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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Do you know why I stopped you? I am meeting my ticket quota!

The podcast Right to Remain Silent on This American Life (audio, story starts at 17 min of the 45 min podcast, see the transcript here), tells a story one would not normally expect happening in the United States. In NYPD precinct 81, in Brooklyn (Bedford-Stuyvesant), police officers were getting orders from their superiors to issue a certain number of tickets per day, and to essentially kidnap people off the streets.  Police officer Adrian Schoolcraft disobeyed these illegal orders, secretly recorded them on a tape recorder, and was gradually forced out of the department on false pretenses that he was psychologically unfit. One day a SWAT team from his police department broke into his home, after which Schoolcraft promptly disappeared. With some difficulty, after a few days his family located Schoolcraft in the psychiatric ward of one of the hospitals.

Police is the servant of the people (vintage Soviet poster)
The precinct practiced another tradition: fudging the data to show improvements in crime rates from year to year. Residents were discouraged from reporting crimes. And those crimes that had been reported, such as serial rapes, were then deliberately misclassified by police to appear less serious, and the trials were covered up.
Schoolcraft's  story eventually got out.
Everyone must be ready to sweep our ranks clean! (vintage Soviet poster)
It reminds me somewhat of the movie Brazil, or of the Soviet Union in the times of Brezhnev.
It is also a bit strange, a week after writing about the use of police statistics to measure bias, to find this story of how similar statistics is fudged, and how justice is perverted along the way - all to show percent improvements and meet the numbers.

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