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Is Racial Profiling Institutional at the NYPD?

Is Racial Profiling Institutional at the NYPD?
Lucas Jackson/Reuters

We've known about the disparate racial outcomes of the New York City Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy for years now. In 2011, black and Hispanic men between the ages of 14 and 24 accounted for 41.6 percent of stops, though they make up only 4.7 percent of the city's population [PDF].

Now, there's emerging evidence that racial profiling may be being dictated at an institutional level within the department. On the fourth day of a class-action lawsuit against stop-and-frisk on Thursday, a recording revealed that in one heavily patrolled area of the South Bronx, a police officer seemed to be instructed to stop young black men.

"The problem was, what, male blacks," Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack told Officer Pedro Serrano, in a heated exchange on crime in Mott Haven and stop-and-frisk priorities, that Serrano secretly recorded in February. "And I told you at roll call, and I have no problem telling you this, male blacks 14 to 20, 21."

Opponents have always assumed this was the unspoken rationale of stop-and-frisk. But the commander's explicit instructions were more opaque. He repeatedly told Serrano that he needed to stop "the right people." The interpretation of that phrase will be central to the outcome of the suit: is it a criminal designation or a racial one?

It's not the first stop-and-frisk recording that makes the police department look bad. In June, 2011, a Harlem teenager named Alvin recorded an encounter, published in October by The Nation, during which police threatened to "smack him" and said he was being searched for "being a fucking mutt."

That magazine has another article, published Tuesday, that claims that the department has maintained its use of arrest quotas, which were made illegal in New York State in 2010.

Working off another audio transcript produced as evidence in Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al., which is underway at the Federal District Court in Manhattan, Rose Tuttle writes that quotas have remained widespread at the department, and have been maintained through cooperation between the NYPD and the policeman's union, which is publicly against the practice. In 2009, the alleged quota was 20 summons and one arrest per month per officer, a number that a spokesman for the union says, in the recording, was union-approved.

Retaliation for officers who don't meet what the department calls "productivity goals" has included, according to The Nation, "denied overtime; change of squads and days off that can disrupt family obligations like taking children to school or daycare; transfers to boroughs far from home in order to increase their commute and the amount they’ll have to pay in tolls; and low evaluation scores."

In court, Serrano said that 50 percent of his "grade" was based in part on stop-and-frisk numbers. For him, he said, that meant "quota, quota, quota, quota."

Top image: demonstrators outside Manhattan Federal Court on March 18th. Lucas Jackson/Reuters.

Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at The Atlantic Cities. He lives in New York. All posts »

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