‘US quota system only gives cops credit for punitive interactions with community’
RT:Is it fair to characterize that perhaps police violence is increasing? Or is it just the public and the media talking about it more?
Robert Ganji: It is a good question, and I do not know what the absolute correct response is. It is certainly true that we are talking about it more. It certainly true that these issues are getting more public attention, a lot more media attention. In New York City, which I’m most familiar with, the issue of discriminatory and abusive policing began to get attention 2-3 years ago around the issue of stop and frisk. Bill de Blasio during the 2013 mayor campaign used the issue of stop and frisk and abusive policing as a centerpiece of his campaign. There was a famous ad in the NYC with his young son, who is obviously a son of de Blasio’s marriage with a black woman, so he is a black race child. He appears to be a black teenager, enormously charming and good looking, and he said: “vote for my father because he is going to eliminate abusive policing and discriminatory policing.”
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So in NYC it is an issue that has gotten a lot more attention than ever it has in the past. And it is also true nationally, with all the attention from the Michael Brown incident and the no indictment in that case. And the police shooting of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy in Cleveland. The Garner case in New York City where it was clearly a case of excessive force by the police and again no indictment. And then just recently we have the shooting of a homeless, colored man in Los Angeles getting a lot more attention than it would have gotten in my view certainly a year or two ago.
RT:So what about all that talk about body cameras? Do you see that as something that is necessary or do you think it might interrupt police activity?
RG: The body cameras we see as a positive step, as a constructive step but it won’t get to the heart of the problem. If the Eric Garner incident shows us anything – there you have a video- there is no body camera that is going to give you as clear film as to what actually happen than that video did. And still it resulted in no indictment of the police officers involved.
We think body cameras could be a constructive step. It could possibly curb an officer who might be inclined to be abusive or disrespectful. But again, we think it is more of a superficial step in the right direction. We need very strong measures being adopted by the politicians and police commissioners who are responsible for the police departments in order to get to the heart of the problem.
RT:So do you think this is more of a systemic thing, rather than adding more equipment to officers?
RG: The quota system is definitely a part of the heart of the problem. In New York despite Bratton’s denials, we clearly have a quota system within the NYPD. And officers, including officers of color and white officers, are under pressure every day and every week to make the numbers. That means stops. That means arrests. And that means some incidents.
Officers do not get credit for constructive interactions with the community. They only get credit within the department for punitive interactions. One officer said to me – and this is a very illuminating quote...he was one of the few officers who would publicly object to quotas because of such a fear of retaliation from the department. So he said to me, “if I happened to break up a fight between two boys in school and send them home – I don't get credit. If I help deliver a baby in an emergency – I don't get credit. I'll get high marks if I give out a seatbelt ticket or make an arrest.” And the reason why I think that quote is so illuminating is that it turns on its head the idea of good policing that most people have.