For 12 years Joseph Esposito was the highest ranking uniformed officer in the NYPD. Yet in those 12 years, the former Chief of Department could not recall a single conversation he had with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly on the topic of racial profiling. In his testimony at a landmark federal trial weighing the constitutionality of the department's stop-and-frisk policy on Tuesday, Esposito presented himself as a commanding officer who seemingly shrugged off allegations of quotas and racial bias that plagued the department.
Had he and Kelly talked about why the department's own Quality Assurance Division released report after report for a decade, faulting patrol officers for failing to fill out their memo books? "No," Esposito replied, adding that despite a department memo stating that it was "imperative" for officers to write a narrative of all stop-and-frisks in their log books, "I sometimes think we put too much information in our books…it impacts [the officers'] ability to do police work."
Did Esposito's subordinates at least give him a summary of Spitzer's conclusions? "Not that I recall."
"Have you discussed [with Kelly] what the toll of the policies that are being challenged here are having on a generation of black and Hispanic youth?" plaintiffs attorney Jonathan Moore asked Esposito. Answer: "No."
During much of his testimony, Esposito, sporting a mustache much thinner and grayer than the one he had in a 2000 promotion photo, stretched out his right arm and gripped the judge's bench as if he was conversing on a subway car. No longer an active member of service, Esposito wore a neat blue suit instead of full dress uniform. A large gold signet ring protruded from his right hand; after the lunch recess it appeared on his left.
Esposito denied the existence of quotas, even after Moore read from the minutes of COMPSTAT meetings, quoting him as being critical of patrol borough areas that seemingly didn't produce. "Your enf [enforcement] numbers are way down...If you look at raw numbers on 250s [stop-and-frisks] you are down 50%," Esposito told the commander of Patrol Borough Manhattan North in July of 2008.
"Do you think that focusing on numbers gives the wrong impression to your subordinates?" Moore asked. "No," Esposito countered. "We deal with the quality much more than the number." Later, the man who had been in the NYPD since 1968 and enjoyed a three-helicopter pomp upon his retirement last month, said, "I don't make policy."
Despite his lack of policy-making, Esposito took credit for the city's lower crime rate. When Moore pointed out an increase of 700% in stop-and-frisks during Esposito's tenure, the witness noted, "Correct. As is the 40% decrease in crime."
At times, Esposito's testimony contradicted what he said in the deposition he gave for the case in 2009. At that time, he conceded that merely looking at the 250 form filled out by officers after completing a stop-and-frisk was not enough to determine whether racial bias was involved in the stop. Esposito said on the stand that he felt differently.
"If [officers] determine reasonable suspicion, there is no racial profiling," he said. "Can there be both reasonable suspicion and racial profiling?" Judge Shira Scheindlin asked.
"Your honor, I just feel that if you articulate a good stop based on reasonable suspicion, there can't be racial profiling."
What about the words captured by Adrian Schoolcraft in Bed-Stuy's 81st Precinct, where "everyone's probably got a warrant."
"That suggests racial stereotyping, does it not?" attorney Moore asked.