The narcotics cops from New York’s 83rd Precinct didn’t get much for their effort when they opened a stake-out at J&C Mini Mart in Brooklyn four years ago.
The sun was setting that autumn afternoon when they moved in on what appeared to be a crack deal. Seizing what they thought were two packets, they ended up with just residue. The undercover cops arrested two men, the buyer, and the seller, but the charges against one of the individuals was dropped later.
The cops didn’t get an arrest. Instead, they ended up with twenty-hours overtime and took home an extra $1,400 in additional cash.
The officers involved in the arrests appeared in Federal District Court for the beginning of a civil-rights trial where they faced accusations they detained one of the men, Hector Cordero, merely to juice their income. If any of the four officers involved are found responsible, another trial will be scheduled and could be the most significant challenge to the city’s policing practices since stop-and-frisk.
Collars For Dollars
The drill, legendary as collars-for-dollars, has been around for decades. The 1994 Mollen Commission first detailed the variety of devious overtime cons used in the department’s history.
In one popular one, the cops would bring additional officers while securing an arrest thus leveraging the number of officers entitled to overtime. The extra officers would allege to have found evidence the defendant allegedly tried to hide. Sometimes, additional cops entered the case as “peripheral witnesses.” They made sure to be available to complete the paperwork or be ready to testify — all in exchange for overtime pay as well.
NYPD has also participated in ‘trading dollars’ where cops often directed arrests to the member of their team who was positioned to get the most overtime. Felony arrests are usually sent to a grand jury five days following the incident, but if a cop were scheduled to work on the anticipated date, he would defer to a colleague who was not.
The second cop would ‘take the rest,’ and get the overtime pay due for going to court on a day off. Even if that meant testifying about occurrences, the officer never saw.
If Cordero’s claims are upheld, then years of reform may have been marginally useful at best.
“The scheme of making arrests for overtime pay is longstanding,” said Harry G. Levine, a sociological professor at Queens College.
Gabriel Harvis, Cordero’s attorney, has pointed out the second case would be the biggest challenge to the unconstitutional policing habits in New York since the 2013 federal trial which ended the stop-and-frisk routine.
“A rational jury may determine this exercise is not limited to a few ‘bad apples,’ Judge Jack B. Weinstein wrote. “If they find this is endemic, that NYPD managers are aware of this pattern, then steps would need to be taken to intercede and implement proper supervision.”