Subway Incident and Alleged Discourtesy

On Friday morning, March 18, 2011, Officer Three and Officer Four were on assignment at the West 72nd Street subway station in Manhattan when they observed five teenage boys, about ten yards away, shoving each other near the edge of the crowded subway platform. The officers walked towards the boys and Officer Three shouted for them to stop shoving each other, but the boys continued. When Officer Four got close, he yelled “Freeze, if you know what’s good for you.” At that point, the boys stopped shoving each other and began talking with Officer Four.

Ms. Smith, a 42-year-old woman who was standing on the subway platform, tapped Officer Three on the shoulder and asked him why they were bothering the boys. Officer Three spun around and said to her, “Back off or I’ll take you in too. I’m busting my ass to save your ass.” Officer Four, who had finished speaking with the teenagers, then approached Officer Three and Ms. Smith. Hearing her continue to question his partner, Officer Four said, “We don’t need this type of crap. Let’s go.” Ms. Smith recorded their names and badge numbers on her cell phone and the officers walked away and continued their patrol.

Ms. Smith then filed a complaint with the CCRB, alleging that both officers were discourteous and that Officer Three threatened to arrest her. She also stated that she believed the officers had stopped and questioned the teenagers because they were Black and Hispanic and for no other reason. Ms. Smith agreed to mediate her complaint after being offered the opportunity to do so by a CCRB investigator. The officers also agreed to mediate.

At the mediation session, the mediator explained the process to the participants and then gave Ms. Smith and the two officers the opportunity to speak. Ms. Smith stated that she was stunned by the way the officers treated her and spoke to her, and that it seemed that the officers were just hassling the boys because they were minorities and that was wrong.

Officer Three said that he wasn’t paying attention to the boys’ race when he yelled for them to stop shoving each other. He said that his primary concern was to have the boys stop so that no one got pushed onto the subway tracks, as had occurred on the previous day (St. Patrick’s Day) in a separate incident. Officer Three also explained that when Ms. Smith tapped him on the shoulder and started to question him, he still didn’t know for sure what was going on between the boys and his partner, and had wanted to keep his focus on them and not Ms. Smith to avoid a repeat of the prior day’s incident.

By the end of the mediation session, Ms. Smith said that she had a better understanding of what had happened and what the officers were thinking, and that she now believed that the officers had not been profiling the teenagers. She also stated that she appreciated that the officers were trying to protect the public. Yet, she said she still felt that the officers had spoken to her in an improper manner. The officers said that they appreciated Ms. Smith’s words and agreed that they could have acted more professionally in the way they had spoken to her. The officers and Ms. Smith agreed that the mediation session had addressed the concerns Ms. Smith raised in her initial complaint and had been a valuable learning experience.