EXCLUSIVE: Mayor Will Crack Down on Reckless Police Employees

The root of all evil?
The root of all evil?
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There’s no more free parking for reckless cops.

Starting next year, NYPD officers and employees will lose their city-issued parking placard if they get too many moving violation tickets, as the de Blasio administration is finally taking decisive action to combat the high percentage of police employees who have multiple serious infractions on their personal driving records — which was the subject of a months-long Streetsblog investigation.

The new policy, outlined by City Hall exclusively for Streetsblog, will require, for the first time, a review of camera-issued tickets for running red lights, speeding or parking in bus lanes — adding to an existing review of state DMV-issued violation points on an employee’s record.

But the existing system only applied the first time a cop or employee applied for a parking permit. Going forward, NYPD employees will have their driving records reviewed — for points and for camera violations — every year.

“This will be proactive,” City Hall spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie said. “When the officer applies for the permit renewal every year, we will do the check.”

The annual review is one thing, but the inclusion of camera-issued tickets is even more crucial. Currently, the state assigns points for various violations — such as three points for running a red light, four points for speeding 11- to 20-miles-per-hour above the limit, five points for texting while driving, etc. — and can suspend a driver’s license if the motorist accumulates 11 points in any 18-month period. But automated tickets do not carry points — and police employees are able to avoid losing their license because cops rarely write tickets against fellow officers.

As a result, it has been difficult to get many reckless cops off the road, let alone revoke their parking privileges.

Cops do, of course, get plenty of camera-issued tickets — in fact, Streetsblog’s investigation revealed that NYPD employees get multiple camera violations at a rate roughly double the general population. In a spot check of dozens of stationhouses in all five boroughs, Streetsblog found 38 percent of officers’ cars had been slapped at least twice for moving violations that will now be considered when cops and other employees renew their placard. Nearly 60 percent of cops have gotten at least one serious moving violation from an automated system.

Given those numbers, hundreds of cops could lose their free parking if the renewal system maintains the 11-point threshold once automated tickets are considered — because automated tickets are only issued if a car is going more than 10 miles per hour above the speed limit. That’s a four-point violation right there; two more tickets like that in the same 18-month period and, whoosh, there goes a cop’s ability to park at the station house.

Advocates were excited by the change.

“This is the kind of common-sense adjustment to existing procedures that many of us have long requested, and frankly expected from Bill de Blasio’s ‘Vision Zero’ administration,” said the keeper of the Placard Abuse Twitter feed, who requested anonymity because of prior clashes with police over his watchdog account. “With only a small adjustment to the existing process, they can increase safety and accountability without creating new, unnecessary work. This approach stands in stark contrast to prior fake crackdown efforts, which were clearly designed to fail or minimize the effect on privileged members of the placard class.”

The Streetsblog investigation began in March as a result of ongoing parking abuses by police officers. When asked about the ongoing corruption, Mayor de Blasio announced at a press conference that he would simply build more parking to facilitate car commuting by police officers, the majority of whom live in the suburbs. Studies show that the existence of free parking provides an incentive for driving — so Streetsblog began investigation whether cops and other NYPD employees are indeed safe on the roads.

That investigation came against the backdrop of a pending bill by Council Member Brad Lander that would allow city authorities to seize the cars of anyone with more than four moving violations in any 12-month period. Mayoral action like the new parking permit policy announced here was clearly overdue, given that NYPD employees are not exempt from Lander’s bill, which has the support of a veto-proof majority of council members.

The Streetsblog investigation found many cops who would lose their wheels under such a bill, including, but definitely not limited to:

The investigation also revealed precinct-wide problems at multiple commands. A precinct in Brooklyn had 56 percent of its officers hit by cameras with repeated moving violations, one in Staten Island had 74 percent of its officers with repeat moving violations, and the one in Canarsie had 53.5 precinct with repeat multiple moving violations.

Given those findings, Lander said he was pleased that the NYPD would now review its employees’ driving records in full.

“This is a big deal,” the Brooklyn Council Member said. “I believe it will save lives by directly addressing the epidemic of reckless drivers, using the objective data of speed and red-light cameras. … Thanks to Streetsblog for its relentless attention to this issue, and to the mayor for recognizing that urgent action is necessary. Now, we must move swiftly to pass the Reckless Driver Accountability Act, to apply this same principle to the most dangerous drivers, no matter who they are.”

The NYPD has long said it disciplines officers with bad personal driving records, but because cops don’t write speeding tickets to other cops, that effort only practically applies to drunk driving convictions. In the case of a driving-under-the-influence ticket, the DMV notifies Internal Affairs Bureau investigators who “ensure the member of service does not continue to operate a department or personal vehicle,” said Lapeyrolerie.

The problem? It happens less than once in a blue moon, even though cops are periodically charged with drunk driving. Last year, IAB arrested only one cop for DUI. This year, only one cop has been similarly arrested. Beyond those two, it is unclear how many, if any, officers have been disciplined for getting more than 11 points on his or her license in an 18-month period.

But the new protocols will likely improve those numbers and get reckless cops off the road.

“We’re building upon these efforts to proactively ensure that all drivers follow traffic laws,” Lapeyrolerie said.

The changes will not have any practical effect until 2021 because police employees have already submitted their 2020 permit applications. Cops will renew those permits for the next calendar year in September. That’s when a precinct’s Integrity Control Officer will review an officer’s driving record and, perhaps, deny the permit application. Placard Abuse was concerned.

This isn't even a placard. It's a note telling cops not to ticket this car because, well, just don't, ok? Photo: Ben Verde
This isn’t even a placard. It’s a note telling cops not to ticket this car because, well, just don’t, ok? Photo: Ben Verde

“It seems unreliable, since ICOs are still getting away with handing out entirely blank placards in wholesale violation of their core job responsibilities,” the account keeper said. He or she added that if ICOs take their job seriously and deny permits, cops will still likely leave notes on their windshield near their station houses (see photo, left) — but will be less likely to get away with illegal parking on random streets.

The announcement follows a recent interchange between Mayor de Blasio and Streetsblog after Police Officer Garman Chan died after losing control of his personal car as he sped on the FDR Drive last month. Chen had 22 camera-issued speeding and red light tickets on his record before his fiery death — so Streetsblog asked the mayor if he felt responsibile for Chen’s crash, given that he promised back in April to crack down on reckless officers.

The Mayor said he did not feel responsible, but added that cops “should be” disciplined and kept off the road if they drive recklessly.

“The bottom line is they should be,” Hizzoner told Streetsblog. “We’ll find out and we’ll get you a clear answer, and if it’s not enough, more will be done. This is very serious stuff.”

Indeed, as a result of the new policy announced here, officers like Chen will lose their parking placards and, as a result, may be far less likely to get behind the wheel.

“Officer Chen’s record would not have come up [in a review] because he wasn’t receiving points on his license,” Lapeyrolerie said, referring to the fact that his speeding violations were issued by cameras. But that won’t matter going forward.

“In the future, the department will be checking for speed or red light camera violations when … the MOS seeks to obtain a department issued parking permit,” she said.

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