NEW YORK — The right people at the right time in the right location.
That phrase — repeated over and over in a secret recording of a police supervisor — is at the crux of a civil rights challenge to the New York Police Department’s contentions tactic known as stop, question and frisk.
“So, who are the right people?” asks officer Pedro Serrano, during an argument with his supervisor about how to make a legal stop.
“Depends where you are,” replies Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack.
The recording was played during Serrano’s testimony last week at a federal trial that’s providing a window into the workings of the nation’s largest police force, the instincts officers rely on to do their jobs and the difficulty police supervisors have in translating written policies into practice on the street.
Serrano works patrol in the 40th Precinct in the Bronx, among the more crime-ridden in the city. Robberies there rose from 397 in 2011 to 478 in 2012, and grand larcenies rose from 412 to 469.
Serrano said his supervisors believed he tallied too few arrests, summonses and stop, question and frisk reports, known as “250s.” When he appealed his annual evaluation earlier this year, Serrano decided to use his phone to record his boss.
“So you’re saying what? Summons everybody for whatever reason?” the patrolman asks.
“No, see, listen to me. Understand this. All right? I don’t summons people for any reason, all right,” McCormack responds. “We go out there and we summons people and we ‘250’ people, the right people, at the right time, the right location.”
Lawyers for four men who have sued police say McCormack’s phrase should be interpreted as a thinly-veiled mandate to stop blacks and Hispanics to inflate numbers so the department looks proactive. Police officials and city lawyers said the inspector is trying to explain that to help stifle a specific crime, for example, the right people may be black or Hispanic males — those who are most often stopped by police.
The ongoing trial is creating an uncomfortable spotlight for a department more accustomed to bragging about its crime-fighting prowess and a drop in crime to levels not seen since the 1960s. Several top brass are expected to testify in the coming weeks, including Chief of Department Joseph Esposito and Paul Browne, the deputy commissioner for public information and a close adviser to Commissioner Raymond Kelly.