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CLUELESS: New Department of Investigation Boss Isn’t Sure if Placard Abuse is a Thing (It Is)

This is a placard?

Who watches the watchers?

The new head of the city’s Department of Investigation said on Monday that her agency must first investigate whether the widespread abuse of parking placards by city employees, especially cops, is actually an issue before issuing a report on placard abuse that is required by law.

Spoiler alert, it is.

At a hearing, DOI Commissioner Jocelyn Strauber told Council members overseeing the NYPD's failure to crack down on placard abuse isn't yet on the agency's to-do list, despite a 2019 law requiring the DOI to investigate.

“Whether a report would be appropriate or not would have to follow an investigation of the issue — what are the problems with enforcement, what are the reasons for those problems?" said Strauber. "The type of data that we typically do that point to would we be able to be in a position to determine whether or not the issue is one that would warrant a report?”

The notion that the DOI needs to get up to speed on placard abuse is surprising, given how much media coverage — and political capital — has been lavished on the problem, documented countless times in Streetsblog (here, here, and here), in other media, all over social media, and through official 311 complaints. A Streetsblog investigation subsequently found that police routinely ignore notifications about illegal parking, reckless driving, and abandoned vehicles. Indeed, the DOI is supposedly already investigating.

Council Member Erik Bottcher, who represents Chelsea, demanded during the hearing that DOI regard placard abuse for the low-level corruption that it is.

“I get a lot of calls from residents and small business owners about placard abuse … people blocking curb access, using counterfeit placards, handmade parking placards, sometimes putting construction vests on the dash,” said Bottcher, who focused on fake placards, but also mentioned illegal and dangerous parking in front of fire hydrants, in crosswalks, bike lanes, and bus lanes, and even on sidewalks among city employees as well. “And despite all the efforts that have happened, all the work by the previous Council and others, it’s still clear that for some reason NYPD traffic enforcement agents are not issuing tickets to many people using counterfeit placards.”

But the fault doesn’t just lie with the DOI. Under Local Law 6, which passed in 2019 and took effect in 2020, the NYPD was required to conduct weekly sweeps of placard abuse hotspots and submit monthly reports to the Council, the Mayor, and the Department of Investigation. The DOI would then conduct its own investigation and publish a report on the issuance of parking permits and enforcement of parking laws, including an analysis of the information submitted by NYPD.

Then-Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who championed the law as part of a package of nine bills meant to finally crack down on placard abuse said in 2019 that putting the Department of Investigation in charge of overseeing the NYPD, and whether its rank-and-file officers were actually writing tickets, would finally give the city the teeth it needed to end the rampant petty crime.

“[Traffic enforcement agents] are supposed to be writing summonses and tickets for placard abuse, but they don’t always do it because they’re afraid of policing police — that is why we put in Department of Investigation as a check, an independent overseer,” Johnson said at the time.

But neither the DOI, which has also been caught abusing placards, or the NYPD have followed the laws they're sworn to uphold. Neither the sweeps, nor the subsequent reports have happened, and officials are still blaming the pandemic — a 24-plus-month period during which the NYPD has continued to write tickets and make arrests for fare evasion, biking on the sidewalk, and for cyclists legally following leading pedestrian intervals and during which time, injury- and fatality causing traffic crashes have skyrocketed.

“The NYPD and DOI were unable to perform those tasks due to the pandemic. Those reports have not yet been made,” Strauber said, adding that it does seem worthy of an investigation. “I can certainly understand, based on what you're saying, why that's the type of thing we might want to look into.”

The hearing followed DOI's eighth annual report released last month on recommendations for NYPD reform, including on police misconduct, body-worn cameras, and biased policing. The 72-page report did not mention placard abuse a single time.

And according to Brooklyn Council Member Lincoln Restler, the new digital parking placard system that former Mayor de Blasio announced during the last two weeks of his eight-year tenure and said would launch in Downtown Brooklyn, does not exist.

"I have not heard about any formal implementation," Restler said last week. "I have not received a formal briefing, and I haven't seen it on the ground, but frankly this was an issue not taken as seriously as it should have been by the previous administration."

Restler also told Streetsblog that he is drafting two pieces of legislation to crackdown on placard abuse. One, as previously reported, would effectively get rid of nearly 60,000 placards. The other would create an entirely new enforcement unit — staffed with municipal workers from other agencies — whose sole goal would be to ticket city workers, and private citizens, for either fabricating a parking permit or abusing it.

"It'd be bringing together existing enforcement of different agencies to operate independently outside of the existing bureaucratic structure to more effectively hold wrong-doers accountable."

But a bill put forward by Restler's predecessor, Council Member Steve Levin, to allow anyone to report illegally parked cars through the creation of a new citizen enforcement program was opposed by the de Blasio administration. The Adams Administration doesn't seem any more likely to pick up that bill, or any others aimed at ending placard abuse. As a candidate for mayor, then-Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams famously called placard abuse a "New Paltz" issue.

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