Monday, November 14, 2011

NYPD Misconduct and the Effects on the Bronx Criminal Justice System

The Wall Street Journal reported that in 2010 the conviction rate in Bronx, New York, was a mere 48%. This statistic pales in comparison to the other New York boroughs, such as Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan that have at least a 70% conviction rate. Some attribute this low percentage to the high arrest rates in the Bronx. Anthony Schepis, an executive assistant district attorney for Bronx County attempts to defend the efforts of him and his fellow prosecutors by stating that the conviction rate is near 90% when plea bargains are factored in. Conversely, defense attorneys argue that it is difficult to overlook the high tensions between the police and the Bronx community. Some defense attorneys even factor this brittle relationship in their closing arguments, asserting that the police cannot be trusted. Academics have referred to this phenomenon, as “The Bronx Jury” or the “The Bronx Effect.” The glaring mistrust of the police is a real driving factor behind this high acquittal rate.

Bronx community members harbor ill feelings towards police officers due to their own personal experiences with police misconduct or harassment, and the effects that the laws have had on prevalent racial minorities in the Bronx. Tensions will continue to rise with the indictment of sixteen police officers that were allegedly involved in a ticket-fixing scandal. The sixteen police officers were indicted on Friday, October 28, 2011. This crime involves making ticket summonses “disappear” for friends, relatives, and others that have some sort of connection with the police. This “courtesy” has even been extended to Yankee Stadium Director of Operations, Douglas Behar, by Joseph Anthony, one of the sixteen officers indicted. After a three-year investigation by both the Bronx District Attorney’s (DA) Office and the Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) of the New York Police Department (NYPD), the police officers involved are finally being brought to justice. The New York Times states that, “The ticket fixing scandal is another stain on the departments’ reputation. Not only does it further undermine public trust, but it could jeopardize hundreds of cases in which the accused officers are crucial witnesses.”

The future effects that this scandal may produce are daunting. The Wall Street Journal reported that criminal defense attorneys intend on challenging NYPD officers’ credibility, based on those who are being investigated for ticket fixing, when they testify in unrelated cases. The effects may even be more far reaching to officers that have not been investigated, but that are associated with the scandal by merely being an employee under the NYPD shield. On Friday, October 28th, fellow NYPD police officers gathered outside of the courthouse and flooded the halls of the courthouse during the arraignment of the sixteen police officers, protesting that ticket fixing is a courtesy and not a crime. At the indictment proceedings, around 1,500 to 1,600 criminal counts were presented, indicating the breadth of this scandal. Counts not only included ticket fixing, but included crimes ranging from grand larceny to conspiracy to commit official police misconduct. Can the NYPD be trusted?

The reverberations from this scandal will inevitably cut even more deeply into the already fragmented trust of many New Yorkers towards police officers. Further, this distrust will potentially undercut the dismal conviction rates in the Bronx. The police officers’ testimony, and therefore credibility and is the linchpin in securing a guilty verdict.

Veronica Yu,
Line Editor, Criminal Law Brief

Images by Rollingrck and David Jones

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