Federal Appeals Court Reinstates NYCLU Lawsuit Challenging Punitive Quota System in Bronx Precinct

November 28, 2012 —  A federal appeals court has reinstated a New York Civil Liberties Union lawsuit that challenged the NYPD’s repeated retaliation against a veteran officer who disclosed the use of an illegal quota system for arrests, summonses and stop-and-frisk encounters in the 42nd Precinct in the Bronx.

The lawsuit, filed in February, charges that police supervisors in the Bronx precinct developed a detailed quota system, including regular color-coded computer reports used to track compliance with quotas. Officers who fail to meet the quotas are highlighted in red ink on the reports and subject to a wide range of retaliation. Recognizing that the quota system is illegal and abusive, Officer Craig Matthews repeatedly reported it to the precinct’s commanding officers. In retaliation, he has been given punitive assignments, denied overtime and leave, separated from his longtime partner, given poor evaluations, and subjected to constant harassment and threats.

“Quotas lead to illegal arrests, summonses and stop-and-frisks, and they undermine trust between the police and the community they are supposed to protect,” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, lead counsel in the case. “Officer Matthews chose to expose this corruption, and instead of commending him, the Police Department made his life miserable. Today’s win puts us a step closer toward rectifying that wrong and ending this unlawful retaliation.”

A judge in April rejected the NYCLU’s argument that the NYPD’s retaliatory actions violated Matthews’ free speech rights under the First Amendment and the New York Constitution. In its decision today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated the April decision, allowing the NYCLU’s challenge to move ahead.

The 42nd Precinct’s quota system reflects a wider problem within the NYPD. For years, the Department has been mired in scandals about its use of quotas that lead to unjustified stops and arrests of innocent people. Starting in May 2010, the Village Voice ran a series of articles exposing a quota system in the 81st Precinct in Brooklyn as revealed by audio tapes secretly made by Officer Adrian Schoolcraft. A police officer in Queens recently admitted that the use of enforcement quotas led officers to plant cocaine on innocent people in order to boost arrest numbers.

“It’s no secret that the NYPD is using enforcement quotas,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Instead of retaliating against officers who expose this unjust and illegal practice, the NYPD should work to ensure that nobody is stopped and arrested because of arbitrary and illegal quotas.”

In August 2010, then-Gov. David Paterson signed legislation that expanded protections for police officers under the state’s anti-quota statute to ban retaliation against officers for not meeting quotas for tickets, summonses, arrests, and stop-and-frisk encounters. Previously, the quota law only covered traffic violations.