NYCLU Lawsuit Challenges Punitive Quota System in Bronx Precinct

February 23, 2012 —  The New York Civil Liberties Union today filed a federal lawsuit challenging the repeated retaliation against a veteran police officer who has disclosed the use of an illegal quota system for arrests, summonses and stop-and-frisk encounters in the 42nd Precinct in the Bronx.

According to the lawsuit, supervisors in the Bronx precinct have developed a detailed quota system, which includes 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 residents,” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, lead counsel in the case. “Officer Matthews chose to expose this abusive system, and in response his supervisors have made his life miserable. We believe quotas are a problem throughout the NYPD, and we’re confident the courts will put a stop to this unlawful retaliation.”

The lawsuit, filed on Officer Matthews’ behalf in Manhattan federal court, asks the court to declare that the NYPD’s retaliatory actions violate the officer’s free speech rights under the First Amendment and the New York Constitution. The NYCLU soon will file a separate complaint seeking to have the quota system declared illegal under New York Labor Law. Together, the two actions seek to stop all retaliation against Officer Matthews.

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.

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.

“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.”

Quotas have become such a contentious issue in the 42nd Precinct that officers are now retaliating against other officers who comply with them. In the last two months, the lockers of officers complying with quotas have been knocked over or vandalized, and the precinct has had to resort to stationing an officer in the locker room to halt this.

Officer Matthews, a 14-year veteran of the NYPD, consistently received positive annual reviews before the retaliation started against him. For example, his 2004 review stated that he “has the highest level of integrity and displays a great sense of morals.” As a result of his principled stand, Officer Matthews has gone from being a respect member of the precinct to being the target of abuse from his supervisors.

Kate Doniger, Holly Mowforth, and Jacob Tracer, who are students enrolled in the New York University School of Law’s Civil Rights Clinic, are co-counsel on the case.