The NYPD Tapes
Guest: Graham Rayman. August 24, 2013. Transcribed by Curtis Whiting.
Coiro: It’s never easy to be a jobsite whistleblower, you know, when you’re the guy on the lower end of the food chain who points overhead and says “This ain’t right.” Now, if you do that, you can expect, at the very least, a very divided response amongst your bosses and your coworkers. But, in what sane world should you expect a tactical team to swarm your home and take you to a mental ward, where you end up locked to your bed and left there for six days. That is the world that police officer Adrian Schoolcraft fell into when he refused orders to meet an illegal ticket quota in the 81st division of the New York Police Department. According to author Graham Rayman, Schoolcraft disagreed with unofficial, but enforced division policy to write up tickets and offenses at any cost. So many seat belt offenses, so many tickets for driving with a cell phone, so many people stopped and frisked who did nothing to merit any such suspicion. Graham Rayman’s new book is the The NYPD Tapes, a Shocking Story of Cops, Cover Ups, and Courage. He’s in the studio today. You may know his story from his coverage in the Village Voice, which became the basis of a stunning episode of the radio show, This American Life and is now a full-length, non-fiction book. It’s good to have you.
Rayman: Thank you for having me.
Coiro: You paint a picture of a department that has a two-fold strategy for looking more effective than it really was. And, from the one end, they were setting quotas, that the cops had to write tickets, and stop and frisk people in the street. And that made them look proactive. And, from the other side, when real crime did happen, it got downgraded in the paperwork, so that a rape became trespassing. What is it that created the pressure on numbers before justice?
Rayman: Well, this twenty years, to when crime was much higher in New York City. The Commissioner at the time, and the mayor at the time, Bill Bratton and Rudolph Giuliani – Bill Bratton is, of course, a consultant now, for the Oakland Police Department, which is interesting. And one of the interesting elements of the story, which we can get into later, but, they created a very numbers-driven strategy. The idea was to identify high crime areas quickly, using statistics, send cops into those areas, flood the zone, essentially, and then something called Relentless Follow Up, which meant precinct commanders were constantly being brought down to headquarters and upbraided by the up-level chiefs about crime strategies. “What are you doing about this robbery pattern?”
And as time went on, crime went down. Of course there are other factors about why crime went down. There was an economic resurgence in New York City, etc. That’s a whole nother issue, but Compstat deserves some of the credit for crime going down. But, as it went down, it plummeted in the first few years. And then, it kind of started to slow. But, the pressure for good numbers, higher summons and arrests, and Stop-and-Frisks, lower crime statistics, continue to emanate from police headquarters. At the same time, good number meant promotion in the department. So, those two factors together you have, gives precinct commanders a high motivation to cheat. And they started to evolve all kinds – and there are dozens of these dodges – ways to play with the numbers.
Coiro: And ways to play with language, too. Because, for example, even though quotas were technically not allowed, while the language they used to set quotas without saying the word “quota” was pretty amazing.
Rayman: Yeah. There’s a wonderful quote in one of the Schoolcraft tapes, where he says “It’s the bottom of the ninth. You’re two strikes. The Yankees are losing to the Red Sox and you’re at bat. What are you going to do? And, I mean, he’s making light, but he’s actually deadly serious. At the end of the month, they were under the most pressure to make their monthly quota. From the roll calls, you hear this every day. This relentless drumbeat of demanding numbers.
Coiro: Let’s set Schoolcraft aside for a minute. He’s the unusual guy, who had the tape player and made the news, and made your book. What about all the other guys who line up with him at the beginning of every shift. Was this a source of discomfort, dissatisfaction, or was this just accepted reality? Life as a cop.
Rayman: I think they all had different opinions, based on the conversations in the roll calls. A lot of people just went along with it. I mean, you follow your orders. You do what they want you to do. There is a remarkable conversation between Schoolcraft and another officer outside of the precinct. They’re just sitting in a patrol car, one day, talking about all these things. The other officer says “I can’t believe what’s going on. The other day, the precinct, a young woman got robbed and the precinct commander came to the scene. She got robbed of her cell phone. Now, that’s a fairly routine robbery. She wasn’t badly hurt. In the past, precinct commanders would never come to the scene of something like that, to look over the shoulder of the patrol officers. He comes to the scene and he says to the woman, “You’re not going to get your phone back. What do you want us to do about it?” and convinces her not to file a report.
Coiro: I can’t imagine being in her shoes, where you’re trying to report a crime, but the cops say “what’s your point?”
