"Being a Black Police Officer" SwatTalk
with Sanjay Richards '04, New York police officer
Recorded on Wednesday, July 22, 2020
BoHee Yoon ‘01: The intent to bring you Sanjay to speak tonight is to share his very unique story as a highly educated black and South-Asian Swattie, who became a cop. One of us became a cop. Not a professor, doctor, lawyer, labor organizer, or anything else, but a cop. And so fellow alums of color brought his story to our attention, and said that his story was so compelling and his lens so special, that we ought to learn his story. And despite the fact that bringing a cop to speak could be controversial and potentially hurtful, in the spirit of learning more about an institution that's at the center of a major wave of civil and human rights, activism and reform currently, we agreed that learning about how police work from one of our own is important and we hope educational. And because Swatties are Swatties wherever we go, even once who're cops, we thought his process and learning about his experiences will help us learn more about anti-racism and how we can do better as a Swarthmore community. And I'd like to now introduce my co-moderator and good friend Sharif Bennett class of 2003. Sharif holds a BA in Political Science from Swarthmore, as well as an MBA from the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. Over the past few years, he is specialized in technology services, specifically in the DevOps space, and works to help software engineers achieve their dream of building the perfect line of code. It sounds kind of amazing. And our featured speaker of course is Officer Sanjay Richards, Class of 2004, of the Yonkers Police Department. Sanjay started out as a Biology and Pre-med major at Swarthmore, and was working on finding a cure for HIV. But changed course and instead graduated as a History Major with a concentration in Black Studies, for reasons that he will discuss this evening. Sanjay was a trained combat medic with the US army as well as a paramedic for the Fire Department of New York, and witnessed many deaths from gang violence and drug overdoses. And he became a police officer in 2015 to help save lives and prevent gang violence and drug overdoses. With that, I will turn it over Sanjay, but before I do that, if you have any questions or comments, please do put them into the chat function; we will start to compile them. And when you do include any comments, please feel free or be sure to include your class year and/or affiliation with the college. Thank you. And here we go, Sanjay.
Sanjay Richards ‘04: Yes. How are you doing guys? I'm Sanjay Richards. Class of 2004, currently a police officer, City of Yonkers. I'm just ready for you guys to shoot your questions.
Sharif Bennett ‘03: Hey Sanjay, could you tell us before we jump into the questions. Could you talk a little bit and just... I know a bio was provided, but some people may have not had the opportunity to read it. So could you please tell the audience a little bit about your background?
Sanjay: Okay. So at Swarthmore, I graduated with a Bachelor's in History, Concentration in Black Studies. From then on, I went into the military where I was trained as a combat medic, alongside specialized forces, like Delta Force Special Forces' air assault airborne. Pretty much guys will jump out of airplanes and helicopters to save lives pretty much. After doing my time in the military, it was cut short, but we'll discuss that a little later, due to some form of racism within the ranks there in the Army. After that I left the military and I became first an EMT for FDNY and then two or three years later, I went to paramedic school through the FDNY Academy and became a paramedic, which I'm currently still a paramedic. So I've been doing paramedicine for about 13 years and I'm still currently practicing paramedicine. In 2015, I took the exam for police officers in the City of Yonkers. And so for now, what, five and a half years I've been a police officer in the City of Yonkers 1st Precinct, where I'm only the only back officer right now on duty there. And that department has about 6% black. So people have color on the force are about 700.
Sharif: Okay. Sanjay before we jump to you being a police officer, cause I know everyone certainly wants to talk about to that. Can you take the audience through step-by-step what was your process in first sort of signing up for the army? Cause as a friend of yours, it was kind of shocking. You literally called me up on the phone and said, "Sharif I'm going to the army. We need to hang out tomorrow." So yeah, go into a little bit of that please.
Sanjay: So the area that lived in is called a Wakefield it's in Bronx, New York. It's the most meddling part of the Bronx at that time. In 2005, it had the highest crime rate, pretty much homicide, in the whole country per capita. So there's gang violence between so-called Bloods and Crips, two different occasions, about a week apart I was going home, but wearing a wrong color, red, of course, and then I got shot at twice, a week apart, and I decided it's time to get outta here because I'm gonna get killed for just wearing clothes with the wrong color. So I just said, "Listen, you're gonna go to the military” and get the training that I needed. I actually went into the military to become a physician initially, but we'll get down to why that didn't happen.
Sharif: So, and just to make sure the audience is clear. So it was partially, or in large part due to your own personal safety?
Sanjay: Yeah, pretty much yeah.
