Will Judge Weinstein End Collars For Dollars? (Update)

The most dangerous time on the street is at the end of a shift. Sure, they could do the buy and bust at the beginning of the shift and then spend the rest of their time processing the perps, filling out the reports, waiting for the prints to come back, but that’s not how they roll.

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.

There are myriad ways in which cops game the system for overtime. The problem is that it means money in their pockets, but it lacks the sizzle of a dead body of an innocent person caught on video. 

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.

In another practice, known as “trading collars,” officers sometimes directed arrests to the member of their team who stood to get the most overtime. Felony arrests are often presented to a grand jury about five days after the incident; but if an officer who took part was scheduled to work on the anticipated grand jury date, he or she might defer to a colleague who was not.

But the most common game is to make the bust at the end of the shift, thus requiring the officers to spend the next eight or so hours on overtime doing their cop duty. It’s not a complicated scheme, as it’s easily explainable. You make the bust after the crime occurs. Is it the cops’ fault the deal went down at 3:45 in the afternoon?

But when they get too greedy, and can’t find someone even arguably engaged in a crime such that they just have to make it up to score the OT, the ugliness comes to the surface.

The notion that police officers have financial incentives in making arrests also emerged at the trial last month of a Queens detective convicted of perjury. The detective, Kevin Desormeau, had arrested a man on drug charges after claiming, falsely it turned out, to have witnessed the suspect dealing drugs. In arguing the case, prosecutors noted that Detective Desormeau had filed for four hours and 24 minutes of overtime for “an arrest that was illegal.”

Big deal, you say. What’s four hours plus for the sake of our boys in blue? Certainly they piss away far more than that regularly, and nobody goes all “corruption” on them, right? Well, that’s usually the case, but Hector Cordero decided not to let it slide when he was the patsy in the scheme.

On Tuesday, four of the officers involved in the arrests will appear in Federal District Court in Brooklyn for the start of an unusual civil-rights trial, facing accusations that they detained one of the men, Hector Cordero, simply to increase their income.

If any of the officers are found liable, another trial will be scheduled, one that could represent the biggest challenge to New York policing practices since stop-and-frisk. The second trial would examine the broader question of whether the city’s police officers habitually use false arrests to bolster their pay.

As unlucky as Cordero was when he was fingered as a drug dealer for the sake of 20 hours of collective overtime, he caught a huge break in having his case assigned to Judge Jack Weinstein.

The lawsuit has accused the officers of concocting the basis of Mr. Cordero’s arrest “in order to obtain overtime for completing the attendant paperwork,” court filings state. The officers, who are being defended by lawyers for the city, have denied the charges. The city’s Law Department said that the arrest was “supported by probable cause.”

The first trial will be about Cordero, whether his constitutional rights were violated by the cops who falsely arrested him. The City’s defense isn’t hard to grasp: so they made a mistake, identified the wrong guy. It happens. Big deal. But if Cordero prevails, what comes next could be huge.

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.

The argument is that there is a pattern and practice of officers manipulating the system for the sake of generating overtime pay. The argument is that the City knows all about this. The argument is that the City, despite knowing all about this, lacks the will to stop it because it will make the cops angry. The City doesn’t want angry cops. Judge Weinstein doesn’t care.

“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.”

Is there a way to distinguish between the scheme and legitimate busts that just happen during the last hour of a shift? Is there a way to tell when the collar is handed off to the cop who has to come in on his RDO to testify before the grand jury? The explanations for this conduct write themselves, but the amount paid out in overtime, not to mention padding pensions, has to be paid by someone.

The irony is that this isn’t a big secret. It’s nothing new. Everybody knew how the game was played. But it took a greedy cop who couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bust an innocent guy to bring this scheme to the surface. It took Hector Cordero to decide he wasn’t going to let it slide. And it took Judge Weinstein to be willing to open this huge can of worms that will piss off every cop and politician in the City.