Rayman: Yeah. And in that same conversation, the other officer says “And this guy reported his car stolen and, once again, the precinct commander responded.” Just to put in context, again, the precinct commanders never used to respond to individual crimes like this, but because the numbers became so important, because showing declines became so important, they started reading those crime reports like they were arbitrage analysts, or accountants, or copy editors, looking for little errors that would allow them to downgrade the –
So, he responded to the scene, and the guy says “My car was stolen,” and the precinct commander looks at him and he says “Did you do some time in prison?” And this guy’s about forty-seven years old and he said “Yeah, about a year, when I was twenty-two years old, but what does that have to do with my car getting stolen?” And the precinct commander says “Well, maybe karma stole your car.” So, that report wasn’t taken, either.
Coiro: So, then, going from the business of assisting people who’ve been subject to crime, they’ve gone to the business of keeping them and their crimes out of the records.
Rayman: Being skeptical. That’s what they called it. They called it Question. There’s another quote. If a little old lady comes in and says she got robbed, she’s probably telling the truth. But, if it’s a young guy who says he got robbed, question that.
Coiro: Which brings us to profiling, of course. What’s the makeup of the 81st Precinct?
Rayman: It’s Bedford Stuyvesant. It’s a predominantly Black neighborhood and it has been. It’s a historically Black neighborhood. Many amazing and interesting things in Black history have happened there. In the last fifteen years, it’s had an element of gentrification. More White folks moving in, but it’s still predominantly African American.
Coiro: I’m talking to Graham Rayman about his new book, The NYPD Tapes, A Shocking Story of Cops, Cover Ups, and Courage in our studio today. So, when Compstat comes along and starts creating all these numbers and quantifying everything, did they quantify how many Black people got ticketed? How many White people got ticketed? or was it just the crimes themselves.
Rayman: You mean, as far as the arrests?
Coiro: Yeah, as far as the arrests, or who got stopped, who got ticketed. Because, when you start talking about profiling people, as to who you’re going to believe, you get into all this other mess about profiling, which is who you’re going to stop.
Rayman: No, they didn’t put it on paper. That would have been a major lawsuit waiting to happen. What they did do is talk about it in the roll calls. They talked about Us and Them. There’s a line in the roll calls where he says “Listen. You’re not working in Mid-Town Manhattan, where everyone’s walking around smiling and feeling happy. You’re working in Bedford Stuyvesant, where everyone probably has a warrant. So, there was this Us and Them attitude. And then, this civil rights stuff, it’s most relevant to the Stop-and-Frisk thing, because, in the summer you would have a lot of people sitting out on their stoops, walking down the street, it’s hot in your apartment, it’s cramped, this is a very common thing, you see it all over New York City in the summer. The cops would come and say “What are you doing?” The problem is that Stop-and-Frisk, the legal definition, it has to be tied to a specific crime. There has to have been, say, a robbery by a guy in an orange hat, the day before. And you are now looking for the guy in the orange hat and you stop people in orange hats and question them. If they appear suspicious, or if they appear about to commit a crime, like they’re carrying a gun or something, of course you frisk them, but what was happening in Yate one, and I think it happened all over the city, was that, in many instances, people were being stopped just for the sake of numbers. Again, you can hear it on the tapes. There’s a quote where a Sergeant says “You know, just go over to that housing project and just get me some Stop-and-Frisks, just to show we were out there. Just so there would be a record that we did something.
Coiro: It’s amazing to me that you can develop an obliviousness that there’s a human being at the other end of that Stop-and-Frisk. Go get me a Stop-and-Frisk, like go get me a box of oatmeal off the shelf.
Through everything that I was reading to get ready to talk to you, I kept thinking about the Milgram experimanets. They famous Stanley Milgram experiments, where you give a certain number of people power, and other people are out of power. What people will do, subject to power, subject to authority, is very different from what we predict, and I kept thinking of that as I was reading this.
[Pause] It’s okay if that stumped you.
Rayman: I just want to put everything in context. Everything was rolling downhill. The Police Commisioner is pressuring his chiefs, the chiefs are pressuring the burrough commanders, the burrough commanders are pressuring the precinct commanders. Precinct commanders are pressuring his sergeants and lieutenants, and then it rolls down to the cops, and then it rolls down on Schoolcraft.
At a certain point, after a while, you just stop using your own discretion. You just say “Well, whatever. I’ll just go along with it.” But, Schooolcraft was different. He didn’t have any of the ties to the city. He wasn’t from the neighborhoods. He was from Texas. He was always a loner. Didn’t have a lot of friends. Didn’t drink. Didn’t go to bars. Didn’t like to bowl. Didn’t play sports. The NYPD’s a very fraternal organization. You’re supposed to go along and hang out. He didn’t do any of that. He just liked to go home. He didn’t want overtime. He didn’t have a wife, or a mortgage. So, there was nothing they could use to pressure him, when he started to object to what was happening.
So, that makes him unique. There’ve only been a handful of police officers who have stepped forward in the last three years on this stuff. He was the only one who taped to such an enormous extent.
Coiro: And, Prior to his speaking up about the ticket quotas and the Stop-and-Frisk, was he a troublemaker in any way? Were there other signs that maybe he was an ill-fit?
Rayman: The first few years, under his first precinct commander, he was well regarded. I was able to obtain the evaluations for his entire career. You can see what happens. For the first few years, he’s under a man named Robert Brower, Deputy Inspector, and Brower gives him high marks. He’s smart, he’s active, quote, unquote, active, whatever that means, and then, something changes when the new precinct commander comes in, is much more Compstat focused. His evaluations suddenly turn bad, almost like that. Like from one year to the next. One year, he’s a great cop, the next year, he’s a lazy cop. It’s because he just started to object to being pushed.
Coiro: I’m talking to my guest, the author of the new book The NYPD Tapes, and he’s also a staff writer for the Village Voice, Graham Rayman, here in the studio. We’re talking about patrol officer Adrian Schoolcraft, who objected, first quietly, and then it got more and more accelerated, to the quota system and the Stop-and -Frisk. It was basically all about making numbers within his division. I want to emphasize that this is not a rogue division or a rogue precinct. You’re pretty sure that this is not unusual behavior throughout the NYPD, and conceivably throughout major urban areas.
Rayman: Well, if you accept that the 81 was a typical police precinct in New York City, then it’s logical to extrapolate that it was happening throughout. The message was coming from headquarters, it was clear, to all the precincts. His precinct commander was a typical precinct commander. I’m absolutely certain that it was happening in other precincts.
And, in fact, I mentioned earlier, there were a number of other cops in other precincts, who came forward. There’s Adil Polanco, in the Bronx, who is in the book, who has a fascinating back story. There’s Craig Matthews, in a different precinct than the Bronx, who sued over quoatas being retaliated for quotas. There’s Robert Burrelli, in Far Rockaway precinct, in Queens. It was happening.
As my work became public, I got calls from a whole bunch of other people who I can’t name, in other precincts around the city, who said it was happening there, too.
But, the thing is, there’s never been an outside investigation. The police department’s always blocked it. We’ve had two mayors, Rudi Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, who have blocked any outside investigation of the crime stats. One of the reasons for that is the crime stats undergird the city’s reputation, and therefore, economic development, tourism, etcetera. It’s a very important number. It may seem kind of esoteric to the listeners –
The other thing is that Compstat spread from New York across the country to many departments, including San Francisco, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago, etcetera. Many former police, NYPD commanders, ended up as commanders of other precincts, of other departments. All you need to do is look in the clips in those cities and in most of them you’ll see some of the same problems that cropped up, because Compstat has this underlying flaw, which is, it makes the numbers both the means and the end. Eventually, you’re going to get cheating and playing with the numbers.
Coiro: One thing may have shifted literally as we were sitting here talking, the New York City Council – We recorded this on Thursday for weekend broadcasts – The New York City Council has just passed the vote that would set up the special inspector to watch the NYPD. So, this may well change. And, to weigh in against the racial prejudice that shows up in Stop-and-Frisk. It appears as though this has a veto proof count behind it. Although Mayor Bloomberg has promised to veto it again, it looks like he may not get away with it, this time.
Rayman: Yeah. Adrian Schoolcraft set something in motion. He’s one of the key elements of setting something in motion that has led to this. The tapes are the tapes. It is what it is. It provided this kind of hard evidence. Before he came along, everything was kind of vague and fuzzy and the department could say “Oh, a few bad apples,” or “You’re not accurate,” and get away with it. But once you hear it in the tapes, it’s kind of hard to ignore it.
Coiro: Why did he start taping it? Let me temper that question by saying Why did he start taping it as early as he did before things really became extreme?
Rayman: He started taping in the middle of ‘08, about a year and a half, a year and three quarters before this whole story climaxes. They were squeezing him. Initially, he told me it was because he wanted to protect himself against civilian complaints on the street. Arguments with people. But, the real reason was that they were squeezing him and he wanted to protect himself against his supervisors and also to build evidence against them. Eventually, he wanted to use it for a kind of report to the commissioner about all the things that he thought were wrong. And, it wasn’t just the things we’re talking about here. He also thought there was poor training, that there was too much overtime, that cops were working way too much. Many cops work six to eight days a week, at least one shift on overtime, if not more.
Coiro: His dad was a cop. Right?
Rayman: Yes, his dad was a cop in Texas. Yes.
Coiro: How do you think that influenced his view of what was going on there, and whether he was willing to stand up. Do you think that was a factor?
Rayman: His dad is name is Larry Schoolcraft, is Adrian’s closest advisor. They talked constantly throughout this period. It was his dad who initially suggested the tape recording.
Coiro: Okay. So, he’s recording, and they’re hearing these things on a daily basis when they start their shift. If this had a predictable trajectory, maybe he’d be punished. He’d go to the police union. And then the police union would stand up for him and maybe this would end up in court. Instead, it ends up in a mental ward.
Connect those dots for me. First he feels like he’s being squeezed, next thing you know, he’s in a mental ward. What happened there?
Rayman: He’s getting squeezed. It gets worse. They put him on desk duty. I go into this in great detail in the book. I’ll just kind of give you the high points. They put him on desk duty. They take him out of enforcement, take away his gun and his shield, make him answer the telephone. Here’s a thirty-two year old, six foot two, two-hundred and forty pound guy answering the telephone – It’s ridiculous – who by the way, was a Navy Corpsman, and is basically a trained paramedic, and very smart.
Then, he’s developing his evidence. He finally gets enough, and his complaints are getting ignored within the precinct. One thing about Schoolcraft is that he goes through the chain of command. He does not start going outside right away. He goes through the chain of command. So, he finally gets up the courage to go to internal affairs, which is the unit that investigates police corruption within the police department. He does that in October of ’09. Several messages are left for him at the precinct from internal affairs, which if anyone’s watched a cop show, you know that’s a huge breach, because, when your precinct buddies find out that you’re talking to internal affairs, they immediately get – There’s actually something, I think it’s called Ghosting the Locker, where you come in and you have white chalk on your locker, which is like a secret signal that you’re a rat. Three weeks later, on Halloween 2009, he comes in to work, he gets harassed by one of his lieutenants, his lieutenant finds his memo book, which is filled with his notes about what’s going on in the precinct, photocopies it. Schoolcraft freaks out – doesn’t freak out, but he just gets really upset and goes home from work early, forty-five minutes, which usually would be a routine disciplinary violation. Five days vacation lost or getting yelled at, when you come in for work the next day. Instead, this becomes an Orwellian experience that builds and builds to the point where a deputy chief, one of the top people in the entire department, we’re talking about thirty-five thousand cops, this guy is probably one of the top one-hundred officials in the entire department. He comes to his house, precinct commander, all these others, the SWAT team, in tactical gear come, and their all standing inside his little one-bedroom apartment. They say “You have to go back to the precinct and face your discipline.” And, he says, Adrian, being a stubborn, independent, person, he’s in his own apartment, he believes he has some rights. He refuses. He say’s “I’m not going. I’m not going back to the precinct.” And they say, “All right. You’re emotionally disturbed,” which is a legal term, which means he is a danger to himself or others. They drag him out of his bed, stomp on him, tie him up, put him in a chair, and then take him to the Jamaica hopital emergency room, where he waits.
Coiro: And he’s rolling tape this whole time. He gets this whole thing on tape.
Rayman: Right. In the aftermath, of course, the cops and the commanders come up with the story that he was acting crazy, right? But, if you listen to the tape or read the transcript, which is in the book, it’s clear that he’s not. He’s responsive, he’s alert, he’s not making any threats, he’s not yelling – until they drag him off his bed, of course. The tape completely contradicts the department’s position that this was a legitimate thing that they did.
Coiro: I was astounded, listening to that. Because you can’t help but put yourself in his position. The way he responded, with these measured tones, when these people just swarmed his house in tactical gear, and clearly saying stuff that’s not accurate. “You have to come in now, to face your discipline,” He is a pretty astoundingly level person.
Rayman: Yeah. Part of it might have been he knew the tape was rolling. Some people have been cynical about that. I think there’s such a high bar to hit, to declare someone a danger to themselves or others. You have to have something that’s actually palpable evidence of some kind and there was no evidence of that.
They should have gone home. He would have come in the next day to work. They would have screamed at him, taken away his vacation days, and that would have been it. That’s the way those things are handled all the time. I’ve heard that from numerous police supervisors. They couldn’t believe this thing was handled the way it was.
Coiro: Well, that’s what they would have done if their point was to discipline him for leaving work early. But that was not their point, obviously.
Rayman: Yeah. I can’t draw direct A to B, but you can infer a lot from the way they handled it.
Coiro: Have you talked to any of those people who were at that scene, besides Adrian?
Rayman: I tried to talk to them on many occasions. What I do have is I have their statements that they provided internally. And that’s something that hasn’t been published. That’s in the book, that’s new. I have what they told investigators after that. In essence, to some extent, yes, I have talked to them, indirectly.
Coiro: Has anyone in authority owned up to what was going on here?
Rayman: No, they say that he was acting irrationally. To a man. After they took him, the commanders went back to their precinct and had a meeting. I don’t know what was said in that meeting. But, after that, their interviews were very much, very similar to each other. In fact, one of the precinct – commander, I believe – says that Adrian suddenly jumped up and ran toward him, silently, as if – you know, like – Almost as if he realized there was a tape, so he had to come up with some kind of fantasy, kind of like thing where Adrian jumped up and ran silently toward him.
Coiro: Glided ghostlike across the room.
Rayman: Made a face at him, or something. You know, again, there’s a case log, going back a hundred and ten years, about your rights to both refuse medical attention, refuse to be taken to the hospital, and your rights to be secure in your own home. It’s the constitution: Fourth Amendment. And your rights as far as being declared a psychiatric problem – a danger to yourself. And they didn’t hit any of those bars.
Coiro: One of the things they tried to cite on the scene was that “You are an officer and I am giving you an order,” as though that superseded constitutional rights. As thought that changed what was available to a citizen versus what’s available to a cop.
Rayman: Exactly. Exactly. They also came into his apartment without a warrant. They came into his apartment with no warrant and they said that, it’s a very good point. And Adrian’s response is, “Go ahead, write it up, write it up. Discipline me. I’m not going with you.” I don’t know how many people would have been able to handle that in that situation, but you know that’s kind of the right response. He was asserting his civil rights. As you say, he still a United States citizen.
Coiro: I’m talking to Graham Rayman about his book The NYPD Tapes, a Shocking Story of Cops, Cover Ups, and Courage. It is the story of Adrian Schoolcraft and his battle with the 81st precinct of the NYPD. Let me pick up what you referred to, which is for those of us who watch TV and know how these things work, which we probably know less than we think, but, we often see, when an officer is in trouble, the first thing they do, they call the union rep, everybody clams up, the union is there for the guy. Where’s the union, here?
Rayman: One of the strange things about the police union is that they walk away from officers, sometimes. They represent some and they walk away from others. For example, Abner Louima, the man who was sodomized in a precinct station house in 1997, word famous, infamous case, they represented those officers and spent millions of dollars on legal help for them. Adrian Schoolcraft, they didn’t spend a dime on him. They just turned their back on him.
Coiro: Did you talk to them?
Rayman: I did, I did. They would not –
Coiro: Wouldn’t talk?
Rayman: Well, they wouldn’t talk to me for the record. They didn’t want to give me a real honest explanation of why they did that. There was some kind of vague answer about “Oh, well, that’s not really our place to get involved in matters of psychiatric facilities.” It was ridiculous.
Coiro: He was really standing alone. That’s about as alone as you can get.
Rayman: Under the contract, their obligated to indemnify the officer and represent him, but they just didn’t fulfill their responsibility.
Coiro: And let’s go back to where you were talking about the IAB, that they broke protocol in leaving messages for him. Are there other indicators that the IAB was working on the wrong side of this issue?
Rayman: Another thing that is very interesting about this story, is that the NYPD is not a monolithic entity. It’s a series of competing factions. Very competitive. Very ambitious people trying to rise – So you had different units working on different elements of the story. For example, there’s a un’it called Inspections, which was tied to the chief, who was in Schoolcraft’s apartment, under his command. They were working to really discredit Schooolcraft. They filed one charge after another. After this whole thing happened. Probably two dozen charges in all. Then you had Internal Affairs, which was working on the Schoolcraft element, and then you had the Quality Assurance Division, which was working on Schoolcraft’s allegations about downgrading of crime. So, they’re working on their own agenda, there. And then, you have Police Commissioner Kelly, worried about the image of the department. All of these things are happening at the same time. They all kind of had different agendas of what they’re doing. So, it’s a very complicated situation.
The borough, the Inspections unit, they conclude that Schoolcraft was completely wrong. Quality assurance concludes that Schoolcraft was completely right. And then, you have Internal Affairs, whose motivations are kind of split between punishing some of the commanders and punishing Schoolcraft.
Their reports are very contradictory. They don’t go either way. The Quality Assurance report, that exonerates Schoolcraft, is finished in the middle of 2010 and the department promptly buries it. It does not see the light of day until eighteen months later when someone slipped me a copy.
Coiro: This is just amazing.
Rayman: So, to answer your question, what’s going on under the surface is much more complicated than it seems to be.
Coiro: We’ll get into this to some greater extent in the next segment, but I want to emphasize to our listeners this not a finished story. There are lawsuits still going on. As you mentioned, there are investigations that didn’t see the light of day and fights to get to see what happened with the investigation. It doesn’t look as though a lot of lessons have been learned, here.
Rayman: You mean by the police department?
Rayman: Yeah. Again, overall, they’ve fought a rear-guard action, kind of slowing everthing down. Mayor Bloomberg’s term is up at the end of December. Kelly is probably going to leave. Yeah, there’s a lot still going on.
Coiro: We have one remaining segment with Graham Rayman to wrap up the story of the NYPD Tapes. That’s his new book on the story of Adrian Schoolcraft and the NYPD. The story first emerged when Rayman was writing it up for the Village Voice, then it got picked up by This American Life, and now it is out in book form. We’ll put a link to that book on our web site at www.indeepradio.com. So, all of this has hit the fan. Last we heard, Adrian Schoolcraft is in a mental ward, bring us from there to the present. How did he finally get out of there? And, what became of him?
Rayman: Well, he was released after six days. He was given no diagnosis, at all, no explanation for what happened. Basically, the documents I’ve seen suggest that the hospital just took the police officers’ word about what happened and they kept him for observation. But, Schoolcraft is never gotten any explanation for that. The kicker is that they gave him a $7800 bill when he left.
Coiro: Oh, my God!
Rayman: So then, he and his dad decide to flee the city. So, they go up north of Albany, where his dad lives and hole up. The department sends supervisors, lieutenants and sergeants day after day after day, in a weird, heavy handed effort, officially to get him to come back to work, but I think it was really about intimidation. They surveilled the house. This is shocking. This is new in the book. They ran his criminal records and his dad’s criminal records. They ran his name through a terrorist database, they ran their cars, they sent up this sophisticated surveillance unit called TARU, to use special video cameras, and there are some funny entries in the logs. There’s one entry that says “Subject observed in sweatpants and tee-shirt.”
Coiro: Very damning!
Rayman: Right, or “Light from fish tank appears to have been turned on.” As if it was like a serious criminal investigation and they were observing somebody, you know, a drug lord, or something. Just – Adrian had never been charged with a crime. So, that went on for a while. And then, finally, that stopped. Adrian and his dad have been living hand to mouth for three years. Adrian has not been able to find work. Partially because it’s difficult to explain the situation to an employer. They think: “Wait. You’re suspended from the New York City Police Department and I’m going to hire you? Are you kidding?”: And also, another kind of vindictive thing the department did was they blocked his application for welfare. The term is different up there, but basically welfare support from the government.
Coiro: So much of this brushes close to – if not falls over into – stalking and terrorizing, in the lay person’s sense of the words. It’s this ongoing influence on the course of his life.
Rayman: Yes. Yes. They were trying to squeeze him and are continuing to squeeze him. Finally, he filed a lawsuit. Then, two years passed, there was a lot of delay. No depositions were taken, and they fired their first group of lawyers. And then, they fired their second group of lawyers. And now they are on their third, which is sort of both something the Schoolcrafts have to bear responsibility for, but also an example of how much pressure their under. They have no money. They’re taking on a four billion dollar agency with limitless legal funds and they’re just two guys.
Coiro: But, the story’s so much bigger than him – pardon my interrupting you – The story’s so much bigger than him. And, I’m thinking about, for example, we talked earlier about the downgrading of charges. Talking about a serial rapist, making his way through the neighborhood. And, because he’s been charged with trespassing, nobody makes the connection that there’s a serial rapist. In retrospect, with all of this having come out, I guess, in an ideal situation, it wouldn’t just be the Schoolcraft’s trying to go up against the NYPD by themselves. But, there are all these victims who were talked out of filing charges, whose day in court was never heard because the charges were downgraded. I guess I’d like to see them as kind of a phalanx that can together go after the NYPD.
Rayman: Yeah, I guess there is a class action case, there. Of crime victims whose reports were not taken. To my knowledge – no lawyer’s come to me seeking to talk about such an action. Maybe it’s been considered, but I don’t know. The Stop-and-Frisk class action was very much like that. It was filed by victims of constitutional violations under Stop and Frisk.
