Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly is the cop from central casting, possessed of a square jaw, swagger and charm, and a flinty willingness to challenge any critic. Of late, party and business leaders have tried to lure him into carrying the Republican banner in the 2013 mayoral derby.
Mr. Kelly has so far demurred. He acknowledges that the attention and favorable poll numbers are flattering. But he says he loves running the biggest municipal police force in the country.
No doubt he does.
Another cop, a cinder block of a man named Adhyl Polanco, also loves the New York Police Department. Or he did until he ran afoul of a body he describes as ever more consumed with writing nuisance tickets, executing dubious stop-and-frisks and arrests, and manipulating crime reports.
It’s also a department, he discovered, that squashes any hint of dissent.
Officer Polanco said his supervisors in the 41st Precinct in the Bronx instructed him to slap handcuffs on teenagers guilty of nothing more than a boisterous walk to school. They told him to change reports of felony burglaries and attempted murder to far less serious charges of trespass and reckless endangerment.
In 2009, he detailed his complaints in a long letter to Internal Affairs. He had tape-recorded several of these incidents. Many months later, the department filed charges against him — for filing false arrest papers.
“They teach us to lie about stopping people. They teach us to lie about tickets, and ruin lives,” said Officer Polanco, who after about a decade on the force is suspended with pay. “I’ve never been a disciplinary problem. The only problem came when I decided to open my mouth.”
This, too, is Mr. Kelly’s police force, a department that can claim many victories but is consumed by a single imperative: crime and homicide rates must keep falling. Question this and top police officials offer a catchall answer: Do you want New York City to return to the bad old days?
There’s no definitive proof that top officials systematically manipulate crime data and set arrest quotas. But officers have stepped forward in recent years to talk of such practices in widely scattered precincts: Adrian Schoolcraft in the 81st in Brooklyn, and Chris Bienz in Queens. All of them, along with Officer Polanco, spoke first to Graham Rayman of The Village Voice and Jim Hoffer of the local ABC affiliate. Two officers from Brooklyn detailed near-identical complaints for me recently, although they requested anonymity. The department has said repeatedly that it is examining the many accusations of manipulation of crime data, though an internal report vindicated Officer Schoolcraft.
Officer Polanco, who was suspended more than two years ago, and five former officers gathered last week in Greenwich Village at a forum organized by the Police Reform Organizing Project. They talked not of petty grievances but, with passionate and pained words, of good police practices trampled.
“Make no mistake: There are quotas, and that is illegal,” a former New York City police captain, John A. Eterno, told the audience.
Mr. Eterno, as it happens, is a particularly difficult critic to dismiss. Once he trained officers to stop and frisk. Now a professor at Molloy College, he and Professor Eli Silverman of John Jay College of Criminal Justice surveyed more than 100 retired police captains, and detail their findings in their recent book “The Crime Numbers Game: Management by Manipulation.”
The former captains spoke of an unrelenting, often unethical pressure to manipulate crime statistics. In addition, the professors studied police and health data and found weird divergences. City hospital data shows a 90 percent increase in emergency room visits for assaults from 1999 to 2006. But police data for the same period records a nearly 50 percent decrease in assaults.
The Police Department launched a counterattack against the professors. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg offered a shrug. “There’s always going to be some fudging of the numbers, but it is tiny,” he said, adding that the study “was paid for by one of the unions.”
As it happens, the mayor is incorrect. Molloy College paid for the study. “Any suggestion of a chink in the armor of the ‘N.Y.P.D. success story’ is very threatening. You’re excommunicated,” says Mr. Silverman. “It’s the holy of holies.”
Officer Polanco knows the life of a heretic. He has surrendered his badge and gun. Once, as a child in crime-ravaged Washington Heights, he dreamed of being a police officer. Now he passes restless days, fighting anger as he cares for three sons.
“It’s a shame to get paid for doing nothing,” he says. “How can I live with myself, how could I face my wife, if I didn’t speak up?” That might be a reasonable question for a commissioner contemplating a mayoral run.