Sharif: And so how was that transition to the army? What was it like for you?
Sanjay: the army was, it was good. It was good training. I felt like also I was getting involved with the wrong group of people. Like not only was there gang violence, but I also became friends with some of the gang bangers and I didn't gang bang per se, but I was being associated with them and so I figured I need to get away and get some kind of discipline and structure in my life. So I went to the military and the military provided that for me.
Sharif: Okay. Okay. So what was it like when you first got to the military?
Sanjay: I did not like it. For one, as you know me, I do not like taking orders from anyone. And that was, it's like a tall glass of water to drink when, you're now property of the United States Government and they dictate when you sleep, when you eat, when you shower, when you speak, when you do anything. So that was kind of a shell shock for me there.
Sharif: And how long were you in the Army for?
Sanjay: I was in for about two and a half years, but a four-year contract.
Sharif: Half out of four years. So what led to your early departure from the military?
Sanjay: Okay. I was assigned to the 86th Combat Support Hospital, which is attached to the 101 Airborne Air Assault. These are the guys that jump out of airplanes and stuff like that. I was in my unit, and I was E4 because when you graduate from college, whenever you go into the military, you automatically gain rank because of your college degree. So I got bumped up from, I wasn't a Private at all ever I was bumped up to a E4 which is a specialist kind of like a corporal immediately. So I had rank and I had soldiers beneath me, who I was in charge of. So one day I was outside my company house, I had five soldiers, they were breaking down their weapons, cleaning them. And there was this guy that just transferred into unit about two weeks prior. And he walks up to me and he goes, "Boy, you're wearing the wrong t-shirt "under your the uniform. "Boy, you should take that off. Boy, you hear me boy?" I said to him, "Listen, you don't know my mother, my father."
Sharif: Describe the man who's calling you boy. Give us a frame of reference to understand what he look like.
Sanjay: So it's a Caucasian male.
Sharif: How old?
Sanjay: He was roughly around 25 years old. Around my age at that time. Actually he was like 23-24. He was younger than I am, but he had rank because he went in like way earlier. So he had one rank above me. So he felt like he could talk down to me, but that's not the way to address another soldier. Especially if I'm not in training or in bootcamp, I'm actually in a unit, attached to a unit already, and I'm charging my soldiers. You don't do that in front of my soldiers.
Sharif: You're in front of a group of people. You were not isolated for example, like in the bathroom or something. You're in front of a group.
Sanjay: No, not at all
Sharif: Who were the people you're in front of? And how many of them are there?
Sanjay: There were about five of my own soldiers and then maybe 10 of another sergeant's soldiers. So they're there about maybe 15 to 20 people outside. And they are all like looking. My soldiers immediately when he said, "Boy, take that shirt off. Boy, you were in the wrong shirt." They looked at me basically saying, looking at me to see what my reaction was gonna be, because they're like, like I'm training them. So it's like what we are doing now? You gonna let this guy insult you in front of your soldiers?
Sharif: Do you think it was immediately understood by the soldiers of color that the derogatory term had a racial implication to it?
Sanjay: Oh yeah, absolutely. Immediately they were like wide-eyed, pretty much looking at me like, "Wow! Really?" But they're not allowed to speak unless I instruct them to speak. Like that's how it is in there. If you have rank, .
Sharif: So what did you say to them?
Sanjay: So what did I say to the guys?
Sharif: Yeah. What did you say. Tell us what happened next?
Sanjay: Oh, so I basically said to him, "Listen, you're not my mother, nor my father. So you can't call me boy. And I dare you to say it one more time." So he said it again and I took up one of the rifles and I put it back together and I hit him in the face with the back part of the rifle. And that was that.
Sharif: So you hit him first is what you're saying?
Sanjay: Yes. I hit him.
Sharif: And then what happened?
Sanjay: The MPS came and I got locked up in a military jail.
Sharif: Were you charged with anything?
Sanjay: Yes. Terroristic act in the first degree. The United States versus Sanjay Richards, Terroristic act in the first degree.
Sharif: And so then was there a trial? What were the next things that happened to you?
