By Colleen Long
NEW YORK — Police brass in the Bronx were not concerned with whether patrol officers were saving lives or helping people, they were focused on one thing: numbers, said a New York City police officer testifying in a federal challenge to some street stops.
Adhyl Polanco said his superiors told him that he needed 20 summonses, five street stops and one arrest per month. It didn't matter whether the stops were done properly, he said Tuesday.
"They will never question the quality. They will question the quantity," Polanco said.
His testimony, which will continue Wednesday, was one of three department whistleblowers expected to discuss a culture that revolved around numbers and less around actual policing — and what lawyers said is leading to tens of thousands of wrongful stops of black and Hispanic men by the police.
The class-action lawsuit in federal court challenges the constitutionality of some of the stops. There have been about 5 million stops made by police in the past decade. City attorneys said officers operate within the law and do not target people solely because of their race. Police go where the crime is — and crime is overwhelmingly in minority neighborhoods, they said.
Testimony in the trial came as city lawmakers reached a deal Tuesday to install an inspector general for the NYPD following outrage over the department's widespread spying on Muslims and stop and frisk tactic.
Police unions have condemned the inspector general idea, saying the department already gets plenty of oversight and the position would squander resources.
Polanco said if he didn't get the numbers while working patrol in the 41st Precinct in the Bronx, he'd face poor evaluations, shift changes and no overtime. He started recording some of the instructions because he thought no one would believe him.
"They can make your life very miserable," he said of the department.
Police officials have said that they do not issue quotas, but set some performance goals for officers.
Polanco, who joined the force in 2005, was suspended with pay for years after internal affairs officers brought charges of filing false arrest paperwork; he says the charges came because he detailed a list of complaints to internal affairs. He now works in a department video unit.
A second officer was also expected to testify. Audio tapes from a third officer, Adrian Schoolcraft, will also be played. Schoolcraft was hauled off to a psych ward against his will by his superiors, he says, because he was exposing bad police work. His is suspended without pay.
Their testimony comes in the first week of the case, after four men spoke about their experiences being stopped by police — they say because of their race. The men are black. One, Nicholas Peart, wept on the stand describing a 2011 incident in which he was handcuffed near his home while an officer took his keys and went inside his building.
City lawyers sought to discredit witnesses by suggesting their stories had evolved to become more dramatic and their memories were faulty. In each case the men could not some recall specific details or revised what they had said in earlier statements.
The trial is seeking to reform the practice of stop, question and frisk, a law enforcement tactic that has gained traction in the past decade as crime has plummeted. Lawyers for the plaintiffs say that minorities are disproportionately stopped.
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. 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 already 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 nation's largest police force and other departments.
City lawyers said the department already has many checks and balances, including an independent watchdog group that was recently given authority to prosecute some excessive force complaints against police. The police commissioner still has the final say on whether officers are disciplined.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who announced the pact on installing an inspector general, said talks were progressing on three companion proposals to set new rules surrounding stop and frisk, including expanding protections against racial profiling.
Proposed last year, the inspector general and stop-and-frisk measures have become enmeshed in the politics of the city's mayoral campaign. Quinn, a leading Democratic candidate, has faced pressure from civil rights and minority advocates and from some of her rivals to get the measures passed.
Associated Press writers Larry Neumeister and Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.
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Copyright 2013 Associated Press