WNBC Shames City for Letting Employees Hog Parking With Bogus Placards

The next time you’re in a part of town where a lot of city employees work, take a look at the dashboards of cars occupying curbside parking spots. In neighborhoods across the city, you’ll see bogus placards that parking cheats use to evade meters and other regulations. In a two-part series, WNBC’s Tom Llamas traveled to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and St. George on Staten Island to document the problem. He found that while officials at the top know the abuse is wrong, NYPD parking enforcement regularly turns a blind eye on the street.

Many city employees see free on-street storage of their private cars as a perk of the job. “Because we work for the city, why should we pay?” Tara Jones, a children’s services employee on Staten Island, told WNBC. “Do policemen pay for meters? Do firemen pay for meters? No.”

Most other placard abusers Llamas interviewed on the street remained nameless and either lied on camera about paying or were shamed into feeding the meter, perhaps because they knew what they were doing is wrong. After all, free street parking isn’t an entitlement, it’s a land grab that’s hurting local businesses and residents.

“Merchants here cannot find parking for themselves, for their customers, and it really hurts them as small business owners,” said Josef Szende, executive director of the Atlantic Avenue Business Improvement District. A FedEx driver double-parked on Atlantic told Llamas that “it’s impossible” to find a legal space to make deliveries in the area.

“It’s disheartening because it’s so blatant. Everyone in the community knows they can’t park here,” said Robert Honor, who owns a wine shop in St. George, where parking abuse is a long-standing problem. Only 10 of the 89 parked cars inspected by WNBC displayed meter receipts, and those without proof of payment went without tickets.

While surveys of retail districts around the city show that most customers don’t arrive in private cars, placard abuse leads customers who do drive to clog up streets as they search for an open spot. And that can foil the city’s attempts to reform curbside parking prices.

At the Atlantic Avenue BID’s request last year, DOT implemented its PARK Smart program, which adjusts parking meter rates to improve parking availability and cut down on cruising for spots. But Department of Corrections employees at a jail in Boerum Hill have been hogging spaces near Atlantic Avenue, using invalid placards, union cards, employee handbooks, Corrections Department baseball caps, and coat patches — none of which are supposed to provide free parking.

The lawbreaking is flagrant, but WNBC caught NYPD parking enforcement agents repeatedly looking in the windows of cars with bogus placards and walking right by. “Are you not supposed to write tickets for people that have placards or the union cards? What’s going on?” Llamas asked, as the agent ignored him.

“If it’s happening, it should not be, and if our agents are ignoring it, they should not be,” said Police Commissioner Bill Bratton after Llamas asked him about placard abuse. But he seemed resigned to placard abuse as a fact of life: “In terms of totally eliminating the problem, I don’t think that’s doable in the foreseeable future.”

Efforts to crack down on placard scofflaws gained steam a few years ago, but the problem persists. Even so, placard abuse has largely escaped the City Council’s attention in its recent attempts to score populist points over parking. It’s worth a reminder that placard abuse also gets New Yorkers’ blood boiling — and doing something about it will make the city better for car owners and the city’s car-free majority alike.

  • R

    “In terms of totally eliminating the problem, I don’t think that’s doable in the foreseeable future.”

    Baloney. It’s not like there’s some grey area here, like speeding a few miles over the speed limit, parking an inch too close to a hydrant., or even defining what constitutes failure to yield to a pedestrian. You either have a valid placard or you don’t. This isn’t rocket science. If there’s a hat, vest, or patch on a dash, you get a ticket. If you have a placard for Rikers Island on your dash and you’re parked in downtown Brooklyn, you get a ticket. i can perhaps understand if a TEA can’t determine a forged placard from a real one, but a sticker from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association? You get a ticket.

    This is corruption, plain and simple, and Bratton should have zero tolerance for it. Anything less is tacit approval.

  • I’ve remarked before on the message that all those Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and other badges give out – that a traffic stop or ticket is a piece of bad luck to be warded off like the evil eye, not a serious matter: http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2014/05/an-angry-off-duty-police-man-rainy.html It would be easy to stamp this out. They just don’t think it’s important.

    Subsidiary thought: how about speaking to the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association or whatever about getting bicycle stickers, special covers for helmets or something of the sort? Maybe if we can’t beat them we need to join them.

  • cjstephens

    From that news clip, it’s clear that Bratton has no intention of addressing this problem. The mayor should force him to do something about it, but I suspect BdB’s sympathies are with city employees who drive everywhere, as BdB has done for most of his professional life.

    What’s particularly infuriating is that for so many locations where I see illegally parked cars with placards, there are no placards that would allow you to park at those locations. I used to walk past the Federal Reserve every day on the way to work, and Liberty Street – a No Stopping zone, on the same level as a hydrant – always had half a dozen cars parked with Federal Reserve employee placards. My complaints to the local precinct fell on deaf ears, even after I got the local Community Board to complain.

    Since the mayor and the cops refuse to do anything about this, it looks like our only resort is the City Council. If parking laws were changed so that no placards were valid anywhere, the traffic agents might actually write tickets to these hogs. Honestly, why should any cars get special treatment? If you had to park somewhere because it was an emergency, raise that as a defense if and when you get a ticket. Otherwise, find legal parking like everyone else. Or, you know, take the subway like the majority of New Yorkers.

  • Kevin Love

    As a petty crime, this seems exactly equal to MTA fare evasion. Yet I don’t see Bill Bratton saying that fare evasion is inevitable and shrugging his shoulders. Nor do I see any bus drivers treating a Corrections Department baseball cap as equal to an unlimited MetroCard.

    Robert Wright is right. This is corruption. Part of the whole “I am above the law” attitude of NYPD.

    The problem with the “I am above the law” attitude is that it only starts with corruption. Then 5 NYPD officers are beating bloody an elderly Chinese immigrant who “disrespected” them by not understanding their English language commands.

  • Kevin Love

    Most of the rest of the world has zero placards. For example, the mayor of Toronto may be a buffoon, but he has to pay to park his car like every other car driver.

  • JK

    Even the great Bratton has to pick his battles. Is it realistic to expect beat cops to enforce Vision Zero with any enthusiasm at the same time that their personal car is being ticketed for illegal parking? It took a huge push by Bloomberg to reduce placard abuse — temporarily. Yes, it’s corrupt, selfish, wrong and dangerous, but realistically, is the NYPD an institution and BdB the mayor that can do Vision Zero and placard reform at the same time?

  • KillMoto

    The only solution at this point is Ninja Rocks. Every time you see this abuse, break the window and take the trinket.

    When the scofflaws get tired of calling the glass company, we win. When the cops tire of calls from drivers with broken glass, we win.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    I have to agree. Eliminate them entirely. The city should also set a goal of vastly reducing the number of city owned vehicles.

  • red_greenlight1

    Tow em! Thats how you fix it! Don’t feed the meter park tin a space illegally all day? Get towed! Can’t the city already do this?

  • Joe R.

    I prefer this solution:

  • urbanresidue

    It’s more than just tacit approval from Bratton. He personally set the example for this illegal conduct.

    They’re following his lead:
    http://nypost.com/2012/04/02/fishy-commishy/

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