Sanjay: So I got discharged. Initially they wanted to do a dishonorable discharge. So it was a dishonorable discharge pending the trial. So I got discharged April 27th of 2007. And the trial was in August of 2007. So I, my mother, my aunt and a good family friend came down. We had to hire an attorney for about $10,000. So when we got down to the court, the attorney comes out, introduces himself to my family and friends. And he says, basically pulled me in a corner, and he says, "I think he should just plead guilty." And I said, "What?” Like you talking about the rest of my life right now? Like you basically, you want me to be labeled like how they would label Bin Laden pretty much? Pretty much Osama," Terroristic act in the first degree is pretty much what their charge would be. So I said, “I think you should go in there and I suggest that you speak to your prosecutor friend cause I'm pretty sure you guys know each other and you've gotta work something out cause you talking about the rest of my life right now. Now you're messing with my life and that's not cool. I paid $10,000 just to come out here and tell me, Oh, let's plead. I think you should plead guilty to this. No, absolutely not. I did not provoke that kind of interaction. The Sergeant at that time did." He went in and he was in there for about 30 minutes to 45 minutes. Then he came back out and then they said, Oh, they worked it out. That they'll just dismiss the charge and dismiss all the charges. I had witnesses, spit, pretty much saying that they witnessed him say what he said and that was that. So that dishonorable charge would turn into an honorable discharge.
BoHee: So Sanjay, this is BoHee. It's like such an incredible story that you had to endure racism. Not that that's the incredible part, but then you had to endure that and that you're the one who is being disciplined. It's a two part question. Whatever happened to the other guy who was calling you boy? That's number one. And then number two is, that kind of racism likely is present in the police force as well and where you work currently? And I just like to know how you've been handling that, assuming it's true now.
Sanjay: So let me tell you what happened to him. So since I left, since I got discharged, somebody else moved up into that rank and he moved up a rank. So he got promoted. So that was it for him. As for like racism on the job, I just feel like, listen, I feel like I work for the greatest police department in the country. I'm just gonna let you guys know what that from the get go, but it's not totally this thing that needs to be fixed obviously. As for racism on my job. I really, from the guys that really haven't like had any like direct, anybody like directly said anything to me and made any racial comments. I mean, if they're doing it, they're covering it pretty well. But no, I haven't had any issues with that. Especially being the only black officer in my precinct, I haven't had anything. I pretty much worked very well with, but anybody who knows me, I worked well with anyone anyway, but they haven't showed me any kind of racism and anything like that. For me to speak, I'm not gonna say it does make this, It absolutely does in a sense that like officers of color on my job, don't get the same treatment as the white kind of course. Absolutely not. They don't. Say for instance, you're going to a specialized unit, like say canine or, or like ESU, which is like the Emergency Service Unit. They pretty much respond to medical calls. In terms of getting picked for those units. It's pretty much who likes you. And who you know that gets you into the door in my department. That I've seen so far. Because out of 700 officers on the job, they might be, maybe there's actually a physician assistant and a nurse practitioner that I know of and that's about it. So there's only two people who have more medical training than me. Actually I don't think they do have more medical training in terms of years, but they have a higher, higher, like standard of training in terms of being nurse practitioners and physician assistants. And I'm just a mere medic, but I'm also a combat medic who knows more than they would see more, who can do more on a field than they can. Being in the department for about five and a half to six years, nobody ever came to me and said, "Sanjay you're qualified. You're more than qualified to be in the ESU unit. Emergency Service Unit." Nobody like recruited me there, no one, no one, but they recruit other officers who are white and not of color.
Sharif: Okay. A few things to unpack there. And I just wanna make sure that we give your talk about being in the military, it's it's full honor. So I know we jumped a little bit ahead. So, so that ended. They dropped the charges against you. The person who spoke to you in such a fashion, in fact, you said he got promoted.
Sanjay: He did.
Sharif: Is there anything from Swarthmore that you were able to then bring with you to the military or was it just a completely new world you think?
Sanjay: It was a completely new world, but in Swarthmore, you have a pretty diverse group of people. So interacting with fellow Swatties, pretty much, you're interacting with everyone in the world pretty much when you go to Swarthmore. I had a world view lens that I was looking through. So that kind of helped me in the military in terms of dealing with people of different walks. So that it helped in that sense.
Sharif: Okay. Is there anything else about the military you'd like to add?
Sanjay: Not at all. It's kind of chapter that I wanna forget about, but it's a part of me, so.
Sharif: I understand. I understand. So then you're honorably discharged from the military. What are your next steps? What do you do now in life once you're discharged?
