Police close in on 'Dirty 30'

ANY DAY now the mostly black and Hispanic residents of Harlem are expecting another show of force by the city's police department, not to fight crime but to clean up the 'Dirty 30' precinct station.

In the annals of New York police corruption, the 30th precinct is rising to the top. Fourteen patrolmen were arrested in a midnight raid on the station 10 days ago and charged with forcing drug dealers to pay protection money. They were accused of stealing thousands of dollars from drug 'safe houses'. There are videos of policemen in their station locker-room breaking open a drug dealer's safe and sharing out the dollar notes. One arrested officer reportedly found a bag containing dollars 100,000 (pounds 67,000) and offered to split it with his partner, who was wired with a listening device.

In another incident, an officer struck a drug-dealer on the head, grabbed a bag of cocaine from him and shot him in the stomach. Some policemen belonged to the Felony Club, a nickname for their practice of confiscating the keys of arrested drug-dealers and then raiding their flats for money.

The two-year internal investigation has resulted in the biggest round-up of police on corruption charges in nearly a decade. The new Police Commissioner, William Bratton, who observers say is starting to look like the best yet, turned up at the 30th precint on the night of the arrests and confiscated the coveted police badges of two of those charged.

As a cavalcade of cars whisked the 14 away, Harlem residents jeered and booed. They have complained for years about corruption in the 30th precinct. One of the men arrested had 17 complaints for corruption filed against him by local people.

Can Commissioner Bratton make a difference? Will the police co-operate with an outside investigation that goes beyond the officer on the beat? In the 1970s, the Knapp Commission found widespread corruption, but only the lowly patrolmen went to jail. The same thing happened in 1986 when the so-called 'Buddy Boys,' 15 officers of the 77th precinct, were caught selling drugs and running protection rackets. The Mollen Commission is to make recommendations to curb corruption after uncovering a police cocaine ring. Officers were so brazen they used to lay out lines of cocaine on the dashboards of their cars for snorting while on duty.

A measure of Mr Bratton's success will be whether he can pin charges on those who supervised the corrupt patrolmen. No one believes that sergeants and captains in the 30th precinct were unaware of what was going on. Several stings set up in Harlem came to nothing because those targeted had obviously been tipped off.

On the day of one sting on the midnight patrol where most of the arrested officers worked, the roster was suddenly changed, putting officers not under surveillance in patrol cars and giving the ones who were under suspicion the day off.

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