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Cops May Be Falsely Reporting Their Parking Placards as ‘Lost,’ Records Suggest

New York City cops may be reporting their city-issued parking placards as lost in order to hold on to them even after they’ve expired.

12:05 AM EST on January 15, 2024

File Photo|

Expired NYPD placards are commonplace on New York City streets. Could cops reporting “lost placards” explain why?

New York City cops may be reporting their city-issued parking placards as lost in order to hold on to them even after they’ve expired, an analysis of dossiers on police officers prepared by prosecutors before calling cops to testify in court reveals.

NYPD cited 162 officers for “failing to safeguard” their placards since 2018, the dossiers show — dwarfing the five “lost placard” incidents in all prior years combined. These represent a tiny fraction of the placards issued each year, but the pattern may indicate a much broader trend.

Official Police Department policy requires supervisors collect expired placards from cops and other personnel in the first few months of each year — but years-expired NYPD placards remain a constant on New York City streets.

Officers reporting their placards as “lost” may help explain how so many remain in circulation even after their expiration. NYPD supervisors must file reports on missing placards as “lost or stolen” NYPD property. Simply citing an officer for “failure to safeguard” their placard would close the matter for administrative purposes.

Cops have ample incentive to hold onto even an expired placard — perhaps for the use of a household member — because even expired placards hold sway with fellow cops and Traffic Enforcement Agents (TEAs). 

The value of an expired placard reflects the cost of parking legally wherever it is misused. Going rates to park in a Midtown garage range between $500 and $1,300 per month. The more use a placard gets where legal parking is expensive, or nonexistent, the more valuable it becomes — hinting at why officers might risk their disciplinary records to hang onto one.

Given the value of even expired placards, related NYPD discipline is surprisingly mild. One case explicitly indicates that no action was taken at all. In thirty cases, officers were given “verbal instructions” or a “letter of instruction” only, meaning that the penalty entailed no more than a reprimand. 

In 107 cases, records show officers received an unknown penalty in the lowest category of discipline, known as “Schedule A Command Discipline.” Schedule A discipline can mean the loss of up to five vacation days, but could entail nothing more than a verbal warning or instruction. Eighteen officers received “Schedule B Command Discipline”, which has a maximum penalty of ten vacation days, but also may entail no more than a talking-to. (In ten of the 167 cases, the penalty is unknown. In one further case, an officer received Command Discipline of an unspecified type.) 

In the sole record which specified that the offending officer lost paid time-off, the officer lost a single hour of vacation time.

The “disclosure letters” were uploaded to the site DocumentCloud by journalists, nonprofits and the likes of The Legal Aid Society. The NYPD’s own public officer profiles include disciplinary histories, but Command Discipline types A and B are omitted — making prosecutors' disclosure letters one of the only ways to glimpse how the NYPD handles what it considers low-level internal infractions and misconduct. 

The mother lode of disclosure letters come from a trove of 11,000 released by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office to WNYC/Gothamist in 2021, and are at best current to January of that year. That means that the information on “lost placard” incidents is mainly limited to cases made known to the Brooklyn DA prior to that time, and only regarding officers involved in cases handled by the Brooklyn D.A. roughly through 2020.

The dossiers contain, for 2017, just three standalone “lost placard” cases – cases in which there were no other disciplinary allegations, save for failure to report the loss sooner. The next year, 2018, saw 52 such cases, and 2019 saw 73. For 2020, 33 cases are known, and just three in 2021. 

There are good reasons to take the upward spike of 2018 and 2019 as a better indicator than the decline of 2020 and beyond. The dwindling number of known cases from 2020 onward certainly reflects the paucity of data from subsequent years. It probably also reflects the suspension of ordinary NYPD and court operations during the COVID-19 pandemic’s peak — making it less likely for placard-related discipline since 2020 to have come to light in litigation.

The pattern found in the disclosure letters does not necessarily represent a broader phenomenon within the NYPD. People do lose things, and the pattern could reflect an NYPD shift to take missing placards more seriously. But expired placards — a common sight across the city — only remain on the street if someone reports them as lost or stolen.

The disclosure letters are thin on detail but can be telling. In two consecutive months, for example, officers from Brooklyn’s Police Service Area 2, a Housing Police unit, reported that their placards “flew out of the window.” Two other cops in different units each lost two placards over a span of less than 18 months. At least four NYPD officers reported their placards lost in the year prior to their retirements — after apparently being able to keep track of their placards for their entire careers.

It is unclear if the pattern found in the disclosure letters would hold with comprehensive and current data — or if a broader spike in lost plates concentrates in certain commands where lost placards are perhaps processed with a wink, nod, and a slap on the wrist. 

What is clear is that the NYPD has little interest in recovering long-expired placards displayed on dashboards all over the city — or in investigating if such “lost” placards stem from misconduct which threatens to fundamentally undermine its credibility: falsified reports. 

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