New York, NY - Lawsuit: NYPD Officer Punished for Complaining about Quotas
New York, NY - A New York City police officer was berated by his superiors and given poor evaluations and bad assignments for complaining about arrest quotas in his Bronx precinct, a federal lawsuit filed Thursday by the New York Civil Liberties Union says.
Officer Craig Matthews claimed in the suit that his superiors created a system where officers were awarded points for certain summonses, and officers who did not meet the quotas were punished with undesirable assignments, loss of overtime and denial of requested days off. Matthews said in the suit that the system violates the NYPD mission to protect and serve the public, and is part of a larger, department-wide problem.
Matthews began working in the 42nd Precinct in the Bronx in 1999, and received positive annual reviews and recommendations for good police work, but after he started to complain to police brass about quotas he was punished and ridiculed by his bosses, the suit said. Matthews said precinct leaders kept color-coded records to show who was meeting the quotas and officers were punished when they didn’t meet them. He faced so much retaliation that he was hospitalized for extreme stress, the suit alleged.
The city law department said it had received the summons and complaint but could not comment while awaiting formal service of the suit.
Chief police spokesman Paul Browne said the color codes didn’t specify quotas. They “indicate enforcement activity in three general areas: arrests, criminal summonses, and stops for suspicious activity,” he said. “Black indicates an officer’s activity in each category, silver indicates activity in at least one of the three categories, and red indicates no activity whatsoever in any of three categories. These are reasonable indicators of police officer activity.”
The department has said many times it does not have quotas. It is prohibited to punish an officer for not meeting performance goals.
“Police managers are doing what their jobs demand and the public expects, supervising employees,” Browne said.
Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said the quotas exist and they build barriers between police and the communities served.
“That is why this union successfully led a fight in Albany that made quotas for all police activities including arrests, summonses or stop-and-frisks illegal. The PBA has long been opposed to the use of quotas because they force police officers to take an action when it may be the officer’s better judgment to simply issue a warning. They effectively remove the officer’s discretion and that makes the job tougher.”
Two criminologists, Eli Silverman and former NYPD official John Eterno, recently published “The Crime Numbers Game: Management by Manipulation.” The book argues that quotas and other cases of downgraded crime grew out of the need to keep crime down. The city has seen its lowest murder rates ever in the past decade, and crime is at historic lows.
Part of the success — and now part of the problem, critics say — is a computer program known as CompStat that tracks crimes to squash spikes before they get out of control. Patrols are deployed based on where and when criminals are most active.
Critics say the accountability has created the temptation to record felonies as misdemeanors — or sometimes not to record them at all. In recent years, a handful of commanders have been demoted or transferred amid allegations of cooking the books. The NYPD does not report lower-level offenses to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, though most other departments do.
The NYPD still stands by its numbers, saying the instances of manipulating stats are minute in a city where more than 2,000 serious crimes are reported each week. A decade’s worth of misdemeanor data was released in 2010, and department officials said it showed there were no trends that reflect downgrading.
A special unit regularly audits the figures to protect accuracy, and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said it does good work. He also appointed a panel to study whether there are more significant instances of statistics manipulation.
Matthews said in the suit that the quota system in the 42 precincts pitted police officers against each other, straining professional relationships. Officers who complied with quotas had their lockers overturned, tossed in the showers, or plastered shut, the suit said. The practice of “locker flipping” escalated so much that on-duty officers are assigned to protect the locker room around the clock. The suit said Matthews’ civil rights were violated.
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