Saturday, January 26, 2008

Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.

A dirty little corruption scandal has erupted in the Narcotics Division of Brooklyn South, encompassing the 17 precincts between the water and Eastern Parkway. Nearly 20 officers in two graveyard shifts have been reprimanded—some facing criminal charges—for purportedly doling out confiscated narcotics (to wit: crack) to confidential informants. Commissioner Kelly has reassigned (demoted, really) senior officials in the citywide narcotics division.

It’s quite an embrassment to the department, to be sure. Fall out is certain. The NYT discusses structural management problems in Narcotics’ overnight shifts. Daily News gives a grittier portrait, referencing allegations by a CI that an officer gave her crack in exchange for sex (rape is indeed mentioned), and another story, less salacious but fairly ugly, about a micro-cover up.

But there’s gray area. The officers are not accused of using or selling the drugs. Rather, they supposedly used them to secure cooperation from CIs. In other words, they did it to yield better policing outcomes. The Times’ gets an unnamed police source to call it “noble-cause corruption.” (Aside: I’m astonished, but probably shouldn’t be, by the fact the Daily News’ article that breaks the story is constructed almost entirely of quotes from unnamed sources. For shame, sayeth the j-school student!)

This incident is surely a reflection of NYPD’s struggles to get cooperation from CIs, which as us post-Wire urbanoligists know is the lynchpin to winning any Drug War skirmish. As the News points out, NYPD has a paltry budget for CI compensation. But probably more to the point, they face a monolithic anti-snitching culture that gets you in a lot of trouble for cooperating with the police. (Here’s not the place to discuss how Drug War enforcement fosters violent animosity towards aggressive, skull-knocking cops.)

See this appalling sentence in the Daily News article, wholly validating the culture of condemning cooperation with police as the lowliest form of cowardice:
Undercover cops are allowed to pay snitches, known as confidential informants, but have to go through a lengthy vetting and paperwork process to do so.
I mean, shouldn’t the media—even NYC's esteemed tabloids—promote the idea of community ownership and police-citizen cooperation? Even Brian Lehrer uses this problematic word. Brian Lehrer!? I don’t use the big word “monolithic” lightly to describe how thoroughly the term “snitch” dominates the dialogue.

I certainly don’t mean to justify the officers’ corruption. Their actions—even without the possibility of sexual abuse—are inexcusable. As both the Times and News point out, over 150 prosecutions brought by the Division may be compromised.
Defense attorneys could make mincemeat out of a cop on the [witness] stand if the cop was involved in this mess," said a source close to the investigation. "And it could force old cases to be reopened, examined and thrown out as well even if the arrests were good.
And a good quote in the Times from a former chief of Brooklyn detectives:
"For them to become, in essence, crack dealers, shame on them,” Mr. Abruzzi said. “The question is: `Were they lazy? Was it an accepted practice in the unit? And, if so, why would it become accepted?’ Either way it is wrong; it is against the law and it is against our rules and no matter how you slice it, it is corruption.”
An interesting aside: Charles Hynes, the Brooklyn DA, seems to be washing his hands of the investigation, leaving it up to Internal Affairs: "I have full confidence in the ability and the integrity of the Internal Affairs Bureau of the NYPD and we're working very closely with them," Hynes said to the News. I'm not sure if's that S.O.P., respecting turf, or what.

1 comment:

Matt Schwarzfeld said...

A follow-up piece in NYT with some background on the detective and sergeant who have now been indicted.