Monday, September 13, 2010

This American Life...

This week's TAL had a very interesting story of a whistleblower on the Brooklyn beat of the New York police department, Adrian Schoolcraft. Schoolcraft blew the whistle on a defacto quota system which specified how many stops, searches, tickets, and arrests that an officer must make to keep in "good standing" with the department. Schoolcraft has tapes of the quota being announced at "roll call." The quota was reinforced using mildly ambiguous language designed to provide "just enough" wiggle room to provide deniabilty. The underlying message to the cops was clear: go get your quota. Courts have ruled that police quota systems are illegal. They are illegal because they lead to constitutional right violations, including unwarranted searches and detainment on trumped up charges. The story also documents that by focusing on petty crimes which generate ticket revenue to the city, more high profile crimes were being swept under the rug. This helped to meet their yearly statistic for crime reduction and keep the level of violent/serious crime down. Underreporting crimes helps the city's image because high crime is not good for tourism.

This show documents the dilemna the regular-honest-cop on the beat faces. He can meet his quota and hang on to his job long enough to collect his pension, or he can just do honest police work while not worrying about numbers, and then be forced off the job as a "bad cop." One chilling moment caught on tape is when a top NYPD official enters Schoolcraft's apartment with a SWAT team
and orders that Schoolcraft be taken into custody and placed in a psychiatric hospital. This is shades of "Catch 22,"

"We've got your boy."

It is one step away from the "disappeared" people of totalitarian regimes. Schoolcraft got out of the hospital because his father, a retired NYPD cop, knew about his son's whistleblowing and was not psychotic and got him released. The decision to "hospitalize" should be enough to put that official in jail. Don't hold your breath on that happening. The only punishment is likely to be monetary and hopefully a change in policy. Schoolcraft is now part of a $50 million class action. With the volume of evidence on side, he is very likely to succeed in his class action, and receive a big chunk of the $50 million in damages. The change in policy may come about in part because of the new tools that whistleblowers literally have in their pockets. The new tools may force that actual internal policy matches the stated public policy. If it does not, then the new technology makes documenting abuse very easy.

This is another instance of true courage and patriotism. It takes a lot less courage to "not rock the boat" and just go along with the status quo. What effect would Adrian Schoolcraft's complaints have had if they had "stayed in house" when the orders were coming from the very top and the rot goes right to the core?

No comments:

Post a Comment