Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - New York's finest have a message for city residents and visitors angry over a wave of misdemeanor criminal, traffic and parking citations issued under orders from City Hall: "Don't Blame the Cop!"
Patrick J. Lynch, president of the New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA), said Thursday that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is changing the primary mission of the city's law enforcement officers.
"City Hall is trying to turn us into a revenue-generating agency rather than a policing agency," Lynch told CNSNews.com Thursday. The PBA has launched a print and broadcast ad campaign called "Don't Blame the Cop!" to tell their side of the story.
Lynch said the mayor's office has "put a quota on the number of summonses" police officers must issue and specifically instructed officers to write citations that will result in fines.
"So they're telling us how many to give out and what types to give out," he explained.
As an example, Lynch noted that, in the past, officers have been given the discretion to write safety violation notices to motorists with broken taillights or other vehicle equipment problems.
"When you give out an equipment summons, the citizen can get it fixed, get it checked by a police officer, and there is no fine attached," Lynch explained. "So they'd rather us give out summonses that bring in the dollar bill rather than the summons that actually saves a life."
Police have no quotas, only 'performance targets'
Bloomberg denied Lynch's charges and defended his policies on his weekly radio program last Friday on WABC 770 AM.
"The city doesn't have quotas, but the police commissioner and his staff have performance targets," Bloomberg claimed. "That's a good measure of whether or not you're enforcing the laws."
Lynch claimed that, regardless of what title is given to the requirement that a minimum number of citations be issued, officers have been disciplined for failing to issue at least that number.
"They can call them 'productivity goals,' they can call them 'targets,' but when there is discipline involved at the end of the day, it's a quota, and quotas are illegal," he argued. "And we're afraid that what's happening is the citizens are blaming the individual police officer rather than the policy."
'Unauthorized use of a milk crate' nets $50 fine
Attention was originally drawn to the debate after the PBA issued a press release on May 12 noting an approximate six percent increase in parking and moving violation summonses and a 15 percent increase in "criminal" citations. The New York Daily News began investigating exactly what types of "criminal" summonses were being issued with such increased frequency. Their query yielded responses from citizens who had been cited for:
"Unauthorized Use of a Milk Crate" - Jesse Taveras was fined $50 for sitting on a milk crate on the sidewalk in front of the business where he works;
"Improperly Displayed Plates" - A black plastic frame around 28-year-old Jacob Walzer's license plate, identifying the dealer from which he purchased the vehicle, resulting in a $55 fine;
"Blocking a Driveway" - Elle and Serge Shroitman do not yet know how much they will be fined because their vehicle was "blocking" their own driveway; and
"Blocking a Stairwell" - Crystal Rivera, who is six months pregnant, had stopped to rest while climbing the stairs out of a subway station. She said she will appeal the $50 fine.
At a press conference on May 21, the mayor defended the focus on revenue-producing activities by police.
"Don't throw litter on the streets, and you won't have a problem. Don't park illegally, and you won't have a problem," Bloomberg told citizens by way of the media. "But we can't have it both ways. We can't have laws that say, 'No Parking Here,' and then you complain when we give out tickets."
Calls by CNSNews.com to the mayor's office were met with instructions to submit questions for this report via e-mail. Although those questions were submitted, no response was received prior to the filing of the report for publication.
Police department doing more with fewer officers
In a January 2003 press release, Bloomberg touted the recent accomplishments of the police department, crediting the NYPD with having "driven the crime rate down to its lowest level since 1963."
Crime in New York City had declined 6 percent overall for the year to date. Homicides were leading the reductions, down by more than 12 percent. Felony assaults and auto thefts were also experiencing double-digit drops. The rates of robbery, burglary and grand larceny were down, as well.
Those improvements came with 2,000 fewer officers on the NYPD than in January 2002, according to the mayor's office. Lynch said the department has lost an additional 1,000 officers since January 2003.
Bloomberg's fiscal 2004 budget request reportedly includes 300 new "traffic agents" in the police department, which is expected to produce $85 million in revenue for the city in that 12-month period. An additional $3.6 million is expected to be generated by towing fees.
"So our police officers are short-changed on the street but are being asked to disregard the crime issues and go after summonses instead," Lynch said.
Lynch believes the way to continue the improvements Bloomberg touted, especially with a smaller force, is to allow the officers who are present to evaluate the circumstances and personalities involved and decide how to best deal with each unique situation.
"The police officer's job is to solve problems. If we can do that with a warning and explaining to the person why it's a violation and how it could injure somebody, that should be enough," he said. "If it takes the step where we have to give a summons, so be it.
"But our decision making should not be based on 'I'm going to be disciplined if I don't bring in this summons' and 'Is it going to generate revenue for City Hall?'" Lynch added.
Public support for department in jeopardy
Lynch fears the positive relationship officers have been building with citizens, both through good police work and as a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is in jeopardy.
"We're afraid that it's going to erode the good will we've built up after September the 11th , when people finally understand what New York City police officers are capable of and willing to do," he concluded. "We want to continue that good relationship with the people we serve and not erode it by hitting them with more and more expensive summonses."
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