An eight-year veteran of the NYPD, Officer Adrian Schoolcraft has hundreds of hours of tape to share. According to the Village Voice, for two years Schoolcraft carried around a digital recorder to give outsiders an inside glimpse into the day-to-day activities of the officers who work his beat in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. While some of the talk on these tapes strikes some as shocking and others as wrong, the average New Yorker probably shouldn’t be all that surprised. As anyone who lives in New York City is aware, cops are everywhere. As folks who do business or live in Bed-Stuy are very aware, crime is a constant plague on the community.
Breaking the law is never okay, especially for those pinned to enforce the law. That being said, having officers who are weak and “nice” doesn’t do anyone any favors. If the cops can’t be the toughest guys in the room, then the criminals would run roughshod over them. The actions of the 81st Precinct, as reported back from the Schoolcraft tapes, really walk a fine line. While much of the tough-guy bravado that was said in these locker-room exchanges may have been illegal in practice, there is no evidence to indicate much of these things that were discussed really happened at all.
Many of the collected tapes from Officer Schoolcraft were of amateurish activities, pranks and the like. Responses to stress like this are to be expected in the situation of a police officer’s everyday life. According to Yale University’s Dr. J. Douglas Bremner’s website, “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is something of an invisible epidemic. The events underlying it are often mysterious and always unpleasant. It is certainly far more widespread than most people realize.” So, when officers are exposed to horrific events and scenes on the job that invoke PTSD, they can often act out in just as mysterious ways.
Some of the Schoolcraft recordings had a darker tone to them. The officers were told to meet quotas but at the same time told to not report other things as crimes. Every person deserves his or her day in court, and not reporting actual crimes against people or robberies where real property is lost or people have been hurt is wrong. At the same time, cops have to pick and choose their battles. Virtually every person who gets into a car every day is breaking the law. The myriad of traffic laws on the books is vast, and like the crime going on in Bed-Stuy and other communities, much of it includes things that are not reported: going a few miles over the speed limit, honoring every quiet neighborhood stop sign, or driving around with a headlight or tail light out for weeks. If every petty lawbreaking incident were cataloged and reported, people would never leave their homes.
Police officers stand behind a “Blue Wall of Silence,” and their relationship with press and the public can be tenuous. When Adrian Schoolcraft, according to The Huffington Post, was hauled off by “a police posse … to Jamaica Hospital, where he was kept in its psych ward for six days” against his will and for no reason, that was a problem. The Huffington Post also reported that once Schoolcraft was released from the hospital, he “fled the city and moved upstate.” After which the bosses in Brooklyn “repeatedly sent cops hundreds of miles to bang on his door and threaten him with reprisals if he did not return.”
As a former officer in training, I feel torn. Of course, there is this understood level of disclosure that officers are supposed to obey. At the same time, when things are being done that are out of turn, someone has to blow the whistle, or there will never be any impetus to instigate change. Adrian Schoolcraft may have to be the sacrificial lamb in this case so that real reform can take hold.
Or nothing can be done, nothing will change and all this corruption will remain.