Update: The verdict is in. The cops won. Hector Cordero did not. And collars for dollars goes on as if it never happened.

12 comments on “Will Judge Weinstein End Collars For Dollars? (Update)

  1. Wrongway

    Before, During, & After, Desert Storm I was a Flight Engineer on a USN Orion Sub Hunter.. we flew missions for 6 or 7 hrs. called “DFW’s” … “Dumb Fucking Waste” just to justify the budget for the year.. if we could do the job more cost efficiently, our budget was cut.. & that was seen as a sign of weakness in the command structure.. when I saw this I was 25.. & it just left a bad taste in my mouth..
    this is systemic .. not just local .. this happens at every level right down to the city councilman or county school board..
    but I’m glad to see it’s coming into the light.. finally..

    1. SHG Post author

      A similar, but not quite the same, problem. Your DFW missions were necessary to maintain the military budget. Collars for dollars is similarly wasteful, but not related to the police department’s budget as much as to the cops’ individual income. That waste is endemic in government is no surprise, but different types of waste need to be addressed differently.

  2. Joe

    Last month an NYT article titled ‘New York City to Pay Up to $75 Million Over Dismissed Summonses’ revealed that nearly one million summonses would be dismissed.

    But for those New Yorker’s who were falsely ticketed or arrested, they will receive a MAXIMUM of $150.00 each.

    “Because of the large number of potential claims — the 900,000 summonses represent about one-quarter of all such summonses issued during the period — the deal lays out a process of notifying people who are eligible for compensation, which has been set at a maximum of $150 per person per incident.”

    $150.00 dollars maximum isn’t American justice wonderful?

  3. John Barleycorn

    Are you saying Benevolent has nothing to do with it and it was always about the number of syllables in Police Officer Benevolent Association?

  4. Anonymous

    All of Judge Weinstein’s concerns are on the mark. This is no surprise to anyone who’s been a fly on the wall, that is, when NYPD chats amongst other civil service friendlies, e.g., FDNY, EMS, Sanitation.

    But you wanna know what happens when no one wants a collar? When some DUI is over 3 times the limit and they T-boned a Dominican cab full of passengers. And it’s a holiday –where they won’t be home with the kiddywinks– and they have to babysit a drunkard in the ER for hours on end until labs are done, and a discharge from the ER doc written out, and then transport to the holding cell, where he or some other schmuk has to transport him to central booking.

    PO microphone: “Anybody looking?” Silence…
    PD Sgt: “Anybody looking?” Silence…
    Highway PD: “Anybody looking?” Silence…

    “EMS, you’re good to go! See you guys later!”

      1. Anonymous

        No cop wants to disappoint the wife and kids
        No EMT wants to disappoint the wife and kids
        No Paramedic wants to disappoint the wife and kids
        No firefighter wants to disappoint the wife and kids
        No Sanitation worker wants to disappoint the wife and kids
        No ER doc wants to disappoint the wife and kids
        No ER nurse wants to disappoint the wife and kids

        Full of Shit’s Finest.

        1. SHG Post author

          I’ve disappointed the wife and kids on occasion when my clients needed me, but then, I don’t get overtime. And they understood.

  5. Greg Prickett

    It’s not limited to NYC. Years ago, when I worked in the projects (6PM-4AM), we used to find DWIs between 2AM (when the bars closed) and 3AM. The breath or blood test always provided support for the arrest, and it was an easy 3-4 hours of OT.

    The sergeants and the lieutenant discouraged it, but the officer would get on the radio and ask what the supervisor wanted us to do with the drunk. None of them would take the chance that MADD was listening, and they would authorize the late arrest. During that time, I never saw, nor heard of an officer arresting someone who wasn’t drunk–it just wasn’t done here.

    Typically these arrests were more common after the city cut overtime at special events, or decided that we would have to take it in comp time (but state law required comp time over a certain amount be paid, and they didn’t have enough staffing to let us take the time off).

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