Inside The NYPD

Discrimination Dogs
Minority Officers

Inside the NYPD
Driving While Black
Bensonhurst 2000
Photos of a Feb. 26 protest in Midtown Manhattan in which New Yorkers of different races and ages demonstrated outrage with the aquittal of four police officers in the killing Amadou Diallo, a 22-year old West African immigrant shot at 41 times in the vestibule of his apartment.

Photos by
Andrea Daugirdas

By Suzanne Farrell

Two undercover narcotics detectives stopped an off-duty police officer last year on the way to his mother's home. They found no drugs, but arrested him and took him to the station where he passed a voluntary drug test. Still, they charged him with loitering and criminal possession of a controlled substance -- charges that were later dismissed.

The officer, 25-year-old Aki Perez, now has filed some charges of his own.
In February, Perez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, countered with a $5 million lawsuit against the New York Police Department , not the first in a recent series of legal actions against the department for discrimination that minority officers say they endure every day.

Perez's suit accuses the department of maintaining a hostile work environment, conducting unwarranted disciplinary investigations of minority officers and dispensing overly severe disciplinary penalties, according to his attorney, Jonathan Moore.
"The only crime Officer Perez committed on Feb. 23 was that he was Latino," Moore said.

The police department has not yet responded formally to the lawsuit. However, a spokesman for the department, quoted by WCBS-TV news, denied allegations of racial profiling within the force, saying that one of the undercover officers saw Perez buying drugs the night of his arrest and presumed that he had discarded them before he was stopped. That undercover officer, the spokesman said, was African-American.

In another incident two years ago, a white narcotics officer mistook an African-American member of his undercover team for a drug dealer and beat him over the head with a portable radio. Doctors at Kings County Hospital had to sew his scalp back together. The official police report said the offending officer tackled his black colleague, but made no mention of the serious head injury, according to the New York Daily News.

Cases like these are nothing new to Hiram Monserrate, a recently retired police officer and vocal spokesman for the Latino Officers' Association. Monserrate was a plaintiff in a discrimination suit the association and 22 minority officers filed against the police department last year.

The suit alleged that in the presence of supervisors, Latino and African-American officers in their precincts regularly endured both offensive name-calling and the smear of graffiti on their stationhouse lockers: "Spic," "Latin King," and "Goya Bean" for the Latinos and "Nigger" and "Willie" for the African Americans. "Wanted" posters in the precincts would often bear the police officers' names, they charged.

At about the time the suit was filed, the Latino Officers Association also alleged that a fake memo made its way around the 115th Precinct: "Subject: Creation of a Deaf/Mute Mexican Liaison Officer. Must be an illegal immigrant, be a deaf-mute, have life experience in bondage or forced labor, have lived in deplorable conditions (ex. feces-strewn apartment, etc)." That incident occurred shortly after the case in 1997 of 58 deaf Mexican immigrants, who were living in virtual servitude in Queens.
The officers alleged that when they made formal complaints about racial bias in these precincts, their plight became far worse.

Monserrate said his fellow officers ostracized him, writing "Mons is a rat" on his locker, and on flyers posted on the 111th Precinct announcement board. And they glued his lock shut.

"I was written up for frivolous things like leaving my memo book inside the patrol car and leaving a clip of bullets in my locker during roll call," recalled the 32-year-old, whose law suit settlement package included $108,000 and early retirement.
Perez said he's encountered similar harassment since he filed his lawsuit. He's been transferred to a security video-monitoring unit in the Bronx and he said his friends in the department no longer speak to him.

"Every day is like a nightmare," he said, his eyes filling with tears. "All I've ever wanted to be is a police officer. Now there is no future for me with the police department. It's taking someone's dream and throwing it away on a whim."
A Daily News investigation of police department records for the years 1986 through 1996 found that minority officers were two to three times more likely to be hit with "charges and specifications" than their white counterparts. These write-ups can entail a 30-day suspension or termination. In 1996, some 59 percent of the 964 officers accused of serious misconduct were minorities.

Another Daily News probe a year later found that from 1994 through 1998, blacks and Hispanics, who together represent 30.4 percent of the force, accounted for 44.4 percent of the dismissals.

A special police department panel reviewed the findings but concluded that racism played no role in the firings.

Others, however, such as the former president of the city's largest black officers' association disagreed. Racism, said Richard Abel, who headed the Guardians between 1985 and 1990, "is alive and well in the NYPD." The Guardians' 1997 lawsuit against the department for discriminatory practices against minority officers, is still pending.

Abel, a retired organized crime detective, charged that the department passes over black officers who are up for promotion and awards the better positions to less qualified white officers.

"It's who you know and not what you know," he said. "And there aren't very many black 'whos' in the police department."

Monserrate agreed. "For 100 years, it was a white, male exclusive club," he said. "That doesn't die easily. It's still a reality."