By Colleen Long
NEW YORK — A New York police official secretly recorded in a heated exchange with a subordinate over a performance evaluation testified Monday that he never punished his officers for failing to meet quotas and did not tell them to make race-based stops.
Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack is at the center of one of the biggest issues in the federal civil rights challenge to the New York Police Department's stop, question and frisk policy. His voice was heard in the courtroom weeks ago during Officer Pedro Serrano's testimony telling Serrano that he should be stopping the right people, at the right time, in the right location.
Serrano said he interpreted the exchange to mean his bosses wanted him to stop only blacks and Hispanics, and they were angry with him for not making enough stops. He testified that he was docked vacation time, given poor performance evaluations and eventually transferred to a different precinct because he refused to adhere to illegal quotas.
Stop-and-frisk — the practice of stopping, questioning and sometimes patting down people seen as doing something questionable but not necessarily meriting arrest — has become a flashpoint as the stops rose dramatically in the last decade, to nearly 700,000 in 2011. They dropped to 533,000 last year.
Critics say the stops treat innocent people like criminals and are tainted with racial profiling, noting that more than 80 percent of those approached are black or Hispanic; these groups make up 54 percent of the population. Civil rights and minority advocates and some lawmakers also see the tactic as ineffective because more than 85 percent do not result in arrests or weapons being confiscated.
The mayor has long insisted the stops are based on suspicious behavior, not racial bias, and are a powerful tool for curtailing crime.
McCormack, who leads the 40th Precinct in the Bronx, testified Monday that "the right people" were people who fit the description of crime suspects, at a time when the crime was known to occur in a location where there was a spike. He said he was upset with Serrano's performance — the officer had stopped two people in all of 2012, but more than 500,000 stops were made department-wide — because it seemed like he wasn't being pro-active enough as a police officer. But he said he did not set illegal quotas and he did not punish Serrano.
"To stop two people, I just thought it was unfair to the public," he said.
When City Law Department attorney Brenda Cooke asked McCormack whether he was telling Serrano specifically to stop only minorities, U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin would not let him answer, and said she would interpret the recording herself. McCormack said in general he doesn't allow race-based stops. "No. Never," he said.
McCormack accused Serrano of falsifying his monthly patrol records to reflect fewer days on patrol, so it would seem like his enforcement activity wasn't as low. But Serrano's performance evaluations said he had deep integrity, high morals and ethics and would make a good leader someday.
The class-action case is a bench trial and lawyers for men who have sued the city say the department unfairly targets minorities. There have been about 5 million street stops in the past decade, mostly of black and Hispanic men. About half of those people were frisked.
The lawsuit seeks major changes to how police use the tactic and requests a court-appointed monitor to oversee those changes.
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Copyright 2013 Associated Press