Sanjay: Once I'm discharged, I went back home and was living in my mother's basement. And then I looked around, I was like, now I've gotta get out of here again. I gotta get myself together, get my life together. So my mother worked with like a director of adult daycare of a nursing home. She pretty much got me a job doing clerical work, where, for a company that managed Medicaid and Medicare for that kind of nursing home. So I was doing that for a while and I'm like "I graduated Swarthmore. Look at me like filing paper." That's my job filing paper. I'm like, well, all right. So let me go to the military. And one day I sit at my desk, I said, started Googling, how to become a physician in the military? And I got the information. I walked over to the recruiting station, which was literally across the street from where that office was. And I just said, sign me up. He gave me an exam and he's like, "Oh, you scored the highest on this exam in the whole history of this recruit station being here. You can pretty much pick any job you want in the military” and yada, yada yada. So I looked in, I said, "Oh, I wanna be a combat medic." So let's start there and then try to get my feet wet and then try to get into the medical school through them.
Sharif: So what was that like?
Sanjay: So,I started like compiling the packet, but it required, first of all, my recruiter kind of screwed me over a little bit, because, he knew I had college and he should have put me to officers, officers, his OCS officers, of course, like, that's become like a, a first Lieutenant for like a second Lieutenant, then a Lieutenant in the military. When you got college, especially coming from a college like Swarthmore, cause you it's supposed to be like a commander, commander in the, in the US, A commander, like a Lieutenant or captain, but higher, More higher ranking official. So he didn't tell me anything about officer school. I think he gets a higher commission If he gets like regular soldiers, like, grunts, they call them like combat soldiers. So I got sent to a combat boot camp and all that stuff. I mean, it was all right. I learned a lot and the training was good, but it wasn't really the route I wanted to take. So when it came time for the compile, a packet to go to the medical school, it was kind of hard because you needed certain ranks to get to that set of officers school. And being a grunt and working through, it's hard to go from an enlisted, which is this a regular soldier moving up the ranks slowly. It takes a longer time. So the package can install that. And I just totally forgot about it. And I just got comfortable being a soldier and just, doing my combat medic stuff. And that was that.
Sharif: So how long were you a medic for?
Sanjay: In there was the whole time I was, Two years.
Sharif: So at the end of the two years what was your mind set at that time?
Sanjay: My mindset...I still said, listen I still gotta get out. And when I got out, I said, look, I have to start taking the steps to get me to medical school. I wasn't trying to pay for medical school. So I was trying to go to ride off, going through a city organization like FDNY, who would pay for me to go to school instead of taking loans. So I went that route first as an EMT and then as a medic and then trying to move along. That was pretty much the route I was planning on taking.
BoHee: So Sanjay, so you left the military, you joined the fire department of New York or FDNY, and then you realized at some point that you didn't wanna become a doctor anymore and go to medical school and you became a police officer. As a Swarthmore alum, how do you go? I mean, at 30 is such a jump, I think for most alums that you joined the military. Right. And then that you became a medic, a combat medic.
Sanjay: Well listen. I was the smartest guy there in the military. Cause there was a female...
BoHee: Yeah you're one of the smartest guys when we were in school. I think it blows everyone's mind that you went and did something that we normally think of is like not the normal Swattie route.
Sanjay: It’s there for somebody with a GED or something, right?
BoHee: And so then you became a police officer, I mean, at some point you pivoted right and became a police officer. And how did you reconcile becoming a police officer with being a man of color and being a Swarthmore alum? How did you sort of make that jump or is it I'll let you speak to it.
Sanjay: How do I make that jump? I listen, as I said before, I, I mean, I didn't say here, but in my bio, I wrote, my brother got murdered in 2000, which was my second year at Swat and I pretty much fell into a deep state of depression. Cause my brother, pretty much we came from the same mother, same father. I have two other siblings, but they're different. And from a different father. My mother remarried, but I still consider my full brothers. But I mean, coming from Jamaica, it was just me and him growing up in Jamaica, me and him coming from Jamaica to here. He looked out for me. Whenever I wanted to go on the street, he was more of the street guy. And the neighborhood we lived in was pretty gross. So, Sanjay go to school. But he was the one that made sure I was safe in the street. Cause that neighborhood was pretty tough. And being a medic for FDNY, I was a medic in the South Bronx, which is high crime in terms of homicides and drug use and drug sales and drug overdose. I saw a lot of, lot of, lot of like young people of color. They would talk about Hispanics, even white folks were there too. There are a lot who are overdosing on heroin and stuff like that. There's a lot that I saved, but then there are some I couldn't have saved. Even teenager like kids, then it pretty much. I have a daughter who's about to be a teenager and I saw like teens overdosing there. So I, I said like, as a medic I could, I could make a difference this way, or I could also make a difference being a police officer, like stopping it at, at his root. And, and so I joined up for the police department in 2015 because, but I also still maintain my paramedic license or certificate per se. And I still practice as a paramedic as well. Jumping from Swarthmore to being a police officer. I mean, I explained that that's the main reason behind it. And I still wanna do, I still wanna go to medical school, but at this point in my life, I've done 13 years for FDNY right. And between 10 and 13 years for FDNY. And I'm now almost six years here, My time from FDNY,they gave me about four years. And then I have six years. So on paper, I have 10 years time in police work. So only have to do maybe. And also I could buy it back military time. So when I buy back my military time, they give me another three years. So 10 plus three, that's 13. So I have another seven years to retire. I could retire in seven years right now, and with a great pension, with six figure pension easily. And I think I'm just gonna ride it out. Whatever dreams and aspirations I have of becoming a doctor, I'll start working on it. I'm gonna enroll in PA school for the fall, this coming. So, and then work from there. If I decide I want to be a physician or whatnot. So that's where I'm at right now.
