Posts Tagged ‘corruption’

Tarnished Justice: Cops Meet Their Quotas, Even When Crime is Down

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

If you belong to a certain population, who cares if you get arrested for no reason? Certainly not certain parts of the NYPD, according to former detective Stephen Anderson. If there’s an arrest that needs to be made, and you don’t have a guilty person to arrest, you just “arrest the bodies to it — they’re going to be out of jail tomorrow anyway, nothing is going to happen to them anyway.”

It’s an attitude that is all too prevalent in law enforcement, one that is far too easy to fall into: It’s just no big deal.

Except it is a big deal.

Here’s what happens to you when narcotics officers arrest you for no good reason: You’re forcibly kidnapped, usually in public, in some of the most shaming circumstances imaginable. You’re hauled off in handcuffs, which fucking hurt. You’re fingerprinted, and a rap sheet is created, and unless you are very lucky the fact of this arrest will be part of your official record for the rest of your life. You’re charged with a crime, perhaps a felony. To support the charge, officers like Anderson will provide some real drugs and say they found them on you. Maybe they’ll sit around and try to come up with an incriminating statement they’ll say you “blurted out” on the scene. Faced with overwhelming evidence, you may (more…)

On the Manhattan DA’s New Public Integrity Unit

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

 

As we were coming out of court the other afternoon, we got a call from one of the nice folks over at the WSJ, asking us what we thought about the Manhattan DA’s new Public Integrity unit.  We didn’t even know it had been formed — though we had heard Vance talk about the idea on the campaign trail.  The soon-to-be new DA had talked of ideas for a variety of new units, some of which we thought were good ideas (like the Wrongful Convictions unit, which would create office-wide policies while also investigating innocence claims), and some of which we thought were more public-relations than practical (like the Public Integrity unit).

As proposed by Vance, we said to the reporter, the Public Integrity unit didn’t really seem necessary.  It was to be a sub-unit of the Rackets Bureau, which has already been investigating and prosecuting public corruption cases with a fair amount of success for many years.  Carving out a specialty unit isn’t going to increase the number of cases they get, or improve their success rate, or have any extra effect on corruption beyond the usual.  It’s not like this is an area of crime that was being ignored.  Far from it.

It’s not going to increase the number of cases coming in, because that has nothing to do with whether there’s a special unit or not.  Public corruption cases are hard to come by, because usually the only people who know about the bribery are the ones benefiting from it.  And they’re not likely to self-report.  The DOI does what it can with the resources it’s got to ferret out a case here and there, but the reality is that (for the most part) law enforcement sort of lucks into these cases.

If you want to have an effect on public corruption, the trick is to either get magical surveillance powers to spot all the bribes going on, or else (more…)

“Collars for Dollars”

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

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“Nathan, when you become mayor, I’m gonna be the first volunteer for your security detail.” 

This was a detective speaking, back when we were an ADA in the Manhattan DA’s office.  My office, as usual, had about five cops in it.  I liked this detective, and asked how come he wanted that job. 

“So I can be first in line to put a bullet in your head.”

He was only half kidding.

The reason is because I’d just proposed, in detail, exactly how I would cut out the NYPD’s systematic corruption that caused — and still causes — a great deal of injustice.

Several years have passed, and nothing has changed.  The NYPD is still set up to fail.  No matter how good its officers may be — and most really are quite good — the NYPD is designed not to serve justice, but to frustrate it.

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There are several areas that need fixing.  But the single fix that would have the greatest effect would be to end the NYPD’s “collars for dollars” mentality. 

The force is structured so that cops wind up getting paid a commission — actually a bounty — for every arrest they make.  There’s a huge financial incentive for a cop to make an arrest, and there is zero downside if the arrest turns out to be bullshit.  Cops can easily game the system to maximize their pay.

Meanwhile, there’s huge political pressure on each command to “make its numbers” each month.  Not quotas, per se, but a sufficient number of arrests to justify the command’s existence to the politicians who (more…)

Allegations of Union Corruption in NYC? We’re Shocked… Shocked!

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

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In a series of predawn raids this morning, the FBI arrested the boss of New York City’s carpenters’ union and nine other men. The 29-count indictment alleges a scam whereby construction contractors paid bribes to union officials, in return for which they were allowed to use cheaper non-union labor. The Genovese crime family is mentioned. (If you’re looking for some light reading, here’s a copy of the 90-page Carpenters Union Indictment.)

Like all federal racketeering indictments, this one looks awful at first glance. It’s 90 freaking pages long! It talks about conspiracies, and schemes, and bribes, and fraud. It says they used code words to conceal the true nature of their actions. Someone said so-and-so would never rat them out, but if he did, “we’d fuckin’ have to kill him.” How in God’s name can one defend a case like that?

Well, it can certainly be done. There are several potential weak spots in any investigation case, which of course law enforcement tries to shore up as best they can. But a good defense attorney knows where the case is likely to be weakest. If there are wiretaps, he knows how to challenge that evidence. (Check out our CLE course on how to do this here.) If there are conclusions, matters of interpretation, he knows how to undercut them. By making the prosecution work harder to prove its case, by finding flaws and weaknesses, he can advocate for better plea bargains and less punishment — or even stand a chance to fight it at trial.

