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Justice Dept., Citing Streetsblog, Threatens to Sue NYPD Over Cops’ Sidewalk Parking

The city is now facing a major civil rights suit from the Biden Administration if it doesn't eliminate illegal parking by cops and other city workers.

They're making a federal case about scofflaw cops.

The U.S. Department of Justice has demanded that the NYPD stop allowing its officers to park illegally around stationhouses because the resulting obstructions are a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act — and the feds told the NYPD that the Civil Rights Division will sue if the NYPD doesn't clean up its act.

"In the event we determine that we cannot secure compliance voluntarily to correct the deficiencies identified in this letter, the Attorney General may initiate a lawsuit pursuant to the ADA," U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Damian Williams wrote in a March 29 letter that was released on Friday.

Williams cited Streetsblog reporting extensively in his letter to the NYPD Legal Bureau and said his office's subsequent investigation of city stationhouses "revealed violations of the ADA."

Specifically, Williams called out the NYPD for:

  • "sidewalks and crosswalks adjacent to NYPD precincts [that] are subject to frequent obstructions by both the private and police vehicles of NYPD members, resulting in inaccessibility of the pedestrian grid. ... The obstructions caused by sidewalk and crosswalk parking are not isolated or temporary." (Indeed, we covered an example of it just this week.)
  • Issuing training materials that "deemphasize the need to ensure that city vehicles do not impede access to the pedestrian grid. ... Training materials also emphasize officer discretion not to issue summonses ... without any discussion of how certain parking behavior could impede the safety and comfort of people with disabilities."
  • failing "to fully implement several local laws designed to curb illegal parking, including Local Law 6 of 2020 (which required the NYPD to study illegal parking-permit use at several sites) and Local Law 13 of 2020 (which required the NYPD to report on instances where city vehicles were towed for blocking crosswalks or sidewalks)."

"NYPD vehicles and the personal vehicles of NYPD employees frequently obstruct sidewalks and crosswalks in the vicinity of NYPD precincts," the letter stated. As a result, "the city’s pedestrian grid is not readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.”

Williams cited Streetsblog reporter Kevin Duggan's Jan. 26, 2024 story, "‘They Don’t Care’: Cops, Placard Perps Block Disabled Drop-Off Zones" as partly inspiring the office's investigation, which concluded that "city employees appear to commute to work and park their city vehicles on sidewalks or in crosswalks for entire workdays, sometimes even longer."

And Williams also cited then-Streetsblog reporter Julianne Cuba's July 10, 2020 story, "De Blasio Cuts Two Placard Abuse Units That Did Nothing, Saying, ‘But Wait ‘til Next Year!’" as evidence that "the City of New York has been taking away resources from initiatives designed to combat parking practices that impact the accessibility of the pedestrian grid."

The letter also cited University of California professor Marcel Moran's study of all 77 precinct stationhouses that found that 91 percent had "sidewalk parking often extending along the entire block (and not simply in front of station houses), on adjacent blocks, and on both sides of the street [rendering] many sidewalks impassable — forcing pedestrians into traffic."

Williams also cited statistics, published by Streetsblog, that the NYPD issued parking summonses to only 2.8 percent of the 5,499 civilian complaints it received about placard-bearing vehicles parked on sidewalks between January 2021 and July 2023. By comparison over the same period, the NYPD issued summonses in response to 10.7 percent of complaints related to illegal parking by cars without city-issued placards, the get-out-of-jail free card of municipal government.

The overall effect is that of inaccessibility in violation of the ADA, Williams said, describing what investigators heard from people with disabilities.

"Almost everyone reported that they were often required to navigate the streets (while risking injuries from vehicles) in areas around precincts where they found the sidewalks to be most often blocked," the letter stated. "Several reported that they had been injured trying to move off the sidewalk in areas where the curb cuts had been blocked by parked city vehicles. And many reported that no matter what efforts they made to resolve the problem — contacting the local precincts, submitting 311 reports, or attending community board meetings — things had either not improved or gotten worse in recent years."

The NYPD has been in receipt of the letter for three weeks. Curiously, a few days after the NYPD received the letter, the New York Post, citing NYPD sources, reported that the NYPD had allegedly ordered police officers to not park illegally near station houses. The story offered no details, and there has been no apparent change in front of stationhouses.

Under questioning this week from Streetsblog, which has long covered police illegal parking and placard abuse, the NYPD has repeatedly declined to confirm the Post report or explain how it has informed its rank and file about the alleged new parking mandate. Indeed, the NYPD declined to comment on Friday on the Southern District letter.

All the NYPD has said is this statement issued through a "spokesperson" who declined to provide a name: "Parking around precincts and NYPD facilities is a persistent challenge due to our thriving, complex city and the limited space we all must share. But the NYPD strives each day to achieve a balance as we continue to work toward solutions.

If solutions are not, in fact, found, the city is facing a major civil rights suit from the Biden Administration.

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