Sharif: Nice, nice. Sanjay let's go back to that period where...
Sanjay: And also, and also Sharif, I won't have to pay a dollar in loans because the job will pay for it. You have to work this out a little bit.
Sharif: What did you think about police officers prior to becoming one?
Sanjay: This is a serious question.
BoHee: By the way Sanjay, when you answer the question, I'd love for you to include some stories about your interactions with police and public safety during your time at Swarthmore.
Sanjay: Oh yeah. We can do that. So let, let me start by talking about my neighborhood before I get to Swarthmore. Before Swarthmore I used to hang with people in the streets who would be considered indesirables or people are not desirable, gang baggers per se. But they were people from my neighborhood. They were my friends, they were, the familiar faces, like, everyone grew up in their neighborhood and they have friends here and there, but those guys were my friends because that's the kind of area I grew up in. That's who I saw when I stepped outside. There's a couple of summers I had to run away from the police and because see I'm in a backyard talking to some girls from their window or something like that. And then I see police come, but I'm not seeing my friends who I know who have been a gang band. And I see them running first. And obviously I'm not gonna, I ran track at Swarthmore too, by the way. So yeah they would start and I'll run them out, run past them and jump over fences and run away. But they were the first ones to go because they had guns and stuff like that. Not that I knew of it. They didn't let me see it, but I knew they had. At Swarthmore, it gets a Swarthmore system, had a few interactions with the police. So one night there was, out with the new guys, like the guys from Black and Swat right now, was not knowing anything about this because that fraternity got disbanded. So there's a Delta, what did they call it? DU, what's the correct name for that? Absolutely. Yeah. So something like that. Actually my generic accent, I pronounce things differently. So the DU pretty much had a big party. I had some friends who were visiting me from the neighborhood, the old neighborhood. They're coming from the old neighborhood in New York. So they came down for the weekend. See what college life was. I always tried to like show them what college life is, that the neighborhood would come from isn't really, the end all be all that. Now there's a bigger life out there, there's different people out here. So I always try to like, have them come down for a day or so. Interact with people and see a different life, see some trees, cause the trees don't grow in the Bronx and all that. Bring some fresh air or something. But on that night DU was having a big party. So we went and there was a big fight that broke out supposedly there. There was a fight that broke out at the party. And me and my friends, we left and we went back to my room. About maybe 15 minutes, 20 minutes later, after leaving the party, we hear this banging at the door, I open up the door and it's officers from the town, from Swarthmore the town. And they like grab me and my friends and pull us outside the room and shove our faces up against the wall. And they asking us for the drugs and the guns. Meanwhile the person, the member of the fraternity of DU that got assaulted, got assaulted with bare fists. And here comes, Oh where's the drugs and the guns. And I'm like, what, what are you, what are you talking? I go to Swarthmore. I go here, like what, I would never invite people who are gonna bring guns and drugs over here. Like not like that. Like, so that was, that was to do big, to do. I mean the black and Swat, the BCC?So pretty much all the black students and not only all the black students. Cause you know how Swarthmore is. When one group starts rattling every group, every group join and no matter what color, race, creed, or anything. Everybody jumps in and they jump in with you and fight for the cause. And then that basically the next day there was a march and pretty much a whole campus came out. And, we was talking about police brutality and how they handled the situation during that time. Yeah and that's it. Yeah that's my story for sophomore year.
BoHee: So then you became an officer Sanjay. I mean it's a two part question. Did your opinion of police change? That you're being racially profiled as a Swarthmore student by Ville police? Number one. And then number two, what are your thoughts about policing your community, as a man of color? And how do you think it ought to be versus how it is?
