By this time, Serrano knew he wasn’t the only cop secretly taping his superiors. Officer Adrian Schoolcraft had recorded a year and a half of roll calls in Brooklyn’s 81st Precinct; excerpts appeared in The Village Voice in the spring of 2010. That same year, a cop named Adhyl Polanco in the precinct next to Serrano’s, the 41st, went public with recordings he’d made, including one of a roll call in which cops were told to do “one and twenty”—one arrest and twenty summonses—a month.
Serrano followed the officers’ stories in the media and knew how both men had been treated by their bosses after they fought back. Schoolcraft was suspended from his job, but not before officers had gone to his apartment, cuffed him, and hauled him off to the psych ward at Jamaica Hospital, where he was confined for six days. Polanco was transferred to the viper Unit in Brooklyn and spent his shifts watching video monitors of housing projects. No longer allowed to do real police work, he’d become, in NYPD parlance, “a broken toy.”
Serrano didn’t know what he was going to do with his audio files, but the more conversations he recorded, the more hours he spent on his bed at home, headphones pressed to his ears, trying to parse exactly what had been said. He took notes, writing down the timing of anything that seemed especially revealing, and sometimes he’d play a snippet for his wife: “Listen to this! Did you hear what he just said?”
She never seemed too interested. “She’d say, ‘Yeah, I know, I know,’ and just pacify me.” The way he saw it: “My wife doesn’t understand because, for the most part, females are not the ones who get 250-ed.”
When he wanted to talk to someone who he thought would be more supportive, he called his two brothers, both of whom had left the Bronx at a young age to join the Army. “They’ve been through it. They’ve also been 250-ed. They know exactly what the police department does to civilians.”
How do you measure the performance of a cop? It was a question that arose at the end of every year, when it was time for annual evaluations.
Serrano now worked as a patrol officer, driving around on the four-to-midnight shift (known as the 4-12), answering radio calls, responding to ten or more jobs a night. The 4-0 was so busy that he regularly started his shift with jobs already “stacked up”—911 calls that had come in earlier and were still waiting for a response. Depending on the night, he might be cracking down on a drag race on East 132nd Street; trying to break up a fight between inebriated men outside the strip club Sin City; or responding to a call from Lincoln Hospital about a guy who arrived at the ER, bleeding from a bullet wound. Being a patrol officer carried less status than working in a specialized unit, but Serrano liked the job, partly because he was so busy that nobody seemed overly concerned with how many summonses or stop-and-frisks he did.
That changed in late September 2011 when the 4-0 got a new commanding officer, 38-year-old deputy inspector Christopher J. McCormack. His nickname was “Red Rage”—his face would turn crimson when he started hollering—and within the department he was considered to be a rising star. His officers described him as being on the path to making chief one day.
At the end of 2011, Serrano received a three out of five on his annual evaluation, down from a four the prior year. He wasn’t sure why his score dropped, since all the written comments (albeit sprinkled with typos) were positive:
PO Serrano adheres to the ethics of the department and guidelines.
PO Serrano handles sensitive situation with a care and empathy.
PO Serrano is competent police officer that has the abitity to be leader.
When Serrano appealed his score, he met with the 4-0’s executive officer, Captain Martine Materasso. The meeting lasted no more than five minutes. What was said is a matter of dispute. Serrano says she told him half his score was based on his “enforcement activity”—his number of arrests, 250s, and summonses. For all of 2011, he’d done only five arrests, two summonses, and three 250 forms, fewer than he’d done the year before. Materasso denies talking about specific numbers, later saying, “Did I believe that he was every day out there serving the people of the 4-0 like he should be? I don’t believe he was.”
Serrano disagreed. He answered more than 1,000 radio calls in a typical year. Like the time he responded to a call about an “EDP”—emotionally disturbed person—at an apartment on Trinity Avenue. As he pulled up in front of the building, he saw five children huddled on the second-floor fire escape, screaming about a stranger in their apartment.