article by Saki Knafo via nytimes.com
Every morning before his shift, Edwin Raymond, a 30-year-old officer in the New York Police Department, ties up his long dreadlocks so they won’t brush against his collar, as the job requires. On Dec. 7, he carefully pinned them up in a nautilus pattern, buttoned the brass buttons of his regulation dress coat and pulled on a pair of white cotton gloves. He used a lint roller to make sure his uniform was spotless. In a few hours, he would appear before three of the department’s highest-ranking officials at a hearing that would determine whether he would be promoted to sergeant. He had often stayed up late worrying about how this conversation would play out, but now that the moment was here, he felt surprisingly calm. The department had recently announced a push to recruit more men and women like him — minority cops who could help the police build trust among black and Hispanic New Yorkers. But before he could move up in rank, Raymond would have to disprove some of the things people had said about him.
Over the past year, Raymond had received a series of increasingly damning evaluations from his supervisors. He had been summoned to the hearing to tell his side of the story. His commanders had been punishing him, he believed, for refusing to comply with what Raymond considered a hidden and ‘‘inherently racist’’ policy.
Raymond checked in to the department’s employee-management office in downtown Manhattan. Three other officers waited there with him, all dressed as though for a funeral or parade, all hoping they would be judged worthy of a promotion and a raise. One officer had gotten in trouble for pulling a gun on his ex-girlfriend’s partner. ‘‘Everyone was nervous,’’ Raymond says. ‘‘I was the only one who was confident, because I knew I’d done nothing wrong.’’
Hours crawled by. Finally, a sergeant announced that the officials — ‘‘executives,’’ as they’re known in the department — were ready to see them. One by one, the officers entered a conference room. Raymond saluted the executives and stated his name. Then the executives began to speak. Beneath the stiff woolen shell of Raymond’s dress coat, tucked away in his right breast pocket, his iPhone was recording their muffled voices.
Over the last two years, Raymond has recorded almost a dozen officials up and down the chain of command in what he says is an attempt to change the daily practices of the New York Police Department. He claims these tactics contradict the department’s rhetoric about the arrival of a new era of fairer, smarter policing. In August 2015, Raymond joined 11 other police officers in filing a class-action suit on behalf of minority officers throughout the force. The suit centers on what they claim is one of the fundamental policies of the New York Police Department: requiring officers to meet fixed numerical goals for arrests and court summonses each month. In Raymond’s mind, quota-based policing lies at the root of almost everything racially discriminatory about policing in New York. Yet the department has repeatedly told the public that quotas don’t exist.
Chief of Department James O’Neill told me that the expectations of officers have changed. ‘‘Whatever arrests we make, whatever summonses we write, I want them connected to the people responsible for the violence and crime,’’ he said. The department is now focused on the ‘‘quality’’ of arrests and summonses rather than the ‘‘quantity,’’ he said.
Raymond and his fellow plaintiffs will try to prove otherwise. The suit accuses the department of violating multiple laws and statutes, including a 2010 state ban against quotas, and the 14th Amendment, which outlaws racial discrimination. It asks for damages and an injunction against the practice. Although plaintiffs in other cases have provided courts with evidence suggesting the department uses quotas, this is the first time anyone has sued the department for violating the 2010 state ban against the practice.
Black and Latino officers have long contributed rare voices of dissent within a department that remains predominantly white at its highest levels. Raymond has cultivated a friendship with Eric Adams, a former police captain and the current Brooklyn borough president, who founded, during his time on the force, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, an organization that advocates for law-enforcement professionals of color. Adams has had a hand in several recent policing reforms. As a state senator, he sponsored the bill that led, in 2010, to the New York ban against quotas for stops, summonses and arrests. Then, in 2013, he joined several current and former minority officers in testifying against the department in the landmark stop-and-frisk case Floyd v. City of New York, which culminated with a federal judge’s ruling that the department had stopped and searched hundreds of thousands of minority New Yorkers in ways that violated their civil rights.
Between 2011 and 2013, the publicity surrounding the case prompted the department to all but abandon the tactic — the number of annual stops fell by more than two-thirds over two years — but, according to Raymond and others, the pressure to arrest people for minor offenses has not let up. ‘‘Every time I read the paper, I thought, Why do they think the problem is stop-and-frisk?’’ Raymond says. ‘‘Although stop-and-frisk is unlawful, and it’s annoying, you’re not going to not get a job because you’ve been stopped and frisked,’’ he says. ‘‘You’re going to get denied a job because you have a record.’’
The lawsuit claims that commanders now use euphemisms to sidestep the quota ban, pressuring officers to ‘‘be more proactive’’ or to ‘‘get more activity’’ instead of explicitly ordering them to bring in, say, one arrest and 10 tickets by the end of the month. ‘‘It’s as if the ban doesn’t exist,’’ Raymond says. Other cops agree. At a Dunkin’ Donuts in Ozone Park, Queens, a black officer who is not involved in the lawsuit (and who, fearing retribution, requested anonymity) spoke at length about the inconsistency between the department’s words and actions, her anger building as she spoke, the tea cooling in her cup, until she concluded, bluntly, ‘‘It’s like they’re talking out of their ass and their mouth at the same time.’’