At a police station tucked into an end-of-the-line subway terminal in South Brooklyn, the new commander instructed officers to think of white and Asian people as “soft targets” and urged them to instead go after blacks and Latinos for minor offenses like jumping the turnstile, a half-dozen officers said in sworn statements.
“You are stopping too many Russian and Chinese,” one of the officers, Daniel Perez, recalled the commander telling him earlier this decade.
Another officer, Aaron Diaz, recalled the same commander saying in 2012, “You should write more black and Hispanic people.”
The sworn statements, gathered in the last few months as part of a discrimination lawsuit, deal with a period between 2011 and 2015. But they are now emerging publicly at a time when policing in the subway has become a contentious issue, sparking protests over a crackdown on fare evasion and other low-level offenses.
The commander, Constantin Tsachas, was in charge of more than 100 officers who patrolled a swath of the subway system in Brooklyn, his first major command. Since then, he has been promoted to the second-in-command of policing the subway system throughout Brooklyn. Along the way, more than half a dozen subordinates claim, he gave them explicit directives about whom to arrest based on race.
Those subordinates recently came forward, many for the first time, providing signed affidavits to support a discrimination lawsuit brought by four black and Hispanic police officers.
The officers claim they faced retaliation from the New York Police Department because they objected to what they said was a longstanding quota system for arrests and tickets, which they argued mainly affected black and Hispanic New Yorkers.
The authorities have deployed hundreds of additional officers to the subways, provoking a debate about overpolicing and the criminalization of poverty. Videos of arrests of young black men and of a woman selling churros in the subway system have gone viral in recent weeks. Demonstrators have taken to the subway system and jumped turnstiles in protest.
Six officers said in their affidavits that Mr. Tsachas, now a deputy inspector, pressured them to enforce low-level violations against black and Hispanic people, while discouraging them from doing the same to white or Asian people.
Inspector Tsachas declined to comment when reached by telephone this week, but his union representative said the inspector denied the allegations of misconduct. The Police Department also declined to address the allegations.
The department has said in the past that its enforcement of fare evasion is not aimed at black and Hispanic people.
More than three years ago, when Inspector Tsachas was promoted to his current rank, the police commissioner at the time, William J. Bratton, said that allegations Inspector Tsachas pushed quotas were false.
“I have full faith and support in him,” Mr. Bratton said. He added that Inspector Tsachas had “the requisite skills and comes highly recommended.”
Most of the people arrested on charges of fare evasion in New York are black or Hispanic, according to data the Police Department has been required to report under local law since 2017.
Between October 2017 and June 2019, black and Hispanic people, who account for slightly more than half the population in New York City, made up nearly 73 percent of those who got a ticket for fare evasion and whose race was recorded. They also made up more than 90 percent of those who were arrested, rather than given a ticket.
Some elected officials have complained about the apparent racial disparity in arrests, saying it may indicate bias on the part of officers or an unofficial policy of racial profiling by the police.
“The focus of black and brown people, even if other people were doing the same crime, points to what many of us have been saying for a while,” the city’s public advocate, Jumaane Williams, said in an interview. “The same actions lead to different results, unfortunately, depending on where you live and an overlay of what you look like.”
Enforcement has surged nearly 50 percent in 2019, as city police officers issued 22,000 more tickets for fare evasion this year compared to 2018, according to Police Department data from November 10.
While the affidavits focus on a time period that ended nearly five years ago, they suggest at least one police commander openly pushed racial profiling when making arrests in the subway.
“I got tired of hunting Black and Hispanic people because of arrest quotas,” one former officer, Christopher LaForce, said in his affidavit, explaining his decision to retire in 2015.
In the affidavits, the officers said that different enforcement standards applied to different stations across Transit District 34, which spanned stations across South Brooklyn: Brooklyn’s Chinatown in Sunset Park; neighborhoods with large Orthodox Jewish communities; a corner of Flatbush that is home to many Caribbean immigrants; and the Russian enclave around Brighton Beach.
“Tsachas would get angry if you tried to patrol subway stations in predominately white or Asian neighborhoods” Mr. LaForce said in his affidavit. He added that the commander would redirect officers to stations in neighborhoods with larger black and Hispanic populations.
Mr. Diaz, who retired from the Police Department last year, described in his affidavit how on one occasion then-Captain Tsachas seemed irritated at him for having stopped several Asian people for fare evasion and told him he should be issuing tickets to “more black and Hispanic people.”
At the time, Officer Diaz said, he was assigned to the N Line, which passes through neighborhoods with large numbers of Chinese-Americans. He had arrested multiple residents of that neighborhoods for doubling up as they went through the turnstiles, according to his affidavit.
Other officers described similar experiences. Some of the officers claimed in affidavits that Inspector Tsachas urged his officers to come up with reasons to stop black men, especially those with tattoos, and check them for warrants.
Of the six officers, all but one is retired. They are all black or Hispanic. The affidavits were given to The New York Times by one of the four officers who has sued the Police Department, Lt. Edwin Raymond.
The allegations in the affidavits were bolstered by a police union official, Corey Grable, who gave a deposition in June in the same lawsuit that recounted his interactions with Inspector Tsachas. He recalled Inspector Tsachas had once complained about a subordinate who Inspector Tsachas said seemed to go for “soft targets.”
Unsure what that meant, Officer Grable asked if the officer was ticketing old ladies for minor offenses? Inspector Tsachas responded: “No, Asian.”
Officer Grable, who is black, asked, “Would you have been more comfortable if these guys were black or Hispanic?”
“Yes,” Inspector Tsachas replied, according to Officer Grable’s recollection.
Inspector Tsachas joined the Police Department in 2001 and patrolled public housing developments in Harlem for five years. He later analyzed crime patterns in Queens and across the city before being transferred to the Transit Bureau. He was a captain in 2011 when he was appointed to command Brooklyn’s District 34, a position he held for at least four years.
In 2015, he took command of neighboring Transit District 32, where Lieutenant Raymond, who is currently suing him, worked. At the time Mr. Raymond held the rank of police officer.
Lieutenant Raymond has charged in the lawsuit that Inspector Tsachas blocked his promotion by giving him a low evaluation as punishment for not making enough arrests.
Lieutenant Raymond, who is now a patrol supervisor in Brooklyn, recorded a conversation in October 2015 in which Inspector Tsachas encouraged him to arrest more people and gave an example of the sort of arrest he did not want: a 42-year-old Asian woman with no identification arrested on a charge of fare beating.
“That’s not going to fly,” he said, according to the recording, first described in a New York Times Magazine article.
Lieutenant Raymond, who still had the rank of police officer at the time, responded that it was unconstitutional to consider race when deciding whom to arrest. Inspector Tsachas, a captain at the time, then apologized, saying the comment “didn’t come out the way it’s supposed to.”
Lieutenant Raymond said he believed Inspector Tsachas should not have been promoted. “It’s a spit in the face of communities of color that this man is given more power after being exposed as a bigot,” he said.
By: Joseph Goldstein and
Joseph Goldstein writes about policing and the criminal justice system. He has been a reporter at The Times since 2011, and is based in New York. He also worked for a year in the Kabul bureau, reporting on Afghanistan. @JoeKGoldstein
Ashley Southall is a law enforcement reporter focused on crime and policing in New York City. @AshleyatTimes