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I loved Dragnet, Adam-12, Hill Street Blues, Homicide: Life on the Street, NYPD Blue, CSI and a lot of other cop shows. I haven’t caught The Wire yet, but the DVD set is on my wish list. The officers in these shows may have no flaws, like Jim Reed, or may have all-too human flaws, like Andy Renko, or may even have questionable morals, like Andy Sipowicz, but when the chips are down they are always presented as heroic in their service to society.

I’m sure many real-life officers would gladly be heroes, but life is a lot less clear-cut than TV Land.

A few years ago, a rookie NYPD officer audio-taped what actually happened while he was on duty. At first he only wanted to protect himself in case of a civil suit, but eventually he gave the tapes to the Village Voice. Seems he was being ordered to do a lot of stuff he found questionable.

Part One of The NYPD Tapes articles covers the extreme pressure officers are under to make quotas for writing tickets and making arrests, even in a relatively calm precinct.

They reveal that precinct bosses threaten street cops if they don’t make their quotas of arrests and stop-and-frisks, but also tell them not to take certain robbery reports in order to manipulate crime statistics. The tapes also refer to command officers calling crime victims directly to intimidate them about their complaints.

As a result, the tapes show, the rank-and-file NYPD street cop experiences enormous pressure in a strange catch-22: He or she is expected to maintain high “activity”—including stop-and-frisks—but, paradoxically, to record fewer actual crimes.

Part Two focuses on tactical but often spurious arrests intended just to clear the city streets of ordinary activity by less trendy residents.

Supervisors told officers to make an arrest and “articulate” a charge later, or haul someone in with the intent of voiding the arrest at the end of a shift, or detain people for hours on minor charges like disorderly conduct—all for the purpose of getting citizens off the street. People were arrested for not showing identification, even if they were just a few feet from their homes. Mental health worker Rhonda Scott suffered two broken wrists during a 2008 arrest for not having her ID card while standing on her own stoop.

The precinct’s campaign led to a 900 percent increase in stop-and-frisks in the neighborhood, which commanders demanded from officers in order to hit statistical quotas. It also resulted in several dozen gun arrests, hundreds of arrests on other charges, and thousands of summonses for things like disorderly conduct, trespassing, and loitering.

After decades of, “white flight,” a lot of well-to-do young people, who grew up watching Cheers, Seinfeld and Friends, have been leaving the ‘burbs for the city, looking for the social scene that such shows promised. Poor people are not in the script, so the police are doing their part to make them go away, or at least fade into the background.

As Farago has noted, city authorities are also trying to make the guns go away, which puts big city politics at odds with suburban and rural politics – which tend to be loosening restrictions on both possession and carry.

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  1. If you love this stuff (police politics included)….then The Wire is right up your alley. Do yourself the favor.

    Jimmy McNulty makes all those others you mention look like Barney fumbling for his pocket round.

  2. I'll echo Jake but accompany it with a warning: After "The Wire" every other cop show you ever see will seem hollow, lame and silly. It's really amazingly well done. And I've only seen seasons 1 – 3.


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