Racist, Xenophobic Cop Tells All: ‘Incompetence’ and ‘Bias’ Rule

Photo: Franz Golhen
Photo: Franz Golhen

Even the seemingly best cops are xenophobic, vaguely racist drones who don’t really care about cyclists.

That’s not me talking. It’s a cop.

In an astounding interview this month, Transportation Alternatives’ twice-yearly magazine Reclaim got a veteran police officer to reveal dirty secrets about the NYPD’s war on cyclists and its protection of drivers who have killed.

And his insights are jaw-dropping. At various points, this self-proclaimed cyclist cop blasted his fellow officers’ “incompetence” and “bias.” And he called for more protected bike lanes! And he supports Vision Zero!

But before readers could see him as one of the good guys, this officer, who declined to reveal his name, also defended the rank-and-file’s opposition to life-saving speed cameras. And he perpetuated the false, statistic-free argument that e-bikes are causing injuries to pedestrians.

And then the cop made even bigger news with what was not printed by Reclaim Editor Jessie Singer. During the conversation, he demeaned immigrants and suggested that they commit crimes at a greater rate than other Americans.

“This marks the first time that we have edited an interview to remove content — in particular, counterfactual claims about undocumented immigrants,” Singer wrote in a long editor’s note. “When asked about the e-bike crackdown, the officer justified the enforcement with falsehoods about bearing of immigration status on tax-paying, and blaming immigrants for job availability, wage undercutting, and criminal activity. We have chosen to not give column inches to these erroneous and xenophobic statements.”

Singer declined to comment further. I reached out to the NYPD and City Hall to see if either Police Chief James O’Neill or Mayor de Blasio share the cop’s unpublishable anti-immigrant racism. O’Neill didn’t bite (see update below), but de Blasio spokesman Seth Stein did.

NYPD collects e-bikes on First Avenue in Manhattan. Photo: @belleoflonglake/Twitter
NYPD collects e-bikes on First Avenue in Manhattan. Photo: @belleoflonglake/Twitter

“New York City is the safest big city in the country while we are home to our largest share of immigrant New Yorkers in over a century,” Stein said. “That’s thanks in part to the trust we’ve built and strengthened between local law enforcement and immigrant communities.

“Our city policies are grounded in reality, and research tells us that immigrants commit fewer crimes than the general population. Any claim to the contrary is demonstrably false.”

Stein did not respond when I followed up: Don’t we have a pretty big problem, I asked, when a police officer believes something that is “demonstrably false”? And doesn’t his apparently racist and definitely xenophobic rant undermine everything else he said in the interview?

How Reclaim played the story online.
How Reclaim played the story online.

Indeed, Singer’s editor’s note again sounded the alarm that even an officer who described himself as a cyclist is part of a larger machine that does not care about what cyclists and pedestrians experience every day.

I have been a reporter in New York City for more than 25 years and to this day, the single greatest challenge is to get a police officer to talk, let alone say anything.

Transportation Alternatives certainly got a cop to say something.

For instance, the officer admitted that his fellow cops can’t distinguish between the danger caused by a rogue taxi driver and a cyclist.

“The only bias that I do hear will be ‘those bicyclists’ types of general statements, the same for taxis,” the cop said in the interview. “You’ll hear cops say, ‘Oh, look, those f-ing cabs are always stopping in the crosswalks. … You hear a million things about cabs and what they do. The same things will be said about bicyclists.”

Singer asked the cop why the NYPD routinely blames cyclists for their deaths, often leaking anti-cyclist information to the press even before a full investigation has been completed and reflexively relying on driver testimony. His answer was unsatisfying.

“Several reasons,” the cop said. “Incompetence is the main one. Incompetence in not canvassing and interviewing witnesses, in not carefully interviewing the participants of the crash to get a full understanding of what happened and in not being very skeptical of all statements.

“I can’t envision a scenario where a leak to the press after a crash is meant to have a nefarious agenda,” he added. “Incompetence — that I can easily see.”

Jessie Singer
Jessie Singer. Photo: TA

Just as discomfiting, the officer defended his colleagues’ opposition to speed cameras for the worst reasons: the tickets are harder to fight (hey, isn’t that a good thing?) and because the school-zone cameras only help people with kids (hey, isn’t that a good thing, too?).