Sanjay: Alright, so did my idea about police how police act change when I got on? Initially no. I still had some fear about... Put it like this. Even as a police officer, when I'm off duty, I dress a certain way. I feel comfortable dressing a certain way because that's the way I'm used to in urban gear, what people would call urban gear or whatever. And I drive a car that's tinted out pretty, it tinted real dark. So when I'm not on duty, I get pulled over as well. And yes, I still fear for my life. I really do, because for one, I carry a weapon off-duty. And that's even more dangerous than somebody just driving around in a tinted car, who has no weapons. Cause the first thing, they they're already on edge. Cops are already on edge when they see a car tinted dark and he cannot see inside. Cause yes, I do have limo's tints around my vehicle. Which is a bit much I admit, but the reason why I have it that dark is when, when I drive around in the streets, when I'm not working, I do not want people who I have arrested looking into my car and say, That's the guy who locked me up yesterday. And something like that. That's the reason why I have it that way. But to give you an example, one day I was driving by the Bronx zoo, I get pulled over by a two Hispanic cops. And they walk up to the vehicle. They approached the vehicle. I would give them a signal. I put down all my windows. I turned my car off. And I throw the keys on top of the roof and put my hands on the steering wheel. That's a good sign. Cause they know that's usually a law enforcement or, somebody law enforcement or somebody who knows about rules of engagement and stuff like that. So I try to deescalate, make him feel, a little bit more I think by doing that. So officer approaches me and he goes, Oh, he didn't even say why. He told me license and registration. I say to him I'm off duty. I'm a youngest police officer off duty. Is there something I could help you with? He goes like it's your tint. And I put my ID behind my license and he looked at it and he just throws my ID, both my driver's license and my work ID back on me. And I said, what? I hope you have a better day. That, that was it. And then I took off. So yeah, I mean having a weapon too off duty, cause sometimes maybe I stretch and my shirt is up and having an officer, pull you over. And they, the first thing they see is a gun. Most likely they'll draw down their weapon on you, pull their weapon and you, until they verify, who you are. So that's very dangerous. Being a cop off duty, especially a black cop, it is very, very, very, very dangerous. We see what's happening in the news with people who don't even have weapons. So that's a very dangerous thing. I lost my train of thought.
Sharif: No worries. That actually leads to the next question then. So obviously we've seen a number of shootings and with technology basically capturing so many incidents between police and people of color in recent years. What reforms do you think needs to take place within the police departments to help rectify the situation?
Sanjay: I think they have to start hiring offices that fit the demographic of a region that's been patrolled. And it's not to be handed to anyone just because of who your father, your grandfather was. It's not like, "Oh, let's pass this shield right along." Because in some departments they do that. Some department they hand you a shield from generation to generation. I don't feel that that's right. That does not have in my department. If you cannot score a 90 or above on that exams, you will not get hired no matter who your father or your grandpa or anybody is. That's the difference between my department and most departments here in the country. It's not handed to you, that's earned.
Sharif: So you're advocating, Are you saying for more people of color to be in those departments, or more people who live within that community or both?
Sanjay: Both. Because when you show up on scene and you know somebody it's easy to deescalate things. If tensions are high, then you wanna deescalate. So it's easy to see. It's better to see a familiar face. And one thing, like I was saying, for example, on my job, like a lot of time you hear on a radio, "Oh can I get a Hispanic officer over here to translate or whatnot?" I feel like they should be in every, Hispanic or people who speak different languages should be readily available. Not that let's call, put it over the air for somebody from one precinct who was driving across the city just to get to you. It should be officers who speak different languages or who have different skillsets. They should be in every precinct, They should have that. Wait until like an appointed time. Oh, we need them now. And I need them to rush across city. that that could be dangerous. Are you rushing across city? Or you get into another accident, kill you, get their alive.
Sharif: So then my next question is, is that how do police departments more effectively recruit within the communities that they police? What is the top two things that need to happen?
Sanjay: First I think they should have more recruitment push. You go into the communities, talk to the people. My department is pretty good at that. They have like a coffee with a cop or they have like, police night out where they do carnival type events. And the cops sit in a, in a dunk tank and get dumped by the kids. Here you go. It was pretty much like, here's a way to get back at a cop. If you're angry at any other police officer, you could take your attention out by hitting this user, this boss, to dump this officer in the tank, pretty much, Not like we were abusing anybody in our department. I mean, not to my knowledge. So we do that. I feel like they should go out more into the community and set up tables and speak to people in the neighborhood and be very, very clear. Cause what I realize they leave it open. For example, my department, Oh, it's time for the exam. They put out commercials on TV. It's on cable TV. What about the people who don't have cable TV, or have access to watching those commercials? There should be a way like, maybe in a library or something like that. You set up a tent or something like that. We tell people in the community. Most of the areas are pretty poor. There's only a few sectors. Like the area work is the nicest and most rich area in the inner city. But not everybody has access to TV and the internet and stuff like that. So a lot of commercials and stuff like that, or applications online won't get done because they can't do when you don't have a printer, you don't have a computer. You have to give everybody equal access to things, equal opportunity to apply. They're brilliant folks there, but they don't have the resources to, to actually start the process. Even filling out application and stuff like that. So they could do better in terms of recruiting.
