FIRST PERSON: How I Got a Traffic Agent to Write a Ticket Against a Placard Perp!
You won’t believe how hard it is to get a cop to write a ticket on a car with an illegal license plate cover!
And therein lies a great story: The other day, I was on the east side of Broadway between Duane and Reade streets doing what I normally do (running license plates, trying to get video from the most recent fatal crashes, holding placard perps accountable, getting Gersh Kuntzman coffee) when I spotted a Hyundai Elantra, license plate JKN2498, parked in a zone marked, “Authorized Vehicles Only: FLEO.”
The car had the requisite federal placard — it was an AWM, familiar to Streetsblog readers as a super-secret federal placard — but it also had illegal plastic covers on the front and rear license plates, covers that completely or mostly obscured the numbers. As I’ve learned during my time at Streetsblog, that’s illegal under the state’s Vehicle and Traffic Law, section 402, paragraph 1, subsection b. I didn’t have the law handy, but I mentioned it to the security guards at the Ted Weiss federal building, and they didn’t care.
Perhaps, like me, they see these kinds of plate covers every day in their line of work [Editor’s note: They do]. And since they’re not NYPD cops, I didn’t waste my breath (or, at least too much of it) on persuading them to take action against their colleagues.
But at this particular moment, I also spotted NYPD Traffic Agent Martysh (badge #4346) and called him over to show him the illegal covers. It doesn’t get much more exciting for us, I’m not afraid to say.
Martysh is a good guy, but he said he was unsure if he could write a ticket for the illegal plates, saying things like the federal building is “self-enforced,” but then couldn’t explain what that meant. He also said he didn’t want to write a ticket because of the placard on the dash, even though plate coverings are illegal whether you’re a DEA officer or the drug dealers they chase.
But he did end up calling his supervisor (you’re welcome, America), who ended up driving over in his NYPD squad car (adding to the pollution, congestion and double-parking in the neighborhood — Supervisor Ledchumanarajah, badge #184, did all three!). (Here’s a slideshow:)
Ledchumanarajah was also unsure what to do. He understood that plastic covers are illegal in New York, but were hesitant to issue a ticket citing, as he called them, “jurisdiction boundaries.” He also claimed the placard, which suggested that the car belonged to a federal officer, was a barrier to him doing his duty.
I continued to state my case — The People vs. the Plate Cover — and Ledchumanarajah called his supervisor to see if he could issue a ticket. After the call, he still wasn’t sure, so I kept up my presentation of the evidence. Perhaps I’m just pursuasive, but he finally relented and told Martysh to write the ticket — a $65 violation for the illegal plate cover. I thanked the team of Martysh and Ledchumanarajah — and photographed the federal security guards who continued to hassle me — and they went on their way, newly embolded to do their job (I’d like to think).
After my eye-opening interaction, I reached out to the NYPD to see if there really are any “jurisdiction boundaries” or “self-enforced” zones in which the agency’s enforcement agencies can’t operate. The NYPD declined to comment.
But the whole affair raises issues beyond merely whether Martysh and Ledchumanarajah — and the countless other NYPD teams that are supposedly enforcing the VTL — are properly doing their job. The main issues? A) There are way too many scofflaw federal officers out there driving way too much to get from their (likely) suburban homes to their free, placard-guaranteed parking space in Lower Manhattan and b) there are never going to be enough Martyshes and Ledchumanarajahs to stop it from happening.
But they shouldn’t have to. Council Member Lincoln Restler has taken over his predecessor’s bill that would allow the public to directly ticket cars for parking violations — a bill that is opposed by the Department of Transportation even though it is based on the same concept as the law that allows citizens to report idlers.
And Restler has also demanded that the city eliminate placards entirely (though again I’m not wasting breath on that one ever passing).
But one thing I’ve learned from this whole sordid incident is this: It takes a lot of effort to get one ticket written against one entitled federal perp in a city full of them.
Noah Martz is a Streetsblog junior reporter (summer session) who is going to Brooklyn Law School in August to begin a career that, we hope, will be informed by his work here.