“Regular police officers … are more often than not against [the cameras] simply because it is like Big Brother looking over your shoulder, and there is no recourse if you get caught,” he said. “Americans in general … are probably not a huge fan of enforcement cameras unless they themselves are the beneficiary of the enforcement, either because they have children in that school or because it’s located on a block near where they live or work.”

Speed cameras in just 140 school zones caught more than 4.5 million speeders in their first five years — and more than 80 percent of speeders do not get a second ticket, data that proves their success.

But the officer admitted that the NYPD’s traffic enforcement is not scientific or data-driven, even though cops and the Department of Transportation know exactly where the crashes are happening.

“The majority of traffic enforcement … is based on complaints,” he said, adding that the only way to get change is for the public to agitate for it. And that’s a hard road.

“If you want to be specific as to a certain [dangerous] intersection or roadway, then you would have to reach out directly to the precinct, preferably in written communication,” he advises. “Email, letters and be forceful with it. One is not enough. Keep up the pressure.”

The cop also pulled away the veil of secrecy about some police operations. For instance, he explained why officers suddenly start writing summonses to cyclists even if a cyclist has been run over and killed by a driver. It’s part of a policy called the “72-hour plan” that has been rarely aired in public.

“Any time there’s a fatality, whether it involves a bicycle or not … there’s something called a ’72-hour plan’ enacted,” the officer revealed. “Enforcement is stepped up for all moving violations. … The rational for the 72-hour plan, I’m guessing, is that they figure anytime someone dies, because it’s a serious thing, they focus on that area to see what people were doing wrong there to prevent another fatality.”

Singer gently suggested that there might be a better way than just randomly ticketing cyclists. The cop agreed.

“Better direction has to be received from the supervisors at the precinct level and at the borough level … to say that there are certain violations that they’re looking for and certain violations that they’re not looking for,” he said.

Was there any good news in the interview? Actually, yes.

The officer came out in strong support for better street design, including protected bike lanes, which he called “a huge improvement from regular bicycle lanes.”

“I’d like to see even more of them throughout the city,” he said.

And he said that before Vision Zero, “there wasn’t a whole lot of direction” on traffic enforcement.”

“Now,” the cop added, “the precinct and even the patrol boroughs are pushing traffic violations that are consider Vision Zero violations, such as running through red lights, failure to yield to pedestrians. disobeying signs and improper turns.”

But despite a few bright spots, Singer’s article concluded that the conversation disturbed her so much that she was left “wondering if police enforcement should be an element of Vision Zero at all.”

Is there any doubt?

After this story was published, NYPD Lieutenant John Grimpel said, The NYPD enforces the law impartially and does not make arrests or summons individuals based on their immigration status.” For the record, I had asked these questions:

  1. Does the NYPD have a comment about this officer’s apparent racism and stated xenophobia?
  2. Can the NYPD assure the public that its e-bike crackdown — and other enforcement efforts — are handled on a race- or national-origin-blind manner?
  3. Does the NYPD share the officer’s apparent belief that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than non-immigrants?

Gersh Kuntzman is editor-in-chief of Streetsblog. He writes his periodic “Cycle of Rage” column when he gets angry. They are all archived here.

  • Joe R.

    I have to say that I agree with the cop’s point about the cameras only being in school zones (and only operating during school hours). That’s basically saying a child’s life is worth more than mine. I could argue the opposite. A child is an unproven entity. They may have a lot of value to society when they grow up, or they may be a huge burden on society. An adult generally has settled into one of those two categories. In any case, I’m not finding any rationale for treating children’s lives as more worthy of protection than adults. We should have speed cameras anywhere there’s heavy pedestrian activity, and they should be active at least during the hours of such activity, if not 24/7.

    And while we’re at it, while I’m glad the officer supports more protected bike lanes I would say it’s more important to get the pavement in good condition. Last week I had my first fall in 22 years due to a narrow crack in a bus stop which was virtually invisible. My thumb hurts and my left leg has some pain and swelling. I haven’t been back to the location to check but I’m also seeing what may be an additional reason I didn’t notice the crack. It looks like NYC is starting to put up LED streetlights which are both dimmer and yellower than the originals. This has to stop. The originals were great for seeing. These ones aren’t any better than the HPS lamps they’re replacing. We can thank the complainers for this. My only question is how to get NYC to stop and restore the original LED streetlights. I have lots of studies showing 4000K to 5000K is better for seeing at identical light levels. If NYC wants to use crap like 3000K then it needs to approximately double the light levels (and energy use) for the same amount of visual acuity. Instead, it’s done the opposite. I’m estimating things are 2 to 3 times worse with this change in streetlights.

  • JohnBrownForPresident

    One anonymous interview… But one that reinforces what every person who bikes in this city has felt. Thanks Gersh, thanks transalt. A message that we all need to understand who the vulnerable is and ally politically with immigrants and other victims of police brutality to get better streets for all.

  • carl jacobs

    A child is an unproven entity

    Or just maybe an adult is considered capable of protecting himself whereas a child might act like (you know) a child. So we watch out for them with greater care. Because that’s what adults do. We don’t consider them according to some utilitarian calculus about how valuable they might be in the future.

    Tell me you were being ironic and I just didn’t pick up on it.

  • crazytrainmatt

    That’s about as sympathetic a viewpoint as one is likely to get from NYPD. The interview is an interesting read if you want to understand things from their perspective. You’re not going to influence the rest of NYPD by humiliating the one source who steps up as a racist xenophone.

  • JohnBrownForPresident

    So what? Why care about their goddamn feelings?

  • qrt145

    Even under a utilitarian calculus you could say that a child is “worth more”, because children have more years of life ahead of them. It is common in cost-benefit analyses to try to estimate the number of life-years saved.

  • Joseph Cutrufo

    I don’t really want to live in a city where they only put speed cameras on Wall Street and the Upper East Side, you know, where the most valuable adults (and their likely-someday-worthy-of-protection offspring) live and work.

  • Simon Phearson

    I have to say that I agree with the cop’s point about the cameras only being in school zones (and only operating during school hours).

    Shh! The accepted reasoning around these parts is that incrementalism is good! Incrementalism is how you build success! You focus on kids going to school because that’s the easiest political haul. And then, once people get accustomed to the idea, you roll it out city-wide. Process takes, like, a generation. But it’s worth it, see! And if people die and get injured in the meantime, well… Let’s talk about lowering the speed limit citywide!

    Don’t expect anyone here to grasp that the incrementalism itself may undermine the political efficacy of their strategy. That’s so beyond accepted doctrine I’m not sure they can grasp it.

  • Daisy’s World

    he investigation revealed a complex network of sex and gambling. In addition, there was a money laundering operation conducted at several nail salons in Queens. The gambling consisted of sportsbooks and number games. The leader of the criminal enterprise was a retired police detective. He recruited other officers to act as foot soldiers or lookouts. The illegal gambling and prostitution ring cashed in nearly $3 million in revenue in one year.

    The sting operation resulted in the arrests of three sergeants, two detectives, and two officers. The police charged them with providing protection services for the gambling houses, prostitution rings, and money laundering operation. The police officers had jobs in different departments, including detectives in the major crimes division to evidence collection. Two were members of the vice squad and beat patrol officers, both in Brooklyn and Queens. One of the police officers worked for Internal Affairs as recently as five months ago. Two of the officers, who are brothers, held a bachelor party that included illegal gambling and prostitution. http://www.daisylimo.com/laguardia_airport.html

  • The NYPD is a labor-intensive operation, and the quality of its execution in its mission/goals is very dependent on the quality of the staff. You’re only as good as the officers that you hire. If you have great numbers of officers who feel empowered to act/think individually & who lack critical knowledge about the job they are doing (and the reasons to keep politics about economics & labor out of the jobs that they do) then the agency itself has done a poor job of staffing. The police department needs major staffing reform. We won’t get it because of the politics of elections & union support, which have always been broken in New York & are part of the cesspool of pay-to-play politics that forces us to live teetering on the brink at all times. (And also because of the politics in society regarding a fascist order in society overseen by a criminal justice system mobilized against the poor, minorities, and the opponents of entrenched interests – not in the least, feminist and LGBTQ activists included among them)

  • Larry Littlefield

    I agree. People can be wrong about some things and right about others.

