Disgruntled NYPD Officer Reveals World of Casual Potentially Life-Ruining Enforcement of B.S. Law

It's from a few weeks back but just came to my attention this week, and alas the story it tells is timeless: a lengthy New York magazine profile of disgrunted NYPD office Pedro Serrano

Here's some of what it's like for a cop on the beat in NYC:

“Every now and then, we would have to be put in a van and hunt, basically. Drive around, and the sergeant or whoever would say: ‘That guy there—write him.’ ‘That guy—write him.’ ”

Photo credit: NYCArthur / Foter / CC BY-NC-SAPhoto credit: NYCArthur / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Cops wrote summonses for all sorts of minor offenses: “unreasonable noise,” “bicycle on sidewalk,” “unlawfully in park after hours.” And when they saw someone they suspected of criminal activity—if they spied a bulge in somebody’s pocket where a gun might be and saw that person touching that spot—they stopped and frisked him. This blitz of activity was part of the NYPD’s “hot spots” strategy: By flooding crime hot spots with cops—and ordering them to give out summonses and perform stop-and-frisks—the NYPD could prevent more serious crimes.

....from Serrano’s perspective, many of the summonses seemed to make no sense. “This happened to me—they rolled up to this poor Mexican guy sitting on the stairs and said: ‘Write him.’ I’m looking at Sarge, like, ‘What am I writing him for?’ ” The sergeant said, “Blocking pedestrian traffic.”

Later, back at the precinct, Serrano read what exactly constitutes “blocking pedestrian traffic.” “This guy was sitting on the stairs, and there is room for someone to walk by,” he says. “If a person is trying to enter the building and cannot because you’re blocking them, that’s blocking pedestrian traffic. But he was not blocking pedestrian traffic.”

This next point is very key to those who say, hey, big deal, just getting a ticket, huh? But getting a ticket for those unable to promptly pay it--for whatever reason--is serious indeed:

Sure, the guy would only have to pay a small fine, but if he never went to court—if he forgot, or couldn’t scratch together the money, or was an undocumented immigrant afraid to enter a courthouse—the court would put out a warrant for his arrest. And the next time the police stopped him, they’d take him to jail.....

It's a makework job, NYPD policing:

When it comes to street stops, one of Serrano’s former co-workers says, “We can’t just stop everybody. And that’s what they’re teaching the new guys to do: Just stop everybody … Just to get the numbers. That’s it. Doesn’t matter: Just get the numbers.”

Once, when Serrano’s supervisors didn’t think he’d written enough summonses or UF-250s (the form cops are supposed to fill out for every stop-and-frisk), a sergeant put him in a car and drove him around until he found two guys standing by a wall.

According to Serrano, the sergeant said, “250 them.” When Serrano resisted the order, the sergeant said, “Summons them.”

“For what?” Serrano asked.

“Blocking pedestrian traffic.”....

Serrano and his fellow officers understood why their bosses pressured them to write so many summonses and 250s. As one cop put it, “The more 250s, the better it makes the commanding officer look.” They knew the stress their bosses were under when they went to CompStat meetings...."

Once a commander returned to the station house, of course, he passed down that pressure to everyone else: to the lieutenants, the sergeants, down to the officers. For every crime hot spot, the precinct commander had to show that he was on top of the situation, that his cops were taking action. He had no way of counting exactly how many crimes he’d prevented—how do you count robberies and shootings before they happen?—but he could offer up the next best thing: high numbers of 250s and summonses.

Serrano went on to begin taping his bosses giving orders he thought were illegitimate, and then became a witness agaisnt NYPD in a Center for Constitutional Rights lawsuit against NYPD's stop-and-frisk practices.

Jacob Sullum from Reason's July issue on New York's stop-and-frisk policies.

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.

  • Outlaw||

    I’m looking at Sarge, like, ‘What am I writing him for?’ ” The sergeant said, “Blocking pedestrian traffic.”

    Totality of the circs, Serrano! Totality of the circs! Didn't you learn anything in the academy?!

  • Hugh Akston||

    Pyongyang on the Hudson.

  • fish||

    C'mon The Federal Army of the Bloomberg has to do something to stay sharp and focused!

  • ||

    Hey, New York might have homicides, burglaries, rapes, and car thefts, but damn it, they sure do have unblocked sidewalks. OK, so there's all that garbage piled up on the curbs. But at least PEOPLE aren't blocking the sidewalks!

  • BMFPitt||

    Nope, no rapes. Those look bad on the stats. They get downgraded to simple harassment. I fucking wish I was kidding.

  • Adam.||

    Fucking Kings Men indeed.

  • BeBraveUSA||

    From "To Protect and Serve" to "To Shakedown, Harass, and Prosecute" I guess the latter does not fit well on the trunk of the squad car...

  • Ayn Random Variation||

    I have to call BS on the "Mexican" thing. A NYer would have said Puerto Rican or Dominican.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Back in the 70's maybe.

  • Cytotoxic||

    The Good Cop...is no longer a cop.

  • Metazoan||

    Seems to be the pattern.

    As a side note, and in no defense whatsoever of these policies, fuck people who ride bicycles on the sidewalk.

  • Radioactive||

    that's where the "broom stick in the spokes ploy" works most effectively.

  • ||

    Shoulda talked to Jobu.

  • John Thacker||

    Visible police presence alone can and does prevent serious crimes. There's no need to cite people for stupid made up offenses at the same time-- except as a combination of makework and finding a way to "pay for" the police and make the policing profitable.

  • DenverJay||

    Agreed- in a perfect world. Just having the police visible is a deterrent to crime. Watch how everyone slows down when they see flashing lights up ahead. But bureaucracy don't work that way, doncha know? Gotta have forms and stats and shit to cover your ass. Can't say "look crime is down, it's working" gotta say "look, we cited X number of peeps"
    Government is the ultimate producer of forms, rules, citations, etc. It has to be, by its very nature. And, if you think about it, you want it to be that way. You want the law enforced without prejudice, which means things like "zero tolerance" and not allowing a cop (or any other government employee) to use discretion. The answer is not to try to allow discretion by lower ranks, who can just as easily abuse that same power. The answer is to limit the situations where the law is involved at all. "Blocking pedestrian traffic"? Can you imagine describing that law to Samuel Clemens? "Uh, so if this guy is on the sidewalk, and people can't get around, and he won't move, so, uh, we call the police"? In a healthy civilization, social mores, or failing that a blanket party, solves the issue without the law being needed.

  • BMFPitt||

    These scumbags need to be sent to jail for life.

  • meta||

    how dare you insult scumbags!!!!

  • shipley130||

    So, basically, everyone is going to be a victim of crime, in a way, in America. The criminals have affected the way the police go about their business and Americans are now living in a police state.

  • DenverJay||

    No you missed it. Lemme try: everyone is going to be a victim of crime criminal

  • madilynbrady6||

    Katherine. if you, thought Joseph`s st0ry is flabbergasting... on tuesday I got a brand new Lotus Elise from bringing in $9699 this month and just a little over $10 thousand this past-munth. without a doubt its my favourite work I've ever done. I started this 8-months ago and almost straight away startad bringin home minimum $72.. per/hr. I follow this website, Go to site and open Home for details
    http://WWW.JOBS31.COM

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement