Monday, February 20, 2012

Two Impact Zone Officers Act Like Meatheads on Franklin

(two officers - not the two mentioned in the following story - patrol Franklin Avenue as part of Operation Impact)

Last week, I found myself walking about 10 feet behind two young police officers as I made my way home down Franklin. The pair, presumably part of the NYPD's Impact Zone, were joking and laughing, when one asked the other (raising his voice enough for me to hear), "Hey, is that the guy you thought was drinking earlier?" as he gestured at an elderly man heading into the BNI Laundromat. The second officer answered "yeah," and the first replied excitedly, "Let's fuck with him! Let's fuck with him!" Officer number two agreed. "Yeah, let's fuck with him," he said, as the two picked up their pace and ducked into the laundromat. As I watched from outside, they confronted the man, who looked frazzled and frustrated, and who clearly wasn't drinking anything at that particular moment. Still, the officers ushered him out of the laundromat as he shouted "I wasn't drinking anything!" Once outside, they laughed and told him to get lost, and he stormed past me muttering angrily about cops always harassing him. The two officers turned and headed back up the hill toward Eastern Parkway, and I stood wondering whether it was worth telling the officers that I didn't think it was their job to "fuck with" people. Since I've got a bit of a public platform here, I can say it now: Impact Zone officers absolutely should not gleefully "fuck with" anyone. If the man in question was drinking earlier, issue him a citation for an open container at that moment and be done with it. Acting like a couple of high school bullies might provide an ego boost for young officers who are none too fond of walking Impact beats, but it doesn't make anyone safer, it's completely unprofessional, a complete waste of our tax dollars, and in the context of the particular incident I witnessed, it confirms the critique that zero tolerance policing amounts to institutionalized racially-based harassment (particularly in changing neighborhoods). 

I can't argue that this incident was representative of our particular Impact Zone, and I can absolutely say that I've seen several officers from both the Impact Zone and the 77th Precinct serving professionally up and down Franklin, particularly since the CHCA made an effort to encourage them to work on their community interactions back in May. However, I think it's important to highlight incidents like these, because one ugly interaction can overshadow months of good work, and because this kind of police behavior can needlessly escalate routine interactions. In the context of years of damning reports about the quality of NYPD training and quota-driven policing, including the Voice's devastating "NYPD tapes" reporting (which brought forth similar reports from other precincts) and, more recently, the hateful "Third Jihad" video (a story that was also originally broken by the Voice, which has done heroic work on police abuses in the last few years), it's hard not to see this kind of behavior as indicative of the poor instruction officers receive before they enter "Impact Zones." I'm unclear on exactly how officers are prepared (one would think such preparation would include encouragement not to "fuck with" people), but the very language used to describe these areas ("high risk," etc) encourages police (and media) to see them as war zones, ones where police are empowered, if not required, to bring an extra dose of aggression to the job. Such aggression doesn't just lead to meatheaded behavior - it can have deadly and tragic consequences for New Yorkers. 

Local community groups and politicians tend to support Impact Zones, and the NYPD routinely crows about their effectiveness. Insisting that officers be trained to see locals not as threats or targets for intimation but as community members who desire safe streets as much as they do (and the vast majority of residents, even in the most "dangerous" neighborhoods, want exactly this) can only improve their effectiveness, the quality of life for residents, and the safety of officers. It's not too much to demand that police perform their duties professionally, and behave not as the occupying army of a billionaire, but as public servants.


  1. This is especially sad (& pathetic) as their target was an elderly man. I have an elderly relative in the neighborhood, and the thought of him being "f---ed with" by a couple of young cops ...

    According to the recent CUNY report on our neighborhood (rolling up CH & Prospect Heights), over 8% of residents reported having experienced a stop and frisk in 2009. ( I found myself wondering, if that stat could be broken down by ethnicity, what percent of our black/latino population experienced a stop and frisk that frisk? Sometimes this neighborhood feels like a lockdown.

  2. It's hard to know when confronting someone can change their minds at all, and I would be very, very hesitant to confront a pair of police officers - it just seems like a good way to get arrested. I'm a white female so I can sometimes get away with some form of wide-eyed passive-ish confrontation like, "Do you REALLY have to go over and fuck with him? [bambi eyes] Gosh, why? I wish you wouldn't." - but not everyone can. (I once possibly stalled a possible arrest of someone for being in a park after hours that way ["gosh we CAN'T be in the park at this time? gee I had no idea"] but it's a pretty hollow/degrading sort of method, and only marginally effective, and I imagine it will eventually get me arrested anyway.)

    However, this is the kind of case where getting their names and/or badge numbers and reporting them might be useful. Just like the vast majority of residents of a neighborhood are interested in making the neighborhood safer, I believe the vast majority of cops are, too - at least the vast majority of the time.

