Graham Rayman’s The NYPD Tapes is sub-titled: A Shocking Story of Cops, Coverups and Courage.
Courage applies in part to Adrian Schoolcraft, the whistleblowing police officer at the center of one of the more bizarre of the NYPD’s ongoing scandals.
Courage also applies to Rayman, who wrote about Adrian Schoolcraft despite his lack of cooperation and the lack of cooperation of Schoolcraft’s manipulative father Larry. But Rayman is first and foremost an honest reporter. Even without their cooperation he persevered, and completed this important book.
Schoolcraft worked in the relatively high-crime 81st precinct in Brooklyn, and he was not a happy camper as a cop. A loner, he began to secretly tape recording precinct roll calls at which commanding officers ordered patrol cops like himself to make it difficult for victims of crimes to make formal complaints. Equally disturbing, cops were also ordered to downgrade felonies — serious crimes — to less serious misdemeanors so that the precinct would appear safer than it actually was.
Schoolcraft’s tape recordings might well have been ignored or forgotten, had not the police department then done something that was indeed shocking.
On the day of Halloween in 2009, Schoolcraft left his tour early, saying he felt sick, and returned to his apartment in Queens. A few hours later a police posse, led by a Deputy Chief, appeared at his apartment and took him, against his will, to nearby Jamaica Hospital, saying he needed medical help. Despite his protests, the hospital admitted him and held him in its psychiatric ward for the next five days.
Whether this was retaliation for leaving his tour early without permission, or whether it was retaliation for his recording the roll calls as Schoolcraft’s father maintained, the department left a paper trail of what it did that they have yet to explain.
Four years later, neither Police Commissioner Ray Kelly nor Mayor Michael Bloomberg has offered any explanation for an action that seems more appropriate to the old Soviet Union and its KGB than to New York City and the NYPD.
Schoolcraft was released from the hospital after a week. He and his father then left the city for upstate Johnstown, where Larry Schoolcraft had grown up. Meanwhile Larry alerted the media to what the department had done to his son, declaring that his son’s forced hospitalization was retaliation for his blowing the whistle on his precinct commanders.
The Schoolcrafts, father and son, hired an attorney who sued the NYPD in federal court for $50 million.
Meanwhile there was enough of a hue and cry among the city’s media and local politicians that the department was forced to address Schoolcraft’s allegations about the 81st precinct. The department announced an investigation and determined that its 81 precinct commanders had indeed downgraded crimes. The precinct’s top commanders were all transferred and disciplined.
Other allegations had surfaced years before that the downgrading of crimes was not confined to the 81st precinct but was a city-wide phenomenon. But when the chairman of the Mayor’s Commissioner to Combat Police Corruption sought to investigate, Kelly refused to turn over department records. Mayor Bloomberg did and said nothing and the chairman resigned.
With the publicity increasing over the Schoolcraft case, Kelly announced the appointment of a three-man, blue-ribbon panel to examine the department’s crime-reporting. This time he promised to cooperate. He promised a report within six months. Instead, the investigation continued for two years. By the time the panel issued its report, concluding that the downgrading was indeed citywide, one of the three members had died and interest in Schoolcraft had waned.
At the same time, the NYPD sent officers upstate to Johnstown, harassing the Schoolcrafts and urging Adrian to return to work. Clearly, the pressure was getting to them. Adrian and Larry were running out of money and were fighting with each other.
They fired their first attorney, hired a second attorney and fired him.
“The father wants us to go after Kelly, Bloomberg, the FBI, everyone under the son,” said their first attorney, Jon Norinsberg. “We’ve had a complete communications breakdown.”
He added that Adrian had disappeared for weeks on end and he had enlisted the legendary NYPD cop, Frank Serpico, who lived near the Schoolcrafts, to help find him.
Serpico, who had come forward about police corruption 40 years before and who lived near the Schoolcrafts, identified with Adrian Schoolcraft’s ordeal. He knew firsthand the pressures the department can exert upon an individual who goes against the system.
As he put it: “The department wants to undermine all that they stand for by painting them as malcontents, nuts, psychos.” That, he said, was precisely what they had done to him four decades ago.
Rayman in his book recounts all this. He describes the Schoolcrafts not as saints, but as human beings in torment.
Yet their lawsuit continues. The facts have begun to emerge. Federal Judge Robert Sweet ruled last week against Jamaica Hospital, which had sought to prevent Schoolcraft from discussing his forced incarceration.
This story is not over as the police department has hoped. It may be just the beginning.
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