Chief-Leader
April 13, 2012

 

PBA: Cops Stressed Out by Ticket Raps

NYPD: Win Rate Up

By MARK TOOR

Pat Lynch    
PATRICK J. LYNCH: Cops being unfairly punished.  

The president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association is broadcasting a radio ad criticizing the department for “unfairly punishing police officers who lose a case in traffic court.” It’s easier dealing with criminals than police bosses, he asserted.

The NYPD responded to the ad, which was scheduled to play through the middle of this week, by releasing a statement saying that convictions are up in traffic court since the Internal Affairs Bureau started monitoring the proceedings. Officers are punished only if they fail to testify and don’t have a good reason for it, said department spokesman Paul J. Browne.

Response to Ticket-Fixing

The department instituted the monitoring policy last year as prosecutors and IAB officers investigated ticket-fixing allegations in The Bronx. The reason for it was that traffic tickets could be invalidated if an officer failed to appear and testify, or appeared but gave testimony that did not justify the ticket.

Police officers have complained informally for months that if they lose a case in traffic court, IAB Sergeants go through their paperwork and look for errors or omissions. If the Sergeants find any, they say, the officers are penalized by having vacation pay taken away. The original penalty was 10 days, which is the total annual vacation time given to a rookie police officer. More recently, the punishment was cut to a minimum of three days, according to news reports.

The PBA’s one-minute radio spot is read by union president Patrick J. Lynch, who said, “Being a New York City police officer is already stressful enough...New York City police officers routinely deal with dangerous and stressful situations. It’s part of the job, and we accept that. You may be surprised to learn that more stress is put on police officers by NYPD management than by criminals.

“The perfect example is traffic court,” he continued. “Here’s what happens: a motorist gets a ticket and decides to fight it. The judge hears the explanation and cuts the driver a break by dismissing the ticket. Now, an NYPD boss, whose only job is to punish police officers for losing traffic-court cases, will look for the slightest clerical error in order to blame the officer. That officer will be fined three vacation days, worth $900.”

‘Constant Pressure to Ticket’

He concluded, “Our officers are under constant pressure from management to write more and more summonses. Now, management is making it worse by unfairly punishing police officers who lose a case, and that has to stop. It’s a lot less stressful fighting criminals.”

Mr. Browne responded to the ad with a statement April 5: “The conviction rate for traffic summonses has increased to 73 percent year-to-date through February, from 55 percent for the same period last year, after dismissals of tickets due to the non-appearance of issuing officers fell sharply. The number of summonses dismissed for officers’ failure to appear decreased by 36 percent in January and February this year compared to the same months in 2011, or from 7,756 in 2011 to 4,951 this year.

“The decreased dismissals and improved conviction rate occurred in the wake of a program which monitors officers’ court appearances,” he said. “Contrary to critics, officers are neither punished for purportedly ‘losing’ traffic-court cases, nor for clerical errors. In only those cases where an officer fails to appear or testify without a legitimate or valid reason, is the officer subject to potential disciplinary action.”

Answering Mr. Browne, Mr. Lynch said, “The NYPD has a quota for the number of summonses written and now it appears they are setting a quota for convictions. Numbers don’t tell the whole story of the crushed morale of our members, or how angry police officers are over this disciplinary abuse. The NYPD shouldn’t hide behind a wall of numbers.”

The Bronx District Attorney’s part of the ticket-fixing investigation resulted in 16 indictments. However, only 11 of those indicted were charged with ticket-fixing. Most of them were current and former PBA delegates, to whom officers reach out if they want to quash a ticket issued in another precinct.

And That’s Not All...

Two of those officers and five more cops were charged with other misconduct. One, whose behavior had started the probe, faces charges including attempted robbery, drug possession, transporting what he believed to be drugs in his police car, and disclosing the identity of a confidential informant. One was charged with faking the arrest of someone who turned out to be an undercover Detective. Four were charged with covering up an assault by an officer’s friend. A Lieutenant who had been assigned to IAB was charged with giving information about the probe to Bronx police officers.

Additional police officers, perhaps hundreds, are being disciplined administratively, losing vacation days.

The criminal cases may be in jeopardy because the lead investigator, IAB Det. Randy Katakofsky, faces administrative charges that he leaked information to the Lieutenant that she allegedly gave to the Bronx officers under scrutiny.