Coiro: I know this is an odd thing, but Adrian Schoolcraft – he can’t disappear. If his name were Joe Smith. He might have a shot at this. Just the unusual quality of his name. This is going to follow him pretty much everywhere.
Rayman: Yeah, it will. He’s kind of locked into it, because, if he pulls out of the lawsuit, it’s going to look really bad.
His father says something in the book which is kind of poignant. He says, “I’m worried that if this thing doesn’t work out, he’s never going to be able to recover from it.” In some respects this is like a bizarre dark comedy. In other respects, it’s deadly serious. I’m pretty sure that when he took his oath as a police officer, he never imagined that ten years later, that’s where he’d be.
Coiro: A blast from the past for those of who grew up in the 70s and 80s. The famous cop Serpico decided to get involved in this case.
Rayman: Yeah, that’s correct. Frank Serpico has been living quietly up near Woodstock, New York, for many years. And, has felt an affinity for Schooolcraft. They got together. He actually cooked Schoolcraft a salmon dinner at his house. There’s a wonderful picture of him and of Schoolcraft and Serpico with Serpico’s pet raven. Just to give you a sense of what it’s like to be a whistleblower, even Serpico, forty-two years after the years when he was –
Coiro: The anti-corruption guy.
Rayman: Right. He still – You don’t have to scratch much to get him to talk about it – But, he still talks about how he was shot in the face and when they didn’t call Officer Down – they called it a shooting, they didn’t call it Officer Down or a 10:13. He says “I want my 10:13.” To this day, he’s still upset about it.
Coiro: There’s some language that shows up in the book. If you didn’t know you were listening to cops, you’d think you were hearing a gang. Pulling out one quote here. This is from the tapes and this is a lieutenant, who says “They don’t,” – He’s talking about the residents, here – “They don’t own the block. We own the block. They might live there, but we own the block. We own the streets here.” That’s gang talk. I understand there are subtleties, there are many individual human beings here. But throughout the reporting on this, through all the different phases of reporting, and all the different people that you talked to, how prevalent is that attitude, where it’s us versus them.
Rayman: Oh, it’s very prevalent. It’s very prevalent. I think there’s a real fortress mentality in the precincts. Precincts – Decades ago, you could walk into a precinct and say, “I’ve got a problem, can you come and help me solve it.” Nowadays, you walk into a precinct and they immediately are suspicious of why you’re there. Especially in a neighborhood like that, where you have a large African American community, a history of civil rights issues and unrest – there were riots in Bed/Sty in the 50s,60s, and 70s – and, this fortress-like police building. And it’s unnecessarily so. It shouldn’t be that kind of antagonism. Communities should feel comfortable with interacting with the police, because, after all, the police – what are they there for? To protect them. They’re not there to occupy them.
Coiro: What do the neighbors do? Is there a neighborhood group? Is there someone trying to set up a liaison? In other words, if you’re living under that kind of attitude and those kinds of cops, what do you do – as a neighborhood?
Rayman: Well, I’m oversimplifying – There are people who respected the precinct commander a great deal. He presented one face to the community and one face inside the precinct. Which is another interesting wrinkle to the story. But, there are people who defended him, even after he got in trouble for the Schoolcraft stuff.
Coiro: People within the neighborhood?
Rayman: Sure, sure. There’s community organizations. Think of it as a town of eighty thousand people and he’s the police chief. Everything you would have in a town of that size, you in Bed/Sty. There’s all kinds of opinions. I talked to a pizza owner who defended Moriello, the precinct commander to the last. He said, “We used to have kids come in here. He made sure that they were gone.” On the other hand, there were other people. There’s a guy who I interviewed, who grew up in the neighborhood, went on to play basketball professionally in Europe, he had a business degree and he could have gone and worked in Wall Street, but he decided to come back to the same building he grew up in and started a little music production company. He told me that one day, he saw the precinct commander, he had seven teenagers lined up on a wall and he was whistling Danny Boy as they were carted off and detained for no reason. Just for happening to stand out on that corner for a period of time.
Coiro: You would think with everything that Adrian Schooolcraft went through and how tight the police community is, you know that this was widely known, but as you mentioned in an earlier part of the show, people did start stepping forward. And, some of them were willing to put their name to their complaints. What is it about these people, with your experience talking to them, why are they willing to come forward when they see just how bad it can get?
Rayman: Their motivations were different. Harold Hernandez, who you mentioned earlier – the serial rapist, this is detective Harold Hernandez, he was so disgusted by his experience with downgrading that he retired early. He finally came forward. When he saw my story, initially, he called me up and said “I’ve got to tell this story.” Adil Polenco was sick of stopping and frisking Hispanic men, who – he had grown up in the same neighborhood – in Washington Heights, which is very similar to the neighborhood he was working in in the Bronx. He had grown up, he had survived that. He got a high school degree against the odds, he had done all this stuff. He became a police officer. He was very proud of becoming a police officer. And, now he was asked to basically stop and frisk, himself.
