Commentary

CopLand

You might expect New York City cops to be a little tight-lipped about their jobs these days. But what's on cops' minds says a lot about the City's police strategies: what's working and what needs to change. Jerome Chou sat down recently with a NYPD officer who talked candidly about the Dorismond shooting, the pressure cops face to make arrests, and the contract that soured the Department's relationship with Mayor Giuliani.

John (his name has been changed) is in his twenties. He's been on the job less than 5 years.


I love New York, I love being a cop in New York. I hate the department. I think a lot of cops feel the same way. What does that tell you?

We have quotas. They don't call it that, they say we have Goals.

Crime is at an all-time low. But if you stood at roll call, you'd hear the Sergeant banging on everyone, why is [police] activity down? Maybe people are learning you don't mess with the apple, know what I mean? Crime drops, activity drops, but they don't see that correlation.

We have quotas. They don't call it that, they say we have Goals. Let's say you're comfortable with your partner or your hours. And let's say your goals are 25 summonses and 1 arrest a month. You're threatened with someone changing your tour if you don't get those summonses and collars. So what happens is, you get a lot of cops icepicking people. They might put themselves in a bad situation just to get another collar. With stuff like Dorismond, it's funny because you never hear a cop stand up and say, "They should have done this different and that different." The majority of the police force is thinking, I probably would have done the exact same thing.

Let's say you got a cop going into a neighborhood, trying to meet quotas. He's tired, he's stretching himself. He sees this guy with a beer just hanging out and decides to give him a summons, and now this guy blows up because maybe he's had a hard day, and here's this cop busting his balls, and now you got two people in the hospital. Just so someone can say, "My numbers didn't fall off. Did yours?" They shouldn't put that stress on anybody. If crime goes down, I think everyone should get a cigar and a pat on the ass.

Broken windows is a great policy, but you can go too far. You get a whole specialized unit just to get anyone who's urinating on the street. You have cops feeling so pressured, they write people up for throwing Metrocards on the floor. There has to be a degree of community involved in this. There's nothing like that lately. We got so concerned about the numbers, we forgot about the very community we police.

We got so concerned about the numbers, we forgot about the very community we police.

It all stems from COMSTAT. Basically it's a meeting with all the head honchos, they analyze all the activity and supposed crime in their district. There's a lot of good bosses in there but you get there and no matter what happens, every boss is personally liable for every drop of activity. That's terrible. They feel like they have to make up for it, that's when cops start icepicking, that's when people get hurt.

What Giuliani is doing, he's trying to enforce [former Commissioner William] Bratton's policy. Bratton's policies work, but they have to be done by him. Giuliani is a former D.A., Safir was a U.S. Marshall, they've never done anything active. Cops talk all the time how they loved going out suiting up for Bratton. He was a patrol cop. He knew what was reasonable, what was not reasonable.

I think Giuliani had the cops' support until the year our contract was up. A lot of cops thought they give their lives, they work their asses off, at least they deserve a cost of living increase. The contract they got was a slap in a lot of people's faces. You got a lot of disgruntled people after that. There's negotiations coming up this year and we have a new president. But honestly, we're probably gonna get screwed again.

So much of what Giuliani's accomplished has been on the backs of the police. Things started happening when he and Bratton sat down and said, "We have to do something about crime." But he doesn't give us a cost of living increase? Even sanitation gets paid more than us. You ever hear of a guy getting killed picking up garbage? Giuliani does command respect from me for defending the police, but he's set out to break every union that's out there. I don't think he's had any choice but to say he supports us.

Take the F.D. [Fire Department]. We've always had parity. Last year, they got a $1500 hazard pay increase. I guess bullets don't count as hazards. What they tried for cops was give hazard pay to a select few, picked by C.O. [Commanding Officer] of each precinct. It didn't matter if you were doing a better job or you were more active, the raise just went to whoever the C.O. wanted.

Even sanitation gets paid more than us. You ever hear of a guy getting killed picking up garbage?

Let's say I want plainclothes assignment. There's two roads I can take to get it: icepick everybody and their mother, write up every little summons that there is, and even that's not a guarantee. The best guarantee is, your daddy plays golf with the boss of that detail. Just like in any office. It's ridiculous the amount of nepotism that goes on. If you're a good cop, and you do your best to get real arrests or real summons, they say this guy's a worker. We got to keep him on that shit post. If you're goofing off, they say, we don't want him to get in any situation, let's put him on an easy post. The system of rewards is very screwed up.

Is racism a problem? No. Is it there? Probably. You always hear people joshing in the precinct. This is a hard pill to swallow, but I'd say at least 80% of 911 calls that come in, it's about a male Black or male Hispanic. The majority of your job is your radio, they gotta give you a basic profile. If there's a radio description of a call, these guys go to war automatically in their mind, they just approach it on what they're given on the radio. People tend to forget, that's what we get on the radio.

