Ramarley Graham

By A. G. Moore February 23, 2012In today’s NY Times, Vincent Andrask, a former member the NYPD’s Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit (SNEU), defends the aggressive pursuit of Ramarley Graham, a young man who was shot to death by a Narcotics’ Unit officer. “You deal with your own business,” Mr. Andrask states. “If it’s your collar, you go after him.” The police officers who pursued Ramarley Graham trailed him to his apartment building, kicked in his apartment door and forced their way into his bathroom. It was in the bathroom that the unarmed Mr. Graham met his death. With him the police discovered a bag of marijuana.While questions of a police officer’s safety and the right to defend in a potentially dangerous situation whirl around Ramarley Graham’s shooting, an ancillary issue is more relevant: the use of headhunting as a measure of police efficacy. The Times article reports that the NYPD’s Narcotics Enforcement Unit is viewed by ambitious officers as a path to becoming a detective; an officer who makes more “collars” increases the chance of being considered for promotion.Though it is indisputable that an objective measure of success is needed to reward and retain effective police officers, it is interesting to compare the system of police evaluation to the one used for teachers across the country.Both teachers and police officers are evaluated using a numeric metric, but these measures are vastly different in nature. Teachers are assessed holistically, with an eye to overall outcome. There is accountability for a relative elevation or loss of academic performance.With police officers, performance is assessed atomistically: the more “collars” to an individual officer’s credit, the greater success he is deemed to have achieved. Not considered in this appraisal is the relationship of an individual officer’s “collar” total to crime reduction or community satisfaction. In isolation, “collars” become notches in the belt rather than an effective law enforcement tool. And the numbers game, without a consideration of community impact, becomes an inducement to abuse, as ever more aggressive techniques are employed to increase an officer’s head count.There is an obvious disconnect between civilian perception of proper police function and the NYPD’s perception of their role in the community. Civilians want police to be their allies, to be a defense against criminals. But when the police are looking at the civilian population as a pool of potential “collars”, then the community is betrayed.One can consider the case of Ramarley Graham as an expression of this betrayal. Mr. Graham was observed by the Narcotics Enforcement Unit as he engaged in what appeared to be a small-time street transaction. Camera surveillance of his building reveals that after the transaction, Mr. Graham strolled into his building without any sense of urgency.When police stormed Mr. Graham’s apartment, they knew they were pursuing, at worst, an individual who had committed a low-level street crime. Without the numbers game, without the need to harvest ever-greater totals in a quest for better arrest statistics, would the police have had an incentive to pursue Mr. Graham into his building, to knock down his door and finally to mortally wound him? The question of whether or not he presented a danger to the police would never have arisen at all if they had not been in Mr. Graham’s apartment. And nothing about the events preceding Mr. Graham’s death justified a police presence in his home without a warrant.As long as the police see in the civilian population potential vehicles for professional recognition, there will be more Ramarley Grahams. There will be more people who are suspected of committing minor crimes but are subjected to extreme law enforcement measures. As long as Ramarley Clark, and all of us, are seen as stepping stones to promotion, there will be overzealous police action which will be motivated more by the need to increase arrest statistics than by the desire to make arrests that will enhance the overall safety of the community.

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