    I wonder if anyone else has an idea for unobtrusively getting a cop's badge number... my inclination if I didn't feel safe trying my usual method would be to walk up and ask a question like, "Are you guys part of the impact zone?" or "where is the local police precinct located?" ... "OK, thank you, Officer... Thompson." And yeah, it's going to be patently obvious to them when their superior reports the complaint to them, that it was you that did it, and then when they see you again in the neighborhood, you'll have to have the delayed confrontation. But at least if the original incident was due to some momentary aberration of high spirits or whatever, there might be a chance that the second confrontation will go better.

  3. I can't imagine that the owners or customers of BNI laundry would have any problem with the police telling a guy they know isn't doing laundry to get lost.

    And, I suspect that is because most people only want to do their laundry in the presence of other people doing their laundry.

    I find it unrealistic to expect store owners and people doing their laundry to bear the burden of giving the elderly refuge. I think the worst part of this situation has so far gone unexplored: While the police were crude in how they described their daily work, the worst part of this situation is that this old guy seems to have very few places he can spend his time that don't interfere with rights and preferences of others.

    What should we do while we wait for more senior centers, shelters, affordable housing and alcohol rehab centers to be built? How many must be built before we are able to move along those we don't desire?

    I mean, we aren't going to make these places compulsory, right?

    1. WTF? Who said the guy wasn't doing his laundry? Anyway, if these cops weren't fucking with this guy, they would have been fucking with some other guy. Like maybe Garnett Phillips who runs the Candy Rush who has been detained by the cops multiple times.

    2. my mistake, of course I meant Kevin Phillips

    3. MikeF, you've added a lot of assumptions to your assessment of this situation. As I witnessed it, the elderly man walked into the laundromat to talk to someone he knew, and while she didn't follow him out, she also looked confused and annoyed when the police interrupted their conversation. No one from BNI was involved at any point, either in calling the police in or accusing the man once they entered. He didn't appear to be homeless or to have no place to go, and he wasn't acting drunk or disorderly in BNI. He did start yelling at the police after they forced him to leave, but unless you read that as an admission of guilt, I don't see how his behavior warranted their response. I've stopped in BNI many times to say hello to friends doing laundry (sometimes even after a beer!), and I don't think such conversations constitute an interference with anyone else's rights.

      "While the police were crude in how they described their daily work, the worst part of this situation is that this old guy seems to have very few places he can spend his time that don't interfere with rights and preferences of others."

      I didn't write this situation up because I want the police to be more polite (that would be nice, as would my own pet unicorn). I wrote it up because, as I witnessed it, the man they decided to "f--k with" was in no way interfering with anyone's rights and preferences. I don't think that harassing people who pose no threat to anyone is part of the "daily work" of police. Moreover, I find their conceptualize of their duties as "f--king" with people both telling and problematic. I don't think officers should make it a goal to rule by intimidation (and to their credit, I don't think most do). I find such policing to be ineffective, offensive, and a violation of the rights of residents not to endure constant harassment by the police.

      And yes, there are absolutely elderly people in our community who have no place to go, and we should think long and hard about how to provide them with places. I just don't think this individual can, based on my observations, be categorized as such.

  4. Like most, I'm not sure whether these additional details are good news.

    Don't we still have have bored cops, and a public that largely gives them the discretion to do their jobs as they see fit? Don't we still have situations in which we tell police to use discretion, yet second guess them? Don't we still hire police from a pool of people that possess the same biases as the rest of us?

    Or is that too much for the web?

    1. I think that is exactly what Nick is saying.

  5. PS. He's lucky the police weren't so bored that they decided to arrest him for some trumped up charge for yelling at them. Such things happen way too frequently.

  6. Was this brought up at the community meeting?

  7. my boyfriend was stopped by two beat cops the other day because they said he "looked at them funny". they checked his ID and patted him down and told him to empty his pockets. to me it seemed way out of line. . .

  8. I was waiting for soup at Happy Wok on Franklin one night a few weeks ago. I was witness to 6 young cops also waiting for food, cursing loudly, making inappropriate jokes about women and bitching about they are disrespected by older cops because they weren't cops yet on 9/11.

    Another patron in the shop whispered to me, "How disrespectful of them to be cursing like that when we can hear them." I agreed.

    Another time, I heard a cop on his cell phone complaining about how he hates working Franklin Av. because it's "so freakin' ghetto" and there are no good places to eat.

    Lastly (and I wish I were quick enough with my camera for this one), I witnessed two cops eating lunch in their car parked on Franklin Av. actually TOSS THEIR TRASH OUT THE CAR WINDOW when they were done. Absolutely repulsive. They sped off before I could get their license plate #, though I doubt I'd get anywhere with the NYPD on that one.

    Other cops on Franklin Av. seem respectful and professional. But these few rude and disrespectful officers give their fellow cops a bad name.

  9. Cops are definitely not what they used to be, now just undisciplined punks on a power trip.