NY police whistleblower Adhyl Polanco still paying price for telling truth

Carla Murphy | 12/26/2013, 6 a.m.
In the fall of 2009, on the advice of a lawyer, a young police officer named Adhyl Polanco started wearing ...
NYPD officer Adhyl Polanco secretly recorded his commanding officers giving orders to meet arrest quotas. (Courtesy of Adhyl Polanco)

In the fall of 2009, on the advice of a lawyer, a young police officer named Adhyl Polanco started wearing a recording device during roll call at his precinct in the South Bronx, one of the poorest congressional districts in the country. Among the contents captured over a couple of months of secret tapings was repeated instruction that officers complete “20 and 1.”

According to testimony from the union delegate whom Polanco had captured on tape, that meant officers were required to fulfill 20 summonses and make one arrest within 20 to 22 days of patrol — regardless of whether they reasonably suspected criminal activity was taking place.

According to the federal judge who this August ruled the New York Police Department’s practice of stop-and-frisk unconstitutional, Polanco’s evidence helped provide “a rare window into how the NYPD’s policies are actually carried out.” And thus, she continued, “I give great weight to the contents of these recordings.”

The price for Officer Polanco, 33, however was steep — and he’s still paying for it today. After a decade on the force, the last three of which he has been in a kind of blue-walled purgatory, Polanco says he looks forward to ultimately leaving the force, fishing and spending time with his three young boys. Currently, he works in Brooklyn, “five tolls and $22.50 one-way from my home,” he says. He spoke about his experiences in his parked car outside his precinct, in full view of officers gathering outside or walking by.

How do you feel being known as a whistleblower?

I don’t like it. It’s not an encouraging word. It’s kinda deteriorating, derogatory to call somebody a whistleblower because it doesn’t fully describe what the person did. It’s like when you work in an office, you do work — but somebody calls you a paper pusher instead of a secretary. It’s not the right word to describe the courage it takes for a police officer to come out from under that much fear and tell the truth. But it is what is.

You’re still a police officer but you haven’t been in uniform for a few years now. What do you do now?

I’m in a box. I work in a little sub-station where my job is to look at video from cameras in the projects for eight hours and 23 minutes a day. I’m in a little tiny room. I have no gun, no shield. It’s punishment. I’m getting second looks from cops because they know whoever’s in that unit is not in good standing. Before this assignment, I was suspended with pay for two-and-a-half years. That happened a day after I was deposed [by plaintiffs’ lawyers] for the stop-and-frisk trial.

What happened in 2009 to end you up here?

I started the whole stop-and-frisk thing from the inside. I don’t want to brag about it, but no cop has ever done what I did. Before July or August 2009, [my precinct] wasn’t as obsessed with the numbers and repercussions were minimum if you didn’t hit the target. By Aug 2009, though, they wanted “20 and 1” — and one of the commanding officers now said it was nonnegotiable. It was out of control. So I started to be vocal in roll call, asking my supervisor why we were doing this. I wrote to Internal Affairs expressing my concern about the racial profiling and [soon after] I was suspended for three days without pay. After being punished repeatedly, I put the recordings out to the news. Darius Charney at the Center for Constitutional Rights saw the story on Channel 7 and he called me. He told me at that time he had a lawsuit that was going nowhere. He asked me if I wanted to be part of it and I said, “Why not?”