When Traffic Enforcement Doesn’t Include Moving Violations

The streets of Soho, where trucks roam free

If you have an eye for New York City traffic mayhem, then you know those "Where’s a cop when I need one" moments. This is about a mayhem moment when a cop was right there — and did nothing. It took place last November, a little before 6:00 pm on a weekday. A big truck fleeing a traffic jam had just barreled down my residential street, going the wrong way. Among the pedestrians in its path were two traffic enforcement agents. Great, I figured, I’ll actually see a driver get a ticket.

It didn’t happen. The traffic agents did nothing, even after I approached them and suggested that they, at least, talk to the driver.

So, on Nov. 13, I sent a letter to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to inform him of the incident. What follows is the text of my letter to Kelly, followed by the NYPD’s response, which arrived four months later. (Note that although the NYPD letter was dated Dec. 2006, the  police didn’t get around to mailing it until March 2007.)

November 13, 2006

Mr. Ray Kelly
NYC Police Department
1 Police Plaza
New York, NY 10038

Dear Commissioner Kelly:

I witnessed a frightening incident last Thursday evening (Nov. 9) that I believe warrants action by the NYPD.

At 5:52 pm, a heavy-duty truck, probably in the 20,000-lb class, made an illegal left turn from Hudson Street onto Duane Street in lower Manhattan and drove west, the wrong way, on east-bound Duane Street to Greenwich Street. I estimate its speed to have been 20-22 mph. At the T-intersection of Duane with Greenwich, the truck slowed only enough to negotiate a left turn. This block of Duane Street, where I live, is heavily pedestrianized, and in fact pedestrians had to scatter to avoid being struck in the striped crosswalk running from the southeast corner of the T-intersection to the northeast corner.

What was equally frightening, and even more upsetting, is that two uniformed NYPD traffic enforcement agents who were in the Duane Street crosswalk at that time did nothing to intervene.

The two officers had just begun crossing from the southeast to the northeast corner when the truck barreled through. I was a dozen feet away and ran over to the officers to ask them to summons the driver (at that moment the truck was standing in the traffic queue on Greenwich Street north of Reade Street, no more than 150 feet away). Both officers refused my entreaties to pull over the truck, even though one, Officer Rignola, admitted having seen it drive the wrong way on Duane Street and aggressively turn in front of him.

I understand that TEAs are limited in the violations they can issue. But I cannot believe that their duties require them to ignore both a violation of this gravity and a request for help from a citizen.

I would like to hear from the department what the two officers should have done. Please also let me know what steps will be taken to ensure that they, as well as other officers attached to the 1st Precinct, intervene to protect the public from similarly marauding vehicles in the future.


Charles Komanoff

PS: I wish to commend Officer Rignola for giving me his name. I know it’s required by regulations but I still appreciate his courtesy.

Photo: Jeevs via Flickr

  • Jim

    I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt about the two officers here.

    But what about the ones I see who are clearly on traffic control duty for a particular intersection (96th and 1st is a good place to spot this) and just stand there as driver after driver commits the most blatant block-the-box violations?

  • bev_rd

    It sounds like PD did not change the TEA level structure from when Traffic Enforcement was part of DOT. TEA Is can not write movers. TEA IIs (assigned to Intersection control) can, but almost never did under DOT, they are probably specifically told not to write movers under PD.

    (conjecture plus old info to follow->) The reasoning relates to both conflict avoidance (Traffic agents get assaulted frequently) and for administrative reasons: vast amounts of moving violations, especially “block the box” movers are challenged in court, losing an Agent for a the day.

  • P

    Lack of enforcement of traffic regulations in NYC is an outrage. Drivers routinely speed, run red lights, and use their horns unnecessarily- often in the presence of police officers.

    In the past I have objected to the use of red light cameras on the grounds of personal liberty. But when there is absolutely no attempt to enforce the law by uniformed officers I become more sympathetic to automated means. (Specifically, I’m thinking of traffic that passes in front of schools, parks, and playgrounds.)

    Well, I missed out on the New York of the 70’s and 80’s where residents pulled their hair out demanding police response to drug dealers- I guess this is my chance to feel what it was like.

  • Spud Spudly

    (I was here for the 70s and 80s — trust me, it’s better now.)

    This is flat-out silly. The response was apparent even without the NYPD letter:

    Pulling over a driver is not the same as issuing a parking ticket to a car. Haven’t you seen those cop video shows where the officer walks up to a stopped car and is met by a .45 slug to the chest? Any driver might be an escaped felon evading arrest. That truck driver might have been Jeffrey Dahmer’s evil twin for all you know. To expect any old traffic enforcement officer to pull over a car is just ignorant.