Sharif: So I do have a follow-up. I have a followup question to that subject. Cause you said sort of having events within the communities. Now that obviously takes dollars. One of the big questions that's going across America right now is the allocation of dollars to police precincts. There's this call for defund the police, which basically means reallocation of resources in different areas. Police aren't necessarily to respond to every single man and woman. So what are your thoughts then about reallocating those funds that police get and putting them to other services? What are your thoughts and how would it work?
Sanjay: So one thing I heard like in my city, I've heard them say, Oh, maybe you should get like a, for emotionally disturbed people we call them EDPs. In a EDP cal, maybe you should just have a social worker respond. You don't need a police for that. All they needed somebody to talk to, but now what happens now, if this emotionally disturbed person is off their medication and the social worker shows up and they stab the social worker to death. Then what? You telling me that the social worker is gonna play the a role of a police officer? I don't think so. You might not use as many officers that would usually respond to that call. You might lower the numbers to it and putting more people like a social worker or something like that. I mean, you could allocate the funds for that. But you have to do it in a safe manner is what I'm saying.
Sharif: Sure, sure. So what would a safe manner look like to you? In that particular scenario.
Sanjay: You pay the social worker, have a social worker on call or multiple social workers on call. You need a psychiatrist or psychologist, stuff like that, have them on call, but just know that you're not going there by yourself. You're going to have officers with you there. Because things could go sour easily on those calls. I've seen it happen plenty of times. I've been swung at, I've been punched in the face and stuff like that. So it happens, be prepared for it.
BoHee: Yeah I certainly. In our conversations leading up to this SwatTalk, I know that we've discussed various ways in which you work to help save black lives. And how do you reconcile being a black man and the black lives matter movement with being an officer who's policing people. And I ask that, and I feel like I've asked a version of this question earlier too. But really it's about trying to figure out how you deal with your desire to save lives when you know that fellow officers, and I don't know your precinct versus any other precinct. And I apologize for my ignorance, but how do you reconcile that with knowing that other officers are out there killing people?
Sanjay: Right. So, as I said, this has never happened in my department period. but I could only speak like froman officer standpoint and being a black officer. Black lives matter, all lives matter, but black lives, has, you can see like really matters all lives matter, but it's kinda, it's hard during the climate to be a police officer, much less, being a black officer at that. Because last now, like you kinda get singled out as an Uncle Tom. And it's like, here comes, the, here comes the freaking the token Negro, he's with, he's with these guys though. He's a part of this group now. And you get, you get bunched in and you get labeled and labeled as, like a pig or they call the pig or whatever. Obviously the officers man that we go out there every day, we put on the uniform. I mean, I know my intention. My intentions are real. And nothing I do is, I don't play pretend. I really don't. As for officers, the offices at my job. They put on a uniform and they go out there and they do the job. You could look it up. There's barely, It's very rare that you hear anything about Yankers PD on the news. If you haven't seen it, you hear about NYPD of course, they have a bigger group down there. So of course he's going to be more bad apples in a bunch. So as for me, I put on the uniform, I go out there to work. The department is working on being more transparent in terms of, I heard, we're getting body cameras, which a lot of people have fought against in the past. And I don't see the reason why. The excuses like, Oh, the data is expensive to store this and that. But I call BS. When I see stuff like that. I say BS, because I don't feel like it's necessary to have certain things in a policy. I feel like if you're going to go by old policies, say for instance, we were banned from going into the city, into New York city to assist them in anything because they banned the choke hold down there. And to me, that's like, I know a lot of people who, The Commissioner probably won't be happy with me saying this, I really don't respect that part. The issue is why. Why do you need to have choke hold in the Bronx? Yes you could use the choke hold if your life is in danger. If it comes to life or death. In terms of a scuffle or a fight or a struggle for your life, you can use a choke hold. But kneeling on somebody's neck and not rendering aid to them. That's the first thing as a paramedic. I'm always like hands on. Let's get this person on an ambulance. Let's get them somewhere. Let's turn them on this side. Let's let recumbent, let's, let's open up their airway. Let's, do stuff like that. That's the first thing I think of. I'm more a medic first and then a police officer. But I mean, you have to balance the two and to say, Oh, you can't go into the city to assist NYPD. That's just BS because, Oh, you're upset about banning the choke hold. So you do wanna keep some old policies on books. So you have the option of violating somebody's right or are oppressing somebody. To me that's just dead wrong. I don't care who wants to be upset about that.
