comments on this thread it seems that it has already been put to SCOTUS and we're all just fucked. Are there any lawyers on here that know?

  • ||

    Season 3 of The Wire -- minus Hamsterdam.

  • ||

    "Officers were instructed to arrest people for "blocking the sidewalk," for not possessing ID (even while just feet from their homes), even for no reason at all (cops were told to "articulate" a charge at a later time)."

    As we hear so much about the Arizona law about carrying ID, is it true in other states that not carrying ID is a crime????

  • ||

    Well, it's pretty clear that officers were being instructed to make arrests even when no laws were being violated. I'm not sure if an arrest for having no ID would fit this category, or if there is some obscure legal requirement for carrying around identification.

    But given the other behavior outlined here, it's certainly possible that it's just a fake charge used to boost arrest stats.

  • ||

    Well, crazy me - I thought you had to be suspected of breaking some actual law. Maybe even consequences (for the police) if police just detained you capriciously. Me obviously deranged for believe in Easter bunny, Santa Claus, and constitution.

  • Comrade Laissez Faire||

    This report reminds me of a tactic the U.S. Border Patrol has used for several decades, which consists of several agents being stationed at southbound U.S./Mexico pedestrian port of exit crossings to detain and ID (racially profile) "hispanic-looking" people carrying backpacks or luggage in particular to see if they are "illegals" returning on their own to Mexico. If such a person turns out to be undocumented, he or she is taken into custody and processed for deportation because it favorably (and easily) boosts the agency's apprehension stats without having to go out "wetback hunting" in the sticks.

  • ||

    This will always happen when the Production of Security, as Molinari put it,is left to the state.

    Minarchists such as Ludwig von Mises proposed to rein in the state in its legitimate functions through a rigid set of open, transparent bureaucratic rules. His book, Bureaucracy, is in fact, a quasi-defense of bureaucracy applied to the minarchist state. This is, IMHO, hopelessly Utopian.

  • grzegorz||

    If proportion of arrests among Blacks/Latinos is the same as among whites than everything is ok, despite the fact that 90 per cent of stop-and-frisk cases are Blacks/Latinos. If the proportion was lower it would mean that they are racialy targeted, but in the circumstances it just means that they are much more probably to be suspects of some crime (provided that arrests lead to convictions in similar proportions).

  • ||

    If the courts aren't going to require NYPD to have probable cause before stopping someone (as required of both the cop and the judge by their oaths and the Constitution), we need to fire both.

    If they're all like that, it's time to consider fleeing the country -- or fighting a civil war to get back our Constitutional form of government.

  • ||

    Read this as another take on this story:
    http://www.city-journal.org/2010/eon0514hm.html

  • ปลวก||

    I was going for. I pay my taxes, Blue Mob.

  • RAN||

    I guess you heard the joke about the bureaucrat who rubbed the lamp and got three wishes. | RAN ran ran แรน แรน แรน |

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    I was just having a conversation over this I am glad I came across this it cleared some of the questions I had.

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  • SEO||

    This is the natural progression of two related policing trends in New York: Broken Windows, which posits that cracking down on petty crime leads to a reduction in more serious crime, and COMPSTAT, a data-driven method of policing.

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