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Parking Placards

Op-Ed: Police Placard Corruption Report Was Weak, Disappointing … and Completely Expected

The Department of Investigations clearly had ample evidence of crimes and serious violations, yet its report lets everyone off the hook.

Broken system.

Following years of resisting, the Department of Investigations last week finally issued the report on placard corruption required by Local Law 6 of 2020. The report confirms much of the systemic corruption that everybody already knew about, but what it really does is signal to the NYPD that law enforcement officers that break the law don't need to worry about any consequences for their criminal misconduct, even when caught.

What is entirely clear from this sleight-of-hand report is that the NYPD is institutionally incapable of policing parking on our streets. Even when the NYPD was legally required to document its placard enforcement at a few locations, the agency failed due to its own incompetence (willful or otherwise).

So, what did DOI's investigation actually turn up?

  • NYPD officers are systematically enabling each other to openly break the law. When officers actually do something, they contact the person that is breaking the law and let that person get away without any enforcement 
  • There is virtually no enforcement at all around NYPD station houses ... except against non-NYPD vehicles. This clearly serves to clear out other people's cars so that it's easier for the cops to park illegally.
  • NYPD officers are consistently falsifying reports to close out valid 311 complaints from concerned citizens.
  • Traffic Enforcement Agents are afraid of retaliation from their superiors if they enforce the law honestly.
  • In the rare cases of discipline by the NYPD, officers get off lighter than non-uniformed employees.
  • The NYPD submitted falsified reports to the DOI during its investigation.

The DOI clearly had ample actionable evidence of crimes and serious violations, yet its report is replete with language designed to minimize outrage: for instance, the NYPD's refusal to produce required reports was "understandable" or that the professional law enforcement officers who violated the rules printed on the placards simply "lacked training."

Even the title of the press release — "DOI FINDS FLAWS AND MAKES RECOMMENDATIONS..." — was designed to sound like the procedures merely need some fine tuning, when in reality DOI found extensive fraud and a fundamental rejection of the law by NYPD leadership and staff at all levels.

What is Local Law 6?

Local Law 6 required the NYPD to perform enforcement and submit reports; it never did so, citing the pandemic. The global health crisis might have justified a temporary halt to placard enforcement, but it doesn't explain the failure to perform the NYPD's required duties in the months before the outbreak and in the years since. Nonetheless, DOI has lent credence to the pandemic excuse without addressing the problems that plague our streets and compromise the integrity of law enforcement.

For instance, the DOI caught multiple police officers falsifying reports to close out valid 311 complaints that they never even responded to. This is a flat out felony — and, more broadly, should be a red flag that other police duties might be getting neglected and other statements falsified.

But DOI didn't arrest these criminal cops. DOI didn't dig deeper into their case histories so that people later accused of crimes by these officers could defend themselves by questioning the veracity of the testimony against them. DOI just stenographed statements from the dirty cops saying they didn't remember those calls and treated their crimes like no big deal.

The DOI also repeatedly heard that Traffic Enforcement Agents are afraid of adverse disciplinary action if they honestly enforced placard corruption. The DOI did not investigate this core corruption, and the agency's recommendations offered nothing to address it. Rather, the DOI tried to fool the public by suggesting that better training will somehow improve the situation, even as many New Yorkers believe that the Department of Transportation should take over parking enforcement.

Scratching the surface of the DOI report — even with a feather! — shows the inconsistencies. There is a 0.00-percent chance that DOI went to the 114th Precinct — where it claims it found only two illegally parked cars. There is always a multiple of that number just in the No Standing zone at the station house's front door. After all, this is the command that won Streetsblog's Parking Madness bracket in 2021.

Just use Google Maps. There are always at least a dozen cars parked illegally on the sidewalk on 34th and 35th streets. And double-parked cars egregiously block the crosswalks. To produce a number anywhere close to two, DOI had to redefine illegal parking to exclude sidewalk parking entirely, and to include only the most extreme violations. At the 114th Precinct stationhouse, this appears to represent only blocked crosswalks or fire hydrants. Of course, DOI couldn't go so far as to validate the NYPD's false report that they checked the station and didn't find a single illegally parked vehicle.

A narrow bridge crammed with cop cars at the 114th Precinct in Astoria.File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The NYPD's "self enforcement zones" — i.e. where cops and their friends can openly break the law — did get some discussion from DOI. But, unfortunately, the investigators minimized the impacts and made recommendation that were quite soft, continuing to leave the issue up to the discretion of the same NYPD leadership that has ignored all of this corruption the whole time.

Beyond corruption, DOI did not even reflect upon the federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities, or the fact that the NYPD has repeatedly submitted phony ADA compliance plans. Thanks to fraud by the NYPD, our communities are made permanently dangerous or needlessly difficult for people with disabilities and parents with strollers.

Worse, several NYPD commands produce their own "visitor" placards that they hand out to whoever they seem to want to reward with free parking, with zero visability or accountability. None of these unauthorized placards is ever included in any of the tallies of city-issued placards. They have never been disclosed in any Council oversight hearing, yet they comprise tens of thousands of extra cases of fraud.

It was DOI's job to get to the bottom of this. It chose to hide it instead.

Sadly, we were not surprised. After all, even after DOI Commissioner Jocelyn Strauber announced that the report was forthcoming, a senior DOI official was still misusing his placard to park illegally at a fire hydrant right outside DOI headquarters.

Of course, it's not too late for DOI to bring charges against the officers caught committing crimes. If the agency really wants to be generous, maybe it can just treat this as a warning and then follow up with real enforcement for anyone that continued to break the law.

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