NYC Cop: Payback Likely After Stop-Frisk Testimony

By Colleen Long and Larry Neumeister
|  Wednesday, Mar 20, 2013  |  Updated 10:10 PM EDT
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Emotional testimony was heard in court from people who have been subjected to stop-and-frisks as the trial continues against the controversial NYPD tactic. Tracie Strahan reports.

NBC 4 New York

Emotional testimony was heard in court from people who have been subjected to stop-and-frisks as the trial continues against the controversial NYPD tactic. Tracie Strahan reports.

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NYPD Stop-And-Frisk Trial Begins

The NYPD's controversial stop-and-frisk tactic went on trial Monday, and arguments began in the courtroom where a class action lawsuit challenging the practice as unconstitutional is being heard. Tracie Strahan reports.
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A New York City police officer testified Wednesday that he's already been labeled a rat and expects more retaliation from colleagues for testifying at a civil trial that the department routinely enforces quotas on arrests and other enforcement action and punishes those who do not achieve the artificial goals.

Officer Pedro Serrano told a federal judge in Manhattan that his colleagues in the Bronx already dumped out his locker and stuck rodent stickers on the outside, implying he is a rat for testifying.

"I fear that they're going to try and set me up and get me fired," he said.

Serrano, 43, was speaking publicly for the first time at the trial, which is challenging how the New York Police Department makes some street stops. His testimony was given to show a culture within the nation's largest department that revolves more around numbers and less around actual policing.

Lawyers for the four men who sued say officers unfairly target minorities under the controversial tactic known as stop and frisk, sometimes because of pressure to make illegal quotas. Attorneys for the city say the department doesn't profile — officers go where the crime is, and the crime is overwhelmingly in minority neighborhoods. Police officials have said that they do not issue quotas but set some performance goals for officers.

Serrano, who wore a suit Wednesday but was in police uniform earlier in the week, said he has been protesting within the department for six years about quotas for arrests, summonses, and stop, question and frisk reports each officer should achieve per month.

"I've been verbally telling my supervisors this is wrong," he said. "They say, 'This is the way it is; it's been done this way forever.' You can't fight. It's a losing battle."

Serrano was the second whistleblower to testify Wednesday in the case. Officer Adhyl Polanco, whose story had already been made public in media reports, said police brass were not concerned with whether patrol officers were saving lives or helping people; they were focused on one thing: numbers.

Both officers said if they didn't get the 20 summonses, one arrest and five street stops per month while working patrol, they'd face poor evaluations, shift changes and no overtime. Serrano said the push to get arrests came right after the academy and continued. He said he's been punished for not having enough arrests.

"They tell you: 'I need a specific number,'" Serrano said of his superiors.

Four black men testified Monday and Tuesday about their experiences being stopped by police — they say because of their race.

There have been about 5 million stops made by police in the past decade, mostly of black and Hispanic men. Lawyers with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of the four plaintiffs, are seeking to reform the tactic, which gained traction in the past decade.

The mayor and police commissioner say stop and frisk is a life-saving, crime-stopping tool that has helped drive crime down to record lows. New York City saw the fewest number of murders in 2012 since comparable record keeping in the 1960s, and other major crimes are down to record lows, too. City officials say criminals are keeping their guns at home.

Officers have more than 23 million contacts with the public, make 4 million radio runs and issue more than 500,000 summonses every year. Comparatively, 600,000 stops annually are not unreasonable, city lawyers said.

U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin, who has said in earlier rulings that she is deeply concerned about the tactic, has the power to order reforms to how it is used, which could bring major changes to the force and other departments.

On Tuesday, the second day of the trial that is expected to last weeks, city lawmakers announced that they had reached an agreement to install an inspector general for the NYPD — an issue raised last year amid mass demonstrations against stop and frisk and a series of stories by The Associated Press that detailed police monitoring of Muslims. A vote was expected in the coming weeks. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he would veto the proposal.

Bloomberg, city lawyers and police officials said the department has enough oversight, including an independent watchdog group, a 700-person Internal Affairs Bureau, a police corruption commission, prosecutors and judges.

It's not clear whether the proposal for an inspector general would affect what changes the judge may order.

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Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.
 

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