Sharif: So thank you for that. I think it looks like we're coming up on time here. I can only ask one last question, but it seems like from Swarthmore, you went into the military, partly did medic, and now, now you are a police officer. So clearly providing service for the community is something that you take to heart, right? Of all those, which has been the most fulfilling for you and how did Swarthmore directly relate to both of them? is the question I'd like to.
Sanjay: That's a tough one and a big one. Growing up, I've always said, "Oh, one day, Imma open up a clinic in a poor neighborhood" That's like my biggest dream to, open up like a clinic in a poor neighborhood, that offer like free healthcare to people who don't have, the funds or the resources to, to get certain kinds of medical aid or assistance. Swarthmore is a place that has always, it's kind of like this place you go when you kind of dream a lot. When you go to Swat, you become like this, I'm gonna meet, a big dreamer. You're gonna be a difference in your community or wherever you go after Swarthmore. That's the Swarthmore way. And, it opens up for big dreams. I went here, and you learn a lot, your professors there, they mold you into that. They encourage that kind of thinking, more of a worldwide view, not just like a bird's eye view, a world view, and they model that. Personally, every professor that I've been instructed by at Swarthmore kinda tries to mold you and try to make you into a big dreamer. It's bigger thing to think out of the box. I'm still looking to make a difference on the streets. It's hard especially at these times and it's hard being a black officer out here. Especially cause they look at you different now. He's like, Oh yeah, you're just one of them. You're just trying to kill your own. It's even worse now y'all all the time. It's bad but nobody has ever really disrespected me seriously. I never had that. I think it's because of the way, the group of people that are associated with in Swarthmore that that helps in terms of dealing with people on the streets and even the medical field. You create a good rapport with your patients. You create a good rapport with victims and suspects. Even suspect they come around to me. Thank you. Because they are at the end of the day, sometimes you're the one that caused that change. You locked them up and then they changed their life around for the better. So it's always about big dreams man.
BoHee: Well, thank you so much, Sanjay. This was amazing. Despite the technical difficulties, we we've made it through.
Sanjay: I'm sorry guys, that you couldn't see my face. Maybe another time. You've seen a picture, that's it that's me.
BoHee: Well, we just want to thank you. We've been getting so many comments. We tried to aggregate the questions that were in similar veins. And so we apologize for not being able to ask specific questions from each individual. But we we've also been getting lots of thanks to you for sharing your story Sanjay and really for complicating the mainstream narrative about, what makes someone a black man and what makes someone an officer. And really what makes someone a Swattie. So thank you so much for sharing your story with us and we really appreciate your time. And thank you all for joining us tonight and for sticking with us.
Sanjay: Also I wanted to just go down the list if you don't mind, from fellow Swatties in the past that posted some questions, I'm just gonna run through. If you don't mind and quickly answer them, what I felt like didn't, wasn't touched on. Hello? So, so this question was from Chris King ‘68. He wants to know, are ex-soldiers bringing combat attitudes and PTSD into the police force? Yes I've seen some of that in the police force. I've seen it in other departments not necessarily Yonkers. Yeah, no issues there, but I've seen it like in other departments. Also somebody asked. Let's see something about gays and lesbian. Okay. So I'm Chris King ‘68 again. Is it possible to comfortable to be a gay or lesbian officer of color on the police force? In Yonkers is definitely, we encourage, we have a few gays and lesbians on the job. One of my partners was a lesbian female who, she's Native American, she's a percentage of black, white, the whole rainbow, the whole thing. And nobody makes fun of you. It's all love. And they welcome that. And then I think everything else was touched on.
BoHee: I think we're going to have to, to wrap it up. And if anyone has any additional questions, feel free to send emails and we can make sure that we get them to Sanjay and hopefully you can respond to you. But again thank you. And thank you all for joining. And keep being an amazing Swarthmore alum out there and fighting the good fight. Whether or not we agree with everyone, at least we can all talk. So thanks again.
Sanjay: Big dreams.
BoHee: Big dreams, Sanjay. Thank you.