New York Cop Explains How Quotas Encourage Unconstitutional Stops


Michael Fleshman / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

The trial in the main case challenging the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk practices, Floyd v. City of New York, began this week, and yesterday whisteblowing cop Adhyl Polanco testified about the quotas that encourage officers to stop people without the "reasonable suspicion" the Supreme Court has said the Fourth Amendment requires. Polanco, whose recordings of police roll calls caused a splash when excerpts from them were first aired by WABC-TV in 2010, said cops feel strong pressure from superiors and union representatives to issue at least 20 summonses and make at least one arrest a month. "I spoke to the C.O. [commanding officer] for about an hour and a half," says a Patrolmen's Benevolent Association delegate in a recording that Polanco made during a 2009 roll call in the Bronx. "Twenty and one. Twenty and one is what the union is backing up….They spoke to the [PBA] trustees. And that's what they want. They want 20 and one." That requirement, Polanco explained in court, was "non-negotiable," meaning "you're gonna do it, or you're gonna become a Pizza Hut delivery man."

Polanco and other critics argue that such expectations drive officers to make unconstitutional stops in the hope of finding something that will justify a summons or an arrest. According to the NYPD's numbers, that happens in one out of 10 stops—a track record that suggests cops' suspicions are not very reasonable. In this context, it is easy to understand why officers might trick people into revealing marijuana they are carrying, then illegally bust them for having it "in public view," a misdemeanor that justifies an arrest, as opposed to mere possession, which is only a citable offense. The pressure to make arrests helps explain the huge increase in minor pot busts New York has seen since the mid-1990s. It also helps explain why so many people, overwhelmingly black and Latino, get hassled by the cops with so little to show for it—nine times out of 10, not even a bogus pot bust or a trumped-up ticket for blocking traffic.

Radley Balko covered Polanco's revelations and similar recordings by another officer, Adrian Schoolcraft, in 2010.

NEXT: Pentagon Delays Civilian Furloughs

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.

  1. I thought they weren’t going to live by the numbers any more? Or wait, was that Baltimore in The Wire after the whiny white mayor took over?

    1. I wouldn’t talk like that if you don’t want him to ban you from his brothel or poison you.

  2. cops feel strong pressure from superiors and union representatives to issue at least 20 summonses and make at least one arrest a month.

    Cops who report on other cops are anti-cop bigots. Nevermind if the cops engage in anti-citizen bigotry by dragging them into court or off to jail on false pretenses.

  3. There was a good This American Life story about this sort of thing.

    I’m too lazy to link.

  4. I am sure of one thing: police should not consider themselves “professionals” until they all stop working for an hourly wage and have a guaranteed amount of overtime written into their contract.

    I read the comments at the PoliceOne story on this, and that was my biggest takeaway. Some guys are OK with the quotas because it gives them a chance to make more OT because they have to write reports and/or be in court more.

    Just my two cents.

  5. Keep in mind, there is a very good chance this shit starts with the Mayor. Shit doth run downhill.

  6. Let’s change the rules a bit; 20 and 1, but all of those have to be crimes with victims.
    Well, ya know, dealing with violent people means you’d have to earn your damn pay as a cop rather than busting some 15YO brown kid with a joint.

    1. I guess there’d be a big spike in people getting charged with assaulting an officer.

  7. See, the problem is, if they don’t arrest enough people, the city might decide they don’t need so many cops and they’ll cut their budget. That’s the Police Department’s biggest fear.
    If crime continues to decline, it could get much worse. The actual possession cases found in the stop-and-frisks won’t be enough, and they’ll have to start planting evidence a lot more than they do now.

  8. The problem with most police department is they treat policing like a business: what’s the officer’s output. I’ve been a police officer for 12 years. During my time on patrol I was constantly called upon to explain my lack of traffic tickets and drug arrests. Spending time with citizens and handling problems without arrest do not show up on “stats.” Even now working in the Crimes Against Children division I receive less support and resources than Narcotics because they show “stats.”

    1. Another LEO on Reason? Are you familiar with Dunphy?

    2. So, Txenigma, what do you propose as an alternative?

      1. As an alternative to comparing stats from the Crimes Against Children division against stats from Narcotics division? I can’t answer for Txenigma, but I would suggest not doing that as a pretty good alternative.

    3. “The problem with most police department is they treat policing like a business: what’s the officer’s output.”

      Exactly. If output was measured by how well you consider protecting citizens and their rights, wouldn’t that be grand. But, no, you have to put the lowlife in jail, because…fuck if I know…is somebody scared of what? minorities?

  9. Unfortunately, a lot of people, and not just cops and other government apparatchiks, seriously believe the primary mission of cops is to arrest people and throw them in jail.

  10. lol, so why black people always gotta make a big ole “Black Thang” out of it? lol


  11. This is what irritates me about people who think the US should constantly meddle in foreign affairs over “human rights” issues. Who are we to talk, exactly? For all intents & purposes, we’re very much living in a police state.

    But we don’t torture people in prison, some may say. No, but we certainly condone it, making a whole joke out of the prison rape issue.

    And you can’t blame the government for it, most people in America are happy with the status quo.

    1. Oh, but government — and the elites who run it — is to blame for it.

      Most people who are happy with the status quo are only happy because of the dreadfully poor education they received at a government school.

      Absent the indoctrination they receive at the government schools, any person capable of rational thought could see the failings and immorality of their government. But twelve years of reciting the Pledge before receiving a polyanna version of history and civics takes its toll.

  12. Told Ya so. – Ayn Rand

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.