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Officer Serrano’s Hidden Camera

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His testimony stretched over two days. Serrano explained to Judge Shira A. Scheindlin how, in his view, around 2007, the 4-0’s bosses had ratcheted up the pressure, shifting from what he called a “soft quota” to a hard quota, from a suggestion of how many summonses or stop-and-frisks the cops should do—to a number that they had to hit, or else be punished.

“It’s not good to tell cops: ‘Make sure you find it,’ ” he said. “Because if they don’t find it, what’s left? If the bad guy is not there, who is left? The good people. And you got to hammer them.”

The only time he became emotional was when his lawyer asked him why he’d come to testify. “Well, Judge, it’s very simple,” he said. “I have children. I try to be a decent person. You have got to excuse me. Whenever I talk about my kids …” He paused for a moment, trying to blink back tears. “As a Hispanic, walking in the Bronx, I have been stopped many times. It’s not a good feeling. I promised as an officer I would respect everyone to the best of my abilities. I just want to do the right thing. That’s all.”

To bolster their case, the plaintiffs’ lawyers presented evidence Serrano had collected. They played the tape of Lieutenant Barrett telling the cops she was “looking for five” summonses and/or 250s. They flashed on a screen a text message Serrano had received from his sergeant a few months earlier: “U need to do more 250.” And they played a recording Serrano had made of a meeting he’d had with Deputy Inspector McCormack on February 14, 2013.

As precinct commander, McCormack oversaw some 235 officers. Though he’d been at the 4-0 for seventeen months, he’d never met Serrano before this meeting; he recognized the name, but couldn’t remember ever having a conversation with him. The meeting had been set up so Serrano could appeal his latest job evaluation. The conversation, however, focused largely on stop-and-frisk.

The prior year, Serrano recalled stopping five or six people, but the NYPD’s records showed only two 250s. “To stop two people, you know, to only see two things going on, that’s almost like you’re purposely not doing your job at all,” McCormack said.

Serrano tried to defend himself, but McCormack continued, “For the 4-12s in the 4-0, you know, I could see in Central Park maybe that would be fine, but this ain’t Central Park.”

The longer the conversation continued, the more heated both men became.

Serrano: “Mott Haven, full of blacks and Hispanics. Okay … So what am I supposed to do? Is it stop every black and Hispanic?” He repeated the question several times.

McCormack: “This is about stopping the right people, the right place, the right location … Take Mott Haven, where we had the most problems. And the most problems we had there were robberies and grand larcenies.”

Serrano: “And who are those people robbing?”

McCormack: “The problem was, what, male blacks. And I told you at roll call, and I have no problem telling you this: male blacks, 14 to 20, 21.”

In the courtroom, the plaintiffs’ lawyers pointed to McCormack’s line about ­stopping “male blacks, 14 to 20, 21” as ­evidence that the NYPD was racial-­profiling. The next day, a story appeared on the front page of the New York Times, ­presenting Serrano’s tape as something of a smoking gun: “BRONX INSPECTOR, SECRETLY TAPED, SUGGESTS RACE IS A FACTOR IN STOPS.”

The story sparked a skirmish between the Times and the NYPD. One week later, the Times’ public editor wrote a column in which she criticized the paper’s story, saying that it had lacked sufficient context. The NYPD’s spokesman insisted McCormack had been referring to suspects in a specific pattern of crimes—not racial profiling—and referred to Serrano as a “disgruntled, race-baiting cop.”

In the courtroom, when he’d heard the tape of his conversation with ­McCormack, Serrano became enraged all over again. “You can ask me whatever you want, but the one thing you can’t ask me is to go after a specific race,” he said later. ­“Coming from a white man, it pissed me off. It brought me back to being in Little Italy and this racist pressure you can’t control … When he mentioned race, it felt like someone was suffocating me.”

The trial of Floyd v. City of New York continued through the rest of March, all of April, and into May. To refute Serrano’s testimony, the city’s lawyers put six supervisors on the witness stand. Sergeant Stephen Monroe described him as a “mediocre” cop. Sergeant Eduardo Silva said he was your “basic average officer.” Lieutenant Barrett, whom he’d recorded at roll call telling officers she was “looking for five,” insisted this was not a quota but a “performance goal.”


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