  • Corporate Elite

    It’s ignorant to expect a “traffic enforcement agent” to enforce traffic violations?

    Admit it, Spud: You work in New York City government or some other massive, unaccountable bureaucracy that breeds low expectations and profoundly deep cynicism, right?

  • ddartley

    An old episode of Beavis and Butthead is analagous to the response you got from “Traffic Supervisor III:”

    Butthead was working the counter in a burger joint. A customer came up and asked, “do you guys make your milkshakes with ice cream and milk, or do you use that artificial mix?” Butthead stood blinking for a second, and said “uh, we have vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.”

    THAT is precisely what bureaucrats do almost every time I have to talk to or write to one of them. They just hear a couple of keywords, rather than what I’m actually saying, and reply with one of a set of stock answers–not an actual response to my concern. It’s so common that I simply expect it now.

    In your letter, Komanoff, you reported “x,” and asked “y,” and then you even put in a good word for one of the TEAs.

    “Traffic Supervisor III, in her response, decided that you didn’t ask “y,” but some other question, and in fact were specifically complaining about the officers. Then she took fairly significant action you didn’t ask her to–running a background check, for heaven’s sake?

    In writing this comment, I was spending several minutes trying to explain the psychology behind that kind of misdirected thinking, but seriously, that scene from Beavis and Butthead demonstrates it way more concisely.

    And after everything, “Traffic Supervisor III” even treated the two TEAs with bureaucrat-speak: she “reminded them” of their obligations under that PR-agency-sounding, stale, old “CPR” stuff. And I’ll bet that resulted NOT in improving the TEAs’ attitude toward the public, but actually making it just a little bit worse–they probably thought, “great, now our time is being wasted with management-speak because some private citizen lodged some b.s. complaint against us.” And you didn’t even lodge a b.s. complaint! It’s amazing, isn’t it?!

  • ddartley

    Wait, so Jeffrey Dahmer was the GOOD twin?

    Well, with all those Dahmers driving around, we certainly wouldn’t want cops pulling them over!

    Oh, wait, bad driving kills way more people than Jeffery Dahmer AND his twin. Hmm…

  • Jim

    Hiya Spud,

    Yes, I’ve seen the videos where cops get assaulted for pulling over cars. And yet… pulling over cars is their job.

    If NYC has a separate grade of law enforcenent service, a TEA, who’s neither trained nor equipped to do that particular job, I understand. We all saw what happened to those two auxiliaries last week in the Village, and no one wants to see it again.

    But I will not stand for anyone telling me that a full-fledged, armed police officer shouldn’t be pulling people for moving violations — not because it’s dangerous, not because they’d have to go to court. If that logic prevails, why do we have police in the first place?

    Yet that’s what I see, all the time. Cops standing by amid illegal (posted) honking, blocking the box, speeding, and yes, wrong-way cyclists.

  • Rich Conroy

    I’ve seen this sorta thing happen with uniformed officers in the Parks, specifically Ft. Washington Park, where drivers illegally drive on the Hudson R. greenway and park any where they please. Out of 4 or 5 cases where I asked officers to cite drivers for illegally parking & driving, in only one case did an officer intervene, and in that case, the officer was an auxiliary (not armed, uniformed regular) who knew me. The other cases?
    -A bike cop (of all people) who looked at me and said, “yeah, they are parked illegally aren’t they.” And then proceeded to do nothing.
    -A scooter cop who claimed that the area in question was not his precinct’s jurisdiction, even though it was like 30 ft. away.
    -A foot patrol officer standing around who refused to cite an illegally parked SUV (which had driven about 1/2 mile on the greenway), insisting that it had to be an official vehicle (it clearly was a private vehicle).
    -Then, one summer evening, there was the officer too busy boozing and dancing with some attractive civilian — I didn’t even bother asking.


  • Ben

    Well in Arizona we have red light cameras, Speed enforcement cameras and random vans, Liscene plate scanner cameras for stolen autos.

    Persoanlly I would make my choice and get out of NYC. Why support that type of enviroment or paychecks.

    I like automation mainly because I have a choice I can drive and loose some liberties or I can ride a bicycle and have more freedoms.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Are you kidding? Arizona’s horrible for livable streets. And I’ll take the NYPD over Sherriff Joe any day.


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