NYPD Whistleblower Case

Final Essay, PPD240: Citizenship & Ethics​

 

The Argument

Adrian Schoolcraft argues that opposing directive, purposely recording and documenting information as a whistleblower is morally justifiable given his own duty and inner conscience as a police officer working for the greater public good. His duty as a police officer compels him to seek to do what’s right, and he states that his original intent was to correct wrongdoing in the New York police department. He worked in an oppressive environment, where his superiors established harsh imperatives for each police officer to meet certain quotas of stop-and-frisks, traffic stops, and summons. The Village Voices summarizes Schoolcraft’s orders to “maintain high “activity”—including stop-and-frisks—but, paradoxically, to record fewer actual crimes” (Rayman). Schoolcraft’s reasoning followed these 3 points. First, he quickly came to the reasoning that his current work environment would not improve due to him voicing, and sought to pursue alternative ways to pursue change. Secondly, he justified his actions both deontologically and teleologically, through his own moral compass and the way his actions impacted others. Lastly, he was willing to sacrifice his current way of life and the comforts of being in the NYPD system to whistleblow, with the intent of creating systemic police reform.

  1. Questions

    1. How many crimes were misclassified in Bed-Stuy between 2006-2008?

    2. Have crime reporting policies regarding COMPSTAT changed after 2009?

    3. How have police forces responded to whistleblowing in the past?

    4. How has the implementation of COMPSTAT impacted crime reporting in police departments?

    5. How are police supervisors held accountable to COMPSTAT reporting related policy and conduct?

    6. What is the change in amount of crimes, both violent and petty, in Bed-Stuy since the Village Voices expose came out?

    7. What personnel changes has NYPD made in Precinct 81 to address the release of the tapes?

    8. Have past police lawsuits led to policy reform?

    9. How are superiors held accountable to COMPSTAT statistics?

 

Would Kant approve?

Kant would argue that Schoolcraft’s decision to record his interactions at NYPD are justified on the grounds of his deontological duty, categorical imperative, and practical imperative. Furthermore, his decision to leak the recordings would also be justified on the deontological, as he considered his own duty first, rather than the consequences of his actions. Schoolcraft’s actions imply that purposely breaking supervisors’ orders, covertly recording interactions, and then releasing that information to the press would be justified in that intentional disobedience for the greater good of humanity should be universal norm. However, leaking the information to the press was seen as a last resort option, after Schoolcraft saw no better alternatives to push forward change. As a result, he is a reluctant whistleblower, and acted with virtue first, rather than an outcome-oriented approach.

 

Schoolcraft’s actions fulfill the categorical imperative because he was disciplined in his tireless approach to pursue what he perceived was morally right policing. His use of multiple tape recorders, comprehensively documenting his interactions in his duty log, and his commitment to not ‘meet the numbers’ and other standards set by his superiors speaks to his own standard on how ethical policing ought to be. He did not selectively disclose or leave out information, and Schoolcraft was forefront about his views and experiences whenever investigators or people he perceived would help his case interviewed him. Even though he ultimately secretly filmed hours of illegal behavior, Schoolcraft’s initial intent to use the audio recorder to “protect himself from the civilian complaints that can result from street encounters” (Rayman).

 

Kant would have approved of Schoolcraft’s actions through the practical imperative. Schoolcraft reached out to and forged relationships with community members, small businesses, and residents, which were in opposition of established policing rules. His directive was to indiscriminately arrest civilians off the street, lock them up, and then determine the reason afterwards. Schoolcraft’s actions were an end, and not a means, as he chose to reach out to community members not as an act to fulfill supervisor orders or to keep his job, but because of his view of right way to treat humanity through his role as a police officer.

 

Schoolcraft’s actions are not consequentialist, as he did not initially consider the broader impact of his actions. Although following lawsuits and political pressure led to police reform and changes in the system, Schoolcraft justified his action through a deontological lens. He considered what was right through his own actions, and carried out what he perceived was the morally correct course of action. He initially intended to be able to voice his concerns to his superiors in Precinct 81 and correct behavior internally. However, the implications of his actions were blown out of proportion, beyond anything he anticipated.  “...insofar as virtue is based on internal freedom, it contains a positive command of man, namely, that he should bring all his capacities and inclinations under his authority (that of reason)” (Kant 67).

  

Would a utilitarian approve of Schoolcraft’s decisions?

Schoolcraft’s decisions would align with the utilitarian view of ethics. At the core of utilitarianism is generating the maximum happiness for the maximum amount of people. Despite taking immense risks, personal sacrifices, and relentless efforts to censure him, Schoolcraft ultimately maximized utility for the greater good. His decisions did ultimately lead to police reform, and the overall betterment of society, even at the expense of his own personal life and aspirations. His actions ultimately led to him sacrificing his own gun and badge, an occupation he and his father have known for decades, to build a better community in Bed-Stuy.

 

In the Village Voices article, Schoolcraft was the only police officer to reach out to community members and neighborhood businesses during foot posts, a position much maligned by the police officers. He went out of his way to create these relationships, and as a result, Schoolcraft, as a single police officer, created lasting utility among the members of his community by choosing not to abide by the COMPSTAT influenced directives to indiscriminately arrest people, and under-report crimes. His reasoning was that by writing summons, he would end up “hurting the same people that can make your job easier” (Glass).

 

Mill states that individuals need to make clear differentiations between the quantity and also the quality of goods. Schoolcraft made this differentiation, and took the risk from stage 1 & 2, which was the avoidance of punishment, to stage 5 & 6, the universal ethical principle. Although his immediate superiors and even police compliance departments became barriers to Schoolcraft’s pursuit of this maxim, Adrian was ultimately vindicated through a flurry of lawsuits and press coverage, and was able to push through reform in Precinct 81. The direct result of Schoolcraft’s actions included the transfer of Deputy Inspector Mauriello, 2 class action lawsuits on stop and frisks and quotas, 1 investigation into Schoolcraft’s allegations, and 1 investigation into Marino’s order to classify him as EDP and shut him away in a psychiatric ward (Glass). Clearly, Schoolcraft’s actions, when framed in an utilitarian perspective, have led to social benefit for humanity, both in the police departments and in New York communities. “Utility is often summarily stigmatised as an immoral doctrine by giving it the name of Expediency, and taking advantage of the popular use of that term to contrast it with Principle. But the Expedient, in the sense in which it is opposed to the Right, generally means that which is expedient for the particular interest of the agent himself” (Mill).

 

 

Works Cited

  1. McDonald, Michael. “Ethics and Conflict of Interest.” The W. Maurice Young Centre for Applied Ethics | School of Population and Public Health, ethics.ubc.ca/peoplemcdonaldconflict-htm/.

  2. Banyan, Margaret E. “Tragedy of the Commons.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 23 Nov. 2017, www.britannica.com/science/tragedy-of-the-commons.

  3. Rayman, Graham. “The NYPD Tapes: Inside Bed-Stuy's 81st Precinct.” The NYPD Tapes: Inside Bed-Stuy’s 81st Precinct, The Village Voice, 4 May 2010, www.villagevoice.com/2010/05/04/the-nypd-tapes-inside-bed-stuys-81st-precinct/.

  4. Glass, Ira. “Is That a Tape Recorder in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Unhappy to See Me?” Is That a Tape Recorder in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Unhappy to See Me?, This American Life, 20 Feb. 2018, www.thisamericanlife.org/414/right-to-remain-silent/act-two-0.

  5. “Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill.” Jeremy Bentham, www.utilitarianism.com/mill2.htm.

  6. Kant, Immanuel. The Metaphysical Principles of Virtue. Bobbs-Merrill, 1964.