The friend I entered the bar with hours earlier was nowhere in sight. After minutes of mild panic pass, I go around the corner from Ludlow onto Rivington in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There she stood. Alex, my 5’2”, blonde best friend dressed in her best Friday night outfit… and accessorizing her wrists were shiny, newly strapped-on handcuffs. She was leaning against a dumpster, looking bewildered, yet not the least bit embarrassed.
I guessed right away that her sudden detained status was a result of smoking the spliff (half marijuana, half tobacco) that was in her bag, out in public. “I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry about what was going on,” Alex recalls of the night, and added “the cops who arrested me certainly thought it was funny.”
The officers who came from out of nowhere were both dressed in loose sweatshirts, baggie jeans, and Timberland boots. One would have thought that they were the common hoodlums prowling the streets of the Lower East Side looking for the next bar to nurse a beer. “They were dressed in civilian clothing and they came out of the woodworks, showed their badges, took [the spliff] out my hand, and cuffed me,” Alex said. “They weren’t aggressive, I was compliant.”
Alex was taken to the 7th precinct on Delancey Street just blocks away where she was searched, finger printed, held for three hours, and given a court date. She plans to attend court on October 26th with no representation, as it wasn’t necessary, according to the officers of the precinct. Whether this is good or bad advice remains to be seen.
I arrived at the station at 2:30 am to what seemed like an unusually quiet night in a downtown police precinct. The officers in the station all cultivated a cavalier attitude and joked with Alex incessantly throughout the night. “It seemed like the whole time the cops were almost flirting with me. They kept calling me ‘blondie’ and when I was in the lineup, I was the only girl there, much to their pleasure,” said Alex.
It was odd that the officers weren’t taking her arrest seriously. The officer at the front desk told me “she’ll be fine, this is nothing,” with a roll of the eyes. So why then, if this is nothing, did you waste your time, her time, and well-earned taxpayer’s money?
The issue of undercover cops in New York City lands itself in an ethical gray area. While their role can be useful and helpful in cases, it also comes off as devious. “It’s not necessary to try to trick people. It’s one thing if you’re doing an investigation, but when you’re out on the streets, it’s like they’re trying to meet a quota,” says Chris, a 24-year-old Westchester native, who was arrested by undercover cops in April for “destruction of public property.”
On a Thursday night on the corner of Houston and Allen, Stock bent down to touch what he thought might be wet cement. That the area was blocked off by orange construction tape was the reason undercover officers approached him. Subsequently, the officers detained him for four hours, provided him with a court date, and issued him to complete 20 hours of community service. “I wouldn’t be so pissed if this wasn’t now on my record for good,” says Stock of the incident.
In June 2007, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was one of the first to question the behavior of undercover officers. After the unwarranted and suspicious shooting of Sean Bell by two undercover cops, Kelly “wisely agreed to heed the recommendations of a panel of law enforcement experts to make changes.”
Kelly later agreed to the panel’s recommendations, which included psychological screening and counseling and training for candidates of undercover officers. The NYPD also made out-reach efforts to communities where undercover operations occur to inform them of their actions to ensure better public safety.
I called the seventh precinct to ask the arresting officer, Scott Feretti, questions on Alex’s arrest, and on his role as an undercover officer. Feretti was of no help and answered only one question to which he didn’t respond, “I have nothing to say to that.” When asked how often he makes arrests similar to the crime committed by Alex, Feretti said, “There’s no way to be sure… as many as we can.”