I graduated right before Louima. We were out in the street when Louima happened. I thought it was bullshit, I thought nobody on earth could do that. That's what the bad guys were capable of. Nobody thought our guys did it.

I do think there should be some [police monitor] system in place. I don't think it should be citizens. CCRB's a pain in the ass. A lot of the times you get your complainant who's not even

I recently got my third CCRB complaint, they haven't even told me what it was. They just told me the complaint was dropped.

involved in the incident. Let me tell you how bad it is. I recently got my third CCRB complaint, they haven't even told me what it was. They just told me the complaint was dropped. Meanwhile I never knew this existed against me. Any other court of law, you'd have a right to know your accuser, know what the complaint was about. The way they do it, you basically have a week to find your memo book and try to remember what this was about. Cops are scared for their lives, they're answering to this person on the street who has no idea. How would you like to have your vacation time on the whims of any person? Often citizens don't know the job that officers do. They see NYPD Blue, Sipowitz walks into a room, tells 15 bloods to get down, and they lay down. In real life Sipowitz goes into a room like that, he comes out in bodybag.

You always try to avoid contempt for public, but lately these people don't know what it's like. I think the only people who can relate are probably soldiers. What's that saying. It's 99% waiting, 1% pure terror. The only thing you can do is let training take over and hope you get through it.

I think there's a huge number of public that support cops but they're scared to say it. If one person comes up to me and says I appreciate what you're doing, it's like a big boost. Not an ego boost, just a big boost. Because we do serve the public. That makes up for the five-year-old who gives you the finger, and his mom is like, "That's right, that's right."

Often citizens don't know the job that officers do. They see NYPD Blue, Sipowitz walks into a room, tells 15 bloods to get down, and they lay down. In real life Sipowitz goes into a room like that, he comes out in bodybag.

In COMSTAT, they sit there and discuss stats, say there's 1,000 arrests in this district. That's 1,000 times an officer had to come into contact with danger. That's the job, I'm not complaining. But we don't have the best technology, we don't have the most efficient gear or equipment. Our radios don't work in the subway. When I'm down there, I can't talk to cops on the street. I can only talk to other cops on the subway. There's no way to synchronize information.

A lot of times you have to buy your own equipment. You have to buy microphones, you have to buy your own gun belt. Take flashlights. Patrol card states you have to have 3C batteries or 2D. I know these guys go out of their way to buy a $100 flashlight, brighter than the sun, but ultimately they can't use them because the guide says you have to have 3C or 2D. So cops have to go out and buy a new flashlight. So they may end up just getting one of those kitchen flashlights, the bulb breaks if you point it the wrong way. That's the kind of bureaucracy I'd get rid of.

The first year, I learned there's two jobs: one in the books, one done by smart street cops. If you do your job by the patrol guide, you'd never be out on the street. There's so many procedures, you'd never get out from under it. Take an example: a bum sleeping on the corner. They want you to call for a bus, determine if he's homeless or crazy. You have to make a judgment call if he's a threat to anyone else, they want you to play it safe, take him to the hospital, make notification. But sometime these people don't have anybody to help. So then you'd have to do missing persons report, which takes two-and-a-half hours to do, you've got to notify detectives, warrants, everybody's got to know about this guy. Meanwhile he's just down on his luck, he's probably been doing this for a while so he knows how to get by, and some people like it better than the shelters. So you let it go.

But really if I could change anything, it would be take the pressure off the COs. Once that happens, cops slow their activity, then maybe a cop sees someone drinking a beer on the street, he just lets it go.

2) HISTORY

I joined the academy straight out of college. Initially it was because I wanted to help people. To me the job was about chasing bad guys. I'd say 50% of cops join because they want to help people. 50% join for the pension, retirement, the steady paycheck.

But really if I could change anything, it would be take the pressure off the COs. Then maybe a cop sees someone drinking a beer on the street, he just lets it go.

The academy was bullshit, physical training was bullshit. Well, let me take that back, law was top notch. They had this thing called social scientist, it was basically community policing. All the guy did everyday was tell us to smile, nod, say thank you have a nice day. We had this language day, our instructor was just a big fat Irish guy, basically he tried to teach us how to say thank you, have a nice day in all these different language. He said it in Chinese, in Russian, in Spanish. No ebonics though. I guess all those white kids from Long Island and upstate were shit out of luck.

I started out on foot-post in the Bronx, 41st precinct, highest homicide rate in the city. The very first day I was standing out on the street corner, trying to make myself visible, and people were throwing toilet paper. I thought stuff was falling out of the windows. Finally, the Lt. drove by in an unmarked car. The car drives past me, halfway down the block it stops to a halt, turns around, and the Lt. Comes out and says "What the hell are you doing. People are throwing toilet paper at you." He took me back to the station and put us with some veteran in a car. But going out by yourself, believe it or not that's the best way to learn.

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