Four New York City Police Department officers are on trial in federal court for civil rights violations by falsely arresting people toward the end of their shifts just so they could boost their overtime pay. If any of the officers are found liable, there could be some big changes in NYPD practices around overtime pay abuses.
The trial revolves around an arrest from about four years ago where a man, Hector Cordero, was arrested for an alleged drug deal. Cordero was searched, but they didn't find anything on him. Nevertheless, he was arrested on charges of felony drug possession and detained for hours. When he was finally released—without any charges—it was more than four hours past the end of the officers’ shift. The officers made a collective $1,400 from that arrest alone.
The case is just one example of a systemic problem that’s been noted for some time, according to the New York Times.
Accusations about the practice — known as “collars for dollars” — have dogged the department for decades. The Mollen Commission’s 1994 report about police corruption, which used the term, detailed the various and devious overtime schemes that have been used.
In one, the police would involve additional officers in making an arrest, maximizing the number of people eligible for overtime. In a typical arrangement, those extra officers might claim to have discovered evidence that the defendant had tried to hide, or in some other way they would enter the case as peripheral witnesses. They would need to be on hand to handle paperwork or be available to testify — so they too would get overtime pay.
One of the officers involved has had problems with overtime before. He’s been suspended and forced to pay back $1,200 in pay for overtime he never actually worked.
If any of the officers are found liable in the case, another trial will be scheduled to examine the systemic problem of officers abusing the system—and the rights of citizens—just to boost the size of their paycheck.
In October, Judge Weinstein issued an order saying that if any officer was found liable, a second trial would explore Mr. Harvis’s theory that “the Police Department has long been aware of a widespread practice of false arrests at the end of tours of duty.” The second trial would be likely to rely on Police Department records about overtime abuse, which the city has filed under seal as part of Mr. Cordero’s case but could become public.
“A reasonable jury may find that this practice is not isolated to a few ‘bad’ police officers,” Judge Weinstein wrote, “but is endemic, that N.Y.P.D. officials are aware this pattern exists and that they have failed to intervene and properly supervise.”
If this happens, it could lead to the biggest policing reform since the end of stop-and-frisk. The NYPD, of course, insists the arrest was justified and no abuse happened.
This is just another reminder of why the deification of police officers is completely false and unwarranted. Police officers are human beings who can lie and cheat and be selfish—even at the cost of individuals they’re supposedly there to protect. This is definitely not about a few bad apples.