November 4, 2014

The Big Fix: PBA, SBA Cry Hypocrisy on Ticket

S.I. Chief Helped Garner Mom


PATRICK J. LYNCH: Double standard ‘absurd.’  

The NYPD Chief who oversees Staten Island engaged in the kind of ticket-fixing for which a dozen police officers are facing trial in The Bronx, Sergeants’ Benevolent Association President Edward D. Mullins charged last week.

After learning that the mother of Eric Garner, who died after police tackled him when he resisted arrest for selling loose cigarettes, received a ticket for a burnt-out headlight, Assistant Chief Edward Delatorre ordered officers to cure the problem, union officials said.

24-Hour Grace Normal

As a result, a Sergeant and Lieutenant purchased a bulb, which cost about $25, went to her home, replaced the headlight and gave her the paperwork she needed to get the ticket dismissed, the officials said. Summonses for equipment violations such as nonfunctioning light bulbs are routinely deep-sixed if the driver provides proof within 24 hours that the problem was repaired.

“It confirms that fixing tickets is in the culture of the NYPD,” Mr. Mullins said in an interview. He has been making that point since the investigation by the Bronx District Attorney’s Office became public in 2011.

“Guys are on trial in The Bronx for this,” he said. “Maybe the Bronx DA needs to evaluate this...What’s the difference between pulling a ticket out of a box and fixing a headlight because a Chief told you to do it because she called the Chief?”

PBA: Charge the Bosses

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said in a statement, “If the bosses involved fixed the ticket, then they must report themselves to Internal Affairs for disciplinary charges. If the NYPD is now in the car-repair business then they need to let the general public know that if they get a ticket, don’t pay it, just call an NYPD boss and they’ll fix it. This is just absurd.”

According to the New York Post, which broke the story, Mr. Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, called Mr. Delatorre to complain after receiving the ticket. Mr. Delatorre had given her his cell-phone number after her son’s death, the Post said. Ms. Carr later denied calling Chief Delatorre or having his phone number.

Mr. Mullins said Mr. Delatorre “admitted” to his bosses Oct. 27, the day the Post story appeared, that he had ordered Ms. Carr’s ticket addressed. “He thought it was the right thing to do because he didn’t want to be accused of targeting the woman because she was Eric Garner’s mother,” Mr. Mullins said.

“Does this mean she gets special treatment for the rest of her life?” he asked. “And what does that mean for my brother and sister if they get a ticket for a broken taillight?”

‘Good Intentions’

“Sometimes the most well-intentioned acts go awry,” said Roy Richter, president of the Captains’ Endowment Association.

Louis Turco, president of the Lieutenants’ Benevolent Association, referred to the affair as “bulb-gate.” He agreed with Mr. Mullins that Mr. Delatorre had assigned a Captain to take care of the problem. The Captain called a Lieutenant, who delegated the problem to the Lieutenant, who took along the Sergeant, he said. Mr. Turco said it was not clear whether it was “Delatorre or [the Captain’s] idea to change the light bulb.”

“My Lieutenant was following orders and I’m going to leave it at that,” Mr. Turco said, adding that he had received assurances that his member would not face discipline over the issue.

Mayor de Blasio did not directly address the controversy, instead praising Chief Delatorre in general terms and confirming that the NYPD was doing an internal investigation. His spokesman, Phil Walzak, said, “If he’s doing a citizen a solid, that’s not a bad thing.” Mr. Walzak said Mr. de Blasio “has faith in the officers and their discretion.”

‘Hope He Remembers’

“I’m glad the Mayor recognizes that we have the right to discretion, and I hope he remembers that in the future,” Mr. Turco said.

Many cops complained that discretion—the right to skip issuing a summons or making a low-level arrest if the circumstances warrant—all but disappeared under former Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. The drive for ever-increasing numbers of tickets and arrests made it nearly impossible to exercise, critics said.

The incident was the subject of morbid jokes among police officers. Mr. Mullins questioned whether the NYPD was now in the auto-repair business.

A mock Pep Boys ad starring Billy, Ed and Al—Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, Mr. Delatorre and the Rev. Al Sharpton, who is an adviser to the Garner family—was posted on Thee Rant, an Internet bulletin board for cops. So was a triangular NYPD shoulder patch with the American Automobile Association’s emergency-road-service logo inserted in the middle.

Neither the Police Department nor Mr. Delatorre had addressed the incident publicly by the end of last week.