  • carl jacobs

    Is there any doubt?

    On the basis of anonymous, uncorroborated testimony that hasn’t been subjected to cross-examination? Umm, yeah, there should be doubt. Can we all say “confirmation bias”?

    Putting a name to the subject would help.

  • Dr. Bones

    I recommend reading “A Utopia of Rules” by David Graeber
    Cops are essentially bureaucrats with guns
    That bit about the bodycams and all his talk about paperwork and reports and files gives an important window into what the real workload is about and how cops are incentivized

    It’s a quandary because the more regulations created for what seems good and reasonable the paradoxically less available they are to carry out what we want their core duty to be….serve and protect

    same issues show up in healthcare and many other places where the bureaucratic load gets so heavy that it supercedes the mission

  • Jacob

    For a fantastic deep dive on a lot of the problems in the NYPD, I recommend this 2-part ReplyAll podcast on what went wrong with CompStat and how it created the NYPD we know today. It’s not specifically about traffic enforcement, but it tells a story that is highly relevant: https://www.gimletmedia.com/reply-all/127-the-crime-machine-part-i

  • Joe R.

    Having school crossing guards is part of watching out for them with greater care. My point isn’t that we shouldn’t have speed cameras to protect children but rather we should have them to protect everyone. What may have been politically expedient in this case (i.e. “save the children”) could undermine us in the long run, as Simon mentioned above.

    While we don’t do it for street safety, there are many other facets of life where we coldly calculate a person’s future worth to society. That includes deciding whether or not to assist them with school, drug addiction, etc. It would also be relevant in a hypothetical scenario where we’re saving those most likely to benefit the human race in the long run in the face of an extinction level event.

  • Joe R.

    The (mostly) idle rich are among those least worth protecting. It’s not about net worth or potential future earnings. It’s about what contributions a person might make which benefit humanity in the long run. Or whether or not they have skills needed for the long term functioning of society. We’re obviously not going through that calculus deciding who to protect with speed cameras but look at how laws are often selectively enforced (or not enforced) to benefit the wealthy. We let motorists literally get away with murder because motorists as a group are more wealthy and influential. It’s no secret you’re treated differently under the justice system if you’re wealthy. My point is to some extent we’re already deciding some people are worth more than others. The selective use of speed cameras just reinforces that notion. I’m totally on board putting speed cameras in school zones but in the interests of fairness we also need to put them anywhere else there are lots of pedestrians.

  • Joe R.

    I’ve said this for decades. We have far too many laws. For every new law we make we should have a policy of repealing 50 or 100 old laws. Moreover, if the police operate based on complaints instead of statistics you have an even worse situation. People who are generally causing little or no harm end up interacting negatively with the police, undermining law enforcement in general. As an example, cyclists can be a great ally of the police by reporting suspicious activity they see while riding. Because of pointless police crackdowns on cyclists, the police lost a valuable set of eyes and ears on the street.

    The bottom line is both laws and enforcement should be based on statistics, not how people feel. For example, e-bikes may constitute a low-level annoyance but statistically they’re not dangerous enough to warrant laws against them. Same thing with riding on uncrowded sidewalks, or slow-rolling through red lights. In a sane society things like this wouldn’t even be illegal. The police would be spending their time focusing in truly dangerous crimes.

  • Lauren Bertrand

    About as credible as some other recent uncorroborated testimony used as a weapon to destroy credibility of an ideological opponent.

  • AnoNYC

    “LED streetlights which are both dimmer and yellower than the originals.”

    Gotta say I totally disagree here. When the city started converting the street lamps on my block, they left one sodium for a couple weeks. The difference was stark and the LEDs performed substantially better.

    The bulbs in the initial rollout are also a pure white (4,000k@78 watts), and the most recent conversions are off-white (3,000K@72 watts). The sodium bulbs had an yellow-orange hue (2,200K) that reduced the ability to see colors and night, and made it harder to discern details as a result.