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This is something we actually have some experience with. The last big case like this involved the roofers’ union. We investigated and prosecuted that case, back in the days before we came over to the side of the angels. That investigation involved something like a year and a half of wiretaps on dozens of phones, “debriefings” of too many individuals to count, analyzing a warehouse-full of seized documents, and a six-month grand jury presentation. That’s just the stuff before anyone got arrested. By the time the case was over, we saw the first New York conviction of a labor union, as well as convictions of all the union leadership and the Genovese guys controlling them. So this case sounds pretty familiar.

In a nutshell, what happens is this: Let’s say you’re a contractor doing some work on a project. It’s a union project, which in this part of the world means you can’t put anybody on the job unless they’re a dues-paying member of a labor union. And your company has to be a union shop, complying with the collective-bargaining agreement. (State laws like prevailing-wage laws and the like actually force this kind of situation.) But you don’t like union workers. Their wages are too high. You have to pay more for their union benefits. The union collective-barganing agreements make you use manpower-intensive, inefficient labor techniques (to maximize union revenue). You have to hire more workers than you’d otherwise need, to comply with the union rules. And to top it all off, in your experience, union workers around here just aren’t as competent or skilled as the non-union guys.

So what do you do? You do what your father did, and what his father did. When you get a union job, one of the union officials meets with you, and you give him an envelope of cash. In return, the union looks the other way, and doesn’t enforce its collective-bargaining agreement with you. You get to higher fewer, cheaper and better workers, and you wind up making more profits off the job. The union bosses get extra cash. And the union guys get to sit in the union hall, wondering why there’s no work today.

And if you don’t pay up? Well, it’s no secret that there might be some people who might take it amiss if you did not do so. Everybody knows this, right? Don’t you watch movies? But did anyone actually say that to you… well, no. Did anyone ever actually threaten you? Not exactly. It’s just something you understood.

So maybe you’re a victim of extortion — pay up and make extra profits or else. Or maybe you’re a willing participant — it’s just the way things are done around here, might as well play along.

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Of course, this whole setup is wholly created by the law itself. In states like New York, the law gives huge power to labor unions, compels union work more often than not, and essentially requires union labor in government contracts. And there is no way to opt out. This is not a right-to-work state. And when the law prohibits the economically-rational decision, basic economics dictates that a black market will arise. And so you get a black market in labor.

It’s costly. The law raises the cost of doing business for the law-abiding, while creating profits for those who flout it. Higher costs mean higher prices and rents for the average Joe. And we pay more taxes to cover the expensive investigations, prosecutions and monitoring of those who would take advantage of the distorted incentives.

It’s not surprising that organized crime always seems to be involved. The mantra of organized labor — thou shalt not compete — just happens to be the mantra of organized crime. O.C. types enforce the lack of competition, and resulting extra costs, in return for a piece. And O.C. types are perfectly placed to take advantage of any black market created by foolish government policies.

So if anyone is ultimately to blame here, we’d say it’s the politicians. The idealists who create rules that would only work if the world didn’t happen to work differently. Rules that create incentives for honest people to do the economically-rational thing. Which creates a market for people — union officials who look the other way, others who protect the arrangement — who can fill that rational need. So long as these foolish laws continue to artificially warp the supply and demand curves for labor around here, we’re going to keep seeing these kinds of cases again and again.

You Thought Your Courthouse Was Bad? Try This: 466 Year Backlog of Criminal Cases!

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

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Here in Manhattan, we like to brag that we’ve got the busiest courthouse in the world. But at least the system can handle it. According to Tuesday report from the chief justice of the New Delhi High Court, however, the courts in India are all just as busy, but the system is so broken that they just can’t handle it.

The Delhi High Court, which has jurisdiction over civil, criminal and constitutional matters, is so overwhelmed that the chief justice estimates it could take 466 years just to wade through the 2,300 criminal appeals waiting to be heard.

The reasons for the backlog are not complicated. India’s justice system has a longstanding reputation for “corruption, inefficiency and lack of accountability,” according to this AP report, “often making the rule of law unattainable for all but the wealthy and the well-connected.”

Corruption and unaccountability are enough on their own to doom any judicial system. They destroy the perception of justice. And in the realm of justice, as in the worlds of finance and politics, perception is reality. If people think that crimes are not efficiently, consistently and fairly punished — whether truly so or not — then punishment loses its deterrent effect. If people think that the law does not consistently and fairly protect rights and interests — whether it does or not — then the law may as well not exist, and the rule of law becomes a joke.

As prominent New Delhi lawyer Prashant Bhushan puts it, India “only lives under the illusion that there is a judicial system.” Bribing judges, he adds, is commonplace: “It’s a lucrative business.”

And it doesn’t look like anything can be done about it, at least not in the short term. Corruption is a commonplace of Indian society, says retired Supreme Court justice J.S. Verma, so “of course corruption is there. The people who man the courts and the court system come from the society.”

On top of the systemic failure of the rule of law, the courts are under an enormous administrative burden as well. There are only 11 judges for every million people — there are ten times as many in the U.S.

The administrative burden is exasperated by the bureaucracy, which slows down the legal process with overstrict formalities and procedures that can overwhelm a layperson.

The administrative burden can be met by shifting resources to the judicial system, and by eliminating bureaucratic time wasters. Political decisions only. But of course that would only happen if the government wanted to do so. That’s a tall order when the ruling classes are the beneficiaries of the present state of affairs.