ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
In a Brooklyn courtroom, a former New York City plainclothes narcotics officer has made some very disturbing allegations. Stephan Anderson, who was busted for corruption and agreed to testify against his fellow officers, described a degree of corruption that had not previously been alleged. He said some police in need of drug arrests to show that they were productive, would plant cocaine taken from the evidence locker on innocent people and then arrest them.
John Marzulli has covered this story for the New York Daily News and joins us right now. And first, do we have any idea how common this kind of corruption described by Stephan Anderson might be?
JOHN MARZULLI: It's difficult to say how common this practice is across the city because the two narcotics scandals in the police department that have been uncovered, in Queens and Brooklyn South, were uncovered quite by accident. In the Queen's case, the undercover officers' corrupt activities were recorded on a surveillance tape that they were unaware of. And in the Brooklyn case, one of the undercovers made incriminating statements that were picked up on a wire that he was wearing, and he apparently had forgotten that his comments were being recorded.
So, how widespread the problem remains is unclear.
SIEGEL: And how many cases that had been brought based on these units' work, how many cases have been compromised because of these disclosures?
MARZULLI: Nearly 300 cases in Brooklyn, maybe about another 100 cases in Queens had to be dismissed because of the arresting officers or the undercover officers alone criminality.
SIEGEL: You've covered a lot of stories like this over quite a few years. Does Anderson strike you as a credible witness when he describes this practice?
MARZULLI: Yes, I think he is a credible witness and what I think is interesting and, to some degree, unique about what he is describing is how it differs from past corruption scandals involving the NYPD and narcotics. In this case, he testified that the criminality that the officers were involved in was not preplanned. There was certainly a conspiracy among the officers to commit these acts when they occurred spontaneously.
In previous police scandals they would meet before they would hit a location where they thought there were drugs and actually steal large amounts of drugs and then resell the drugs to dealers on the street. In this case, Anderson says the motivation seemed to be to meet arrest quotas or to get overtime. It wasn't motivated to make tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars by stealing cocaine and then reselling it on the street in some preplanned scheme.
SIEGEL: So the way he testified about it, one of the guys in your unit hasn't made a lot of arrests recently. He's concerned he might get sent back to uniform patrol duty, so the answer is to engage in what he called flaking - go take some cocaine, stick it on that stranger in the bar and bust him.
MARZULLI: Right. And again, I think what, you know, what goes to the officer's credibility is that he didn't realize the enormity of what he was doing and what the other officers were doing, by planting drugs on people. They looked at it as it was just another, you know, body and this person will get out of jail in a day and it's no big deal. There's also this disconnect about just how illegal and how serious a violation of their oath they were committing.
SIEGEL: Well, John Marzulli of the New York Daily News, thanks a lot for talking with us.
MARZULLI: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.