  • Joe R.

    I agree the yellower LEDs are still somewhat better than HPS, but they’re only about half as good as the pure white ones as far as being able to see well (HPS is about 6 times worse!). The point though is the city shouldn’t have changed anything, much less did so based solely on the complaints of laypeople. The science says we should have 4000K to 5000K for both optimal seeing and minimal energy use. The AMA is concerned about blue spikes, but here again their recommendations don’t make sense. When you go from something like 4500K to 3000K you need to double light levels for the same visual acuity. The blue spike might be a smaller part of the spectrum of 3000K LEDs but you need twice as much intensity. End result is the amount of blue light exposure is the same. If you keep intensity the same but reduce color temperature, you’re compromising safety.

    Finally, the blue spike concerns can be addressed by going with ~4500K LEDs which emit closer to a broadband spectrum. Those are about 20% less efficient, but as a bonus they render colors nearly perfectly. This helps visual acuity also.

  • AnoNYC

    I agree that the city should have stuck with 4,000K LEDs. 99% of people didn’t care, and there will always be some people who complain about everything. These same people complaining about the lighting will walk into their homes and turn on televisions and use cellular devices.

    The streets of Brooklyn are way brighter on average than the rest of the city at night now, and I think that’s great. Though the other boroughs largely lost out with the dimmer LEDs, they are still much brighter than they were before.

    Interestingly though the NYCHA has been installing 4000K lighting at housing developments here in the Bronx. And private buildings are of course also going with the much more common 4000K bulbs for exterior lighting and common spaces.

  • Driver

    “That’s basically saying a child’s life is worth more than mine.”
    Or it’s saying that children are less mature and therefore more likely to make mistakes or do unexpected things like dart into traffic. Where there are concentrations of emotionally maturing young people is probably the ideal place to put speed and red light cameras.

  • Emmily_Litella

    Interesting discussion of the science of light and lighting policy. I will point out that a significant difference between sodium and LED street lighting is that the LEDs are mounted in full or near full cutoff fixtures. So people behind windows above the second or third floor are experiencing much less light trespass (yes that is a thing) from street lights. Anyone complaining about light trespass into their home is experiencing intensified light trespass. Instead of investing in proper window coverings, they just complain about something that is new and different.

  • Joe R.

    Correct about the cutoff. The old sodium lights lit up the front yards of many houses in my area. Now those yards are dark. Even more interesting is the amount of light projected upwards. The sodium fixtures wasted a fair amount of light this way. It was especially noticeable on snowy days when you have a yellowish sky glow. The LED fixtures send nothing upwards beyond the incidental light reflected off the street. There’s much less sky glow. I can now see a lot more stars at night.

  • Frank Kotter

    I don’t know. In Europe policing is more effective, less violent and health care is cheaper with better outcomes. It’s not because of more libertarian societies but rather just the opposite.

    I think you’re trying to put this problem into your own preconceptions about government. I think it is an outcome of a society which finds violence totally acceptable if not desirable. Policing is simply an outgrowth of this.

    Smart people don’t become cops. This has to change.

  • Lauren Bertrand

    While I’d probably agree that Europe remains safer (at least when you take out gun crime, sexual assault and property crime), I’m not sure it’s due to more effective policing. The citizenry of most European countries are far less likely to be armed, so there is less of a need of coercion among law enforcement–but in those cases where there is widespread civil unrest (such as Hamburg last year) it seems that LEOs in Germany/UK/France/Belgium/etc are far less effective at protecting the non-violent majority than they would be here in the US. I’ve never heard of a situation where police have been overwhelmed by a mob in this country; it has happened on multiple occasions just in the last two years in Europe.

  • I would not say uncorroborated, many of us have heard opinions like this straight from the mouths of the NYPD. It is, of course, anecdotal.


Behind the Blue Wall With Officer X

This interview originally appeared in the summer issue of Transportation Alternatives’ quarterly magazine, Reclaim. There are approximately 34,500 uniformed cops in New York City. For a few months this spring, it seemed like the lion’s share of them had it in for cyclists. T.A.’s switchboard was flooded with phone calls from members looking for legal […]