A former NYPD narcotics officer has blown a festering police misconduct scandal sky-high with testimony this week that police regularly planted drugs on innocent people to meet arrest quotas. The former narc, Stephen Anderson, was testifying as a cooperating witness in the trial of another officer after he was arrested for planting cocaine on four men in a bar in Queens.
But Anderson's testimony painted a picture of much baser motivations than bending rules in order to get information on drug deals. Anderson alleged that police routinely used drugs they seized but failed to turn in to plant on totally innocent people, without regard to the consequences.
In one case, Anderson described buying three bags of cocaine at a Queens nightclub, then giving two of the bags to a fellow officer, who planted them on and arrested four innocent people.
In court, Justice Gustin Reichblach, who is hearing the case without a jury, pressed Anderson on what he and his comrades had done to innocent people. "What was your thought in terms of saving his career at the cost of those four people who had seemingly no involvement in the transaction?" he asked.
The practice was called "attaching bodies" to the drugs, Anderson responded, adding that four years of life as a narc had numbed him to corruption. "It was something I was seeing a lot of, whether it was from supervisors or undercovers and even investigators," he said. "Seeing it so much, it's almost like you have no emotion with it. The mentality was that they attach the bodies to it, they're going to be out of jail tomorrow anyway, nothing is going to happen to them anyway. That kind of came on to me and I accepted it -- being around that so long, and being an undercover."
The allegations about systematic corruption in NYPD narcotics units has led to the dropping of more than 400 drug prosecutions by prosecutors in Brooklyn and Queens because the officers in the cases are tainted by the scandal. The city is also busily settling civil suits filed by those wrongfully arrested, and is paying out an average of $1,000 for each hour of wrongful detention.
Such corrupt misbehavior on the part of narcotics officers was not a surprise to the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which has been monitoring the NYPD and has also been strongly critical of the department's long-standing policy of arresting people for small-time pot possession. It is decriminalized under state law, but NYPD would force people to take bags of pot from their pockets, then charge them with misdemeanor public display of marijuana, a policy reversed under public pressure just weeks ago.
"One of the consequences of the war on drugs is that police officers are pressured to make large numbers of arrests, and it's easy for some of the less honest cops to plant evidence on innocent people," said DPA's gabriel sayegh. "The drug war inevitably leads to crooked policing -- and quotas further incentivize such practices.
"Whether the issue is planting drugs (like this instance) or falsely charging people for having marijuana in public view (as is the case with the majority of marijuana arrests in NYC) the drug war corrupts police, ruins lives, and destroys trust between law enforcement and the communities that they serve," said Sayegh.