Other kids, their names go into the system. And, by the way, a lot of these kids weren’t just stopped and frisked once. I met a kid who was stopped and frisked sixteen times without any arrest. That’s harassment. That’s over and over again, he’s walking down the sidewalk. So, Polenco just drew a line and said “I’m not going to do it, anymore.” So, they had different motivations.
Coiro: Have they see retribution?
Rayman: Yeah. Polenco is still being paid his full salary, but he’s in a unit called Viper, which sounds really exciting, but actually, all he does is watch closed circuit television. There’s cameras in the public housing projects and that’s all he does is, eight-hours a day, watch closed circuit TV for any possible crime. It’s a complete dead-end job. He’s going to be there for a while. Again, here’s another young, intelligent officer, who could contribute to the department, who’s been put out to pasture because he spoke up. Many of these people who spoke up have been put out to pasture. Since the police commissioner has the ultimate say on your assignment, you can sit indefinitely in a non-enforcement job like for the rest of your career.
Coiro: You must have watched the arguments for Stop-and-Frisk very differently than a lot of us did. How did you think the whole argument was portrayed in the media. Do you think that the average person understands why this is problematic.
Rayman: Yeah, I had a different take on the Stop-and-Frisk. The number of Stop-and-Frisks grew very large over the last eight years. People assumed it was racial, that the cops were targeting Black and Hispanic people because, they were racists. But, really, it was about the quotas. It was about making the numbers. That’s my opinion. Based on the tapes, based on my experience as a police reporter. You can’t draw a direct A to B that it was a bunch of racist cops going after – it was really about the quotas. It was about this pressure coming down. Get me Stop-and-Frisk. Get me Stop-and-Frisk. Get me Stop-and-Frisk. In the minority neighborhoods, you saw a lot more Stop-and-Frisks.
Coiro: You made a reference earlier to how the distinction was being made, but if they’re in Manhattan, they’re probably cool, and if they’re in Bed/Sty, they’re probably not, were the quotas different in Bed/Sty than they would be in Manhattan? I mean, did you have to Stop-and-Frisk X number of, you know, bankers, per day?
Rayman: Yeah, that’s not going to fly. You could imagine what would happen. There’d be phone calls to the city hall with thirty seconds of that.
Coiro: So, the numbers are literally different. The quota numbers would be different, one area to another.
Rayman: But the crime in – we’re talking about the nineteen three precinct – which is on the upper east side, versus the eight-one, the crime is also different. A lot of it is inside. It’s a different kind of neighborhood. A lot of the drug dealing happens inside. It’s deliveries. It’s a different sort of enforcement, also. It’s true that there are fewer Stop-and-Frisks in the 19th precinct than in the 81st precinct, definitely.
Coiro: Let’s give one last look at Adrian Schoolcraft. Is anyone helping him. Are there organizations? Have people been moved by hearing his story, or are they really up there battling it alone? Kind of trying to find the right lawyer?
Rayman: Yeah, there are people who would love to help. But, the Schoolcrafts are kind of, through their nature, kind of loners, and they’re ninety miles north of the city. They’re hard to reach and they’ve resisted any outside help. They have. So, they have their lawyers and they’re basically putting all their chips their chips on the lawsuit and rolling the die – I’m mixing the metaphors, but they’re basically rolling the dice on the lawsuit. That could take another year before it’s resolved.
Coiro: And, how has he felt about the coverage and the elevation of his name to such a public status?
Rayman: Initially, he felt – I think this happens with a lot of whistleblowers, too – initially, he felt really good about it. And then, there was some griping, and then – with some people who wrote about him, he went silent – with me, he’s periodically gone silent, so I would talk to his dad, or I would talk to his lawyer. This is like a three and a half year war of attrition. So, it’s not just going to remain static. Things are going to change. I’ve just tried to be honest with them and truthful and just understand the amount of pressure they’re under.
Coiro: Wow! It’s been a really illuminating hour. Thank you so much and good luck with the book.
Rayman: Thank you very much for having me.
Coiro: Good to have Graham Rayman here in the studio and we have a link to new book, The NYPD Tapes on our web site at indeepradio.com. We’ll also link to the This American Life episode that we’ve been refering to and some other good writing by our friend Josh Holland at Alternet as well. All of that at Indeepradio.com.