2002-03-30 / Columnists

From the G-Man by Gary G. Toms

The NYPD’s Dirty Little Secret

A few weeks ago, I received a phone call from a man who praised me for having the "huevos" to write the front-page stories involving the Queens Narcotics Unit. He went on to say that many of his co-workers were also pleased about the articles. What took me totally by surprise was the fact that the man I was speaking to, as well as his co-workers, were members of the NYPD.

"It’s about time that someone started writing about the guys that are making the entire department look bad. Most of us are on the job, and we try to do the best we can under difficult circumstances. The last thing we need is a bunch of renegade cops in the department who think they can get away with anything," said a sergeant who chose to remain anonymous.

The sergeant went on to say that the reason they were reaching out to me was because they have followed my column for quite some time, and they sincerely felt that I have a genuine interest in trying to help the community and society as a whole. He then asked if I would be willing to sit down with them to discuss something that they wanted to get off their chests. I was a little hesitant at first, but my concerns faded when he let me speak to a good friend of mine who happened to be there during the conversation.

A day or two later, I met with "Sarge" and several other officers. After some light conversation about the upcoming baseball season, which included a debate on whether or not the Yankees would make it back to the World Series, they began to tell me what was bothering them.

"We are out there every day ‘G’. We see what is happening with these young kids, who are predominately black and Hispanic, and it’s starting to happen to a few white kids as well. It’s just not fair, and something needs to be done," said one officer.

"I have a job to do. I love the job, but there are certain policies and procedures in place that really make me hate the job sometimes. Certain things are happening that make me uncomfortable," said another.

I asked them to be more specific, and they all alluded to this one particular situation involving the NYPD’s position on "proper identification", which is basically targeted at young people.

"Gary, do you realize that the only identification that the NYPD accepts as valid is a photo identification? Cops are approaching kids on a daily basis, and they are asked to present some type of identification for one reason or another. In most cases, these kids only have the school issued identification cards, which is practically worthless as far as the NYPD is concerned. In many instances, they have been taken through the system simply because they did not have proper I.D.," stated "Sarge."

I interrupted at this point to ask why they were taken through the system, and it was stated that a background check had to be done to make sure the person had no prior arrests or active warrants.

Another officer, who has a total of 15 years on the force, joined in to make the following claim.

"There is a police officer, or NYPD official, that is responsible for a number of schools in a given area. They work with the schools to make sure that situations are kept under control, with regard to gangs or any other illegal behavior. If these officers are supposed to be working with the schools, why haven’t they let school administrators know that the identification these kids carry is not recognized as valid if stopped by police?"

"It’s like the deck is being stacked against these kids. I really don’t understand why this situation has been allowed to continue for as long as it has. Even the good kids get "tagged" simply because they don’t have proper I.D. Once you go through the system, you never forget it, and that can have a long-lasting impact on a kid that has no criminal record," said a 12-year veteran.

"We know this is a tough job, but we don’t need things like this to make it tougher. This does not make me feel good and that’s why I’m coming to you. Too many kids are being victimized. Parents and kids should be made aware of this practice, and something has to be done to create valid I.D.’s to offset the problem, which is becoming an epidemic," said "Sarge."

I took a moment to ask if they thought that this practice was related to racial profiling in any way, and the answer was unanimous.

"You’re damn right it’s profiling. When you look at who is being stopped and the areas where this practice is not common, it would be pretty stupid to think that profiling isn’t going on," said an officer with 8 years on the job.

"The NYPD has to be willing to step up and let people know about the identification policy. Families have a right to know about it. Kids have a right to know about it, and school officials have a right to know about it. A lot of people say a lot of bad things about cops and the NYPD. We are putting this information out there because it will show people that there are cops who are willing, a majority of the time, to do the right thing, and protect the image of the department at the same time, " "Sarge" stated.

After the interview, I contacted the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles to inquire about obtaining a "Non-Driver’s License I.D." I was informed that they could be obtained by kids of all ages, as long as a parent or guardian could provide all required information. The document resembles a New York State Driver’s license, but it is for identification purposes only. I think it would be a good idea for kids and parents to start looking into obtaining it. I don’t care if they are black, white, red or green! This way, your child is shielded from this practice if they are ever approached by a police officer. If you would like to get more imformation, you can call the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles at (718) 966-6155 or (212) 645-5550.

I want to thank "Sarge" and the other officers for having the courage to come forward with this information. They help validate the fact that there are many good and outstanding officers with the NYPD.

See you next week!

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