Book Review The NYPD Tapes: A Shocking Story Of Cops, Cover-Ups And Courage

IN MAY 2010, THE VILLAGE VOICE published a series, penned by then staffer Graham Rayman, about widespread crime statistic manipulation, routine police officer intimidation and broad corruption within the New York City Police Department. In August 2013, a mere week before Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin’s Floyd v. City of New York decision, which declared the NYPD’s stop and frisk practice unconstitutional and racially biased, Rayman published the
book-length version of his NYPD expose.

In The NYPD Tapes: A Shocking Story of Cops, Cover-ups and Courage (Palgrave Macmillan,
2013), Rayman provides the reader with insider information never before revealed to the civilian masses who live and work outside of One Police Plaza, the most famous blue wall.

In the opening pages, Rayman immediately pulls the reader in while describing the tale of
two New Yorks: the New York that boils at the injustice of a white tourist’s skull being crushed versus the New York that is apathetic to the death of a bullet-ridden black teenager; the New York that is associated with the high-rise-pocked Manhattan skyline versus the tenement-laden outer boroughs of Brooklyn and the Bronx; the New York that boasts the greatest police force in the world versus the New York whose beat cops are intimidated by commanding
officers into fudging the numbers. In order to do so, Rayman introduces the audience to NYPD whistleblower Adrian Schoolcraft, his predecessors, his peers, and his superiors.

After months of pressure by his superiors to get his arrests and summons numbers up,
Police Officer Adrian Schoolcraft, a beat cop out of Bedford-Stuyvesant’s 81st precinct, violated the blue wall of silence. He turned on his tape recorder and recorded more than 1,000
hours of command conversation, lectures, and berating. Schoolcraft’s tapes would ultimately
confirm what many New Yorkers already knew, but had no direct evidence of: that Department
superiors were commanding their beat officers to make specified numbers of arrests and to
write up specified numbers of summonses.

In other words, Schoolcraft exposed the systematic imposition of quotas.

Included in the information found on Schoolcraft’s tapes is a “shocking” revelation about the lengths to which superiors at the 81st precinct, the Internal Affairs Bureau and One Police Plaza went to keep Schoolcraft obedient and, once his recordings were ultimately discovered, silent.

To be clear, The NYPD Tapes is not a book about Adrian Schoolcraft. Indeed, Rayman does not do enough to humanize Schoolcraft.  There is no moment—not even when Schoolcraft is forcibly detained by his superiors, without reason or representation, and committed
to a psychiatric ward where he spends hours handcuffed to a bed—when the reader
sympathizes with him. Perhaps, however, sympathizing with Schoolcraft is not the point. This is less a book about Adrian Schoolcraft than it is about the history of NYPD’s use of quotas and
the similar experiences of other whistleblowing rank-and-file NYPD officers.

Using Schoolcraft’s audio, Rayman weaves together the praiseworthy beginnings of the
widely heralded NYPD program now known as CompStat and the resulting system that has
produced NYPD’s unconstitutional stop and frisk culture.

In The NYPD Tapes, Rayman documents what, in his view, is the history of CompStat, corruption, and NYPD police culture. Rayman’s literary style is captivating and authentic, lacking overt activism but embracing gritty storytelling. Some characters appear appropriately larger than life, while others appear mundane, though important nonetheless. A compelling and concise read. 

Nicole Junior