The New York Times

January 28, 2004

New Data Show Surge in Summonses


TMhe Bloomberg administration, which spent much of last spring denying that there was a ticket blitz underway in the city, released new data yesterday which showed that in at least one area the city had issued more summonses than it had in at least five years: police tickets for quality-of-life offenses.

The administration reported that 532,817 summonses were issued by the New York Police Department in the fiscal year that ended June 30. The summonses were for a range of offenses, including graffiti, noise and disorderly conduct.

Not only is that figure an increase over the previous year - and a slight increase over the year before that - but it represents more than 100,000 more summonses than city officials reported last fall. Police have not issued as many of these kinds of summonses since at least 1999, records show.

Aides to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said the discrepancy between the fall report and the Preliminary Mayor's Management Report issued yesterday was caused by an administrative error.

They continued to say there has never been any kind of organized effort by the police to ticket New Yorkers for quality-of-life offenses, ostensibly to drive up city revenues - something that union leaders, elected officials and news reports have insisted.

And, city officials added, the number of summonses over all - which also include parking violations and sanitation, noise, environmental and other code offenses - was down from the year before.

"The ticket blitz was and remains a myth," said Paul J. Browne, a deputy police commissioner. "This was never about generating revenue. It was all about improving the life of average New Yorkers."

The data was reported as part of a barrage of statistics included in the preliminary Mayor's Management Report, which evaluates the performance of city agencies.

The report, which covered this past July through October, showed that the mayor's highly touted 311 information system, which went online in March, has dramatically increased the workload for city agencies across the board. The system, which was intended to provide callers with easy access to city services, logged more than two million calls during the period.

As a result, city officials found themselves celebrating the fact that more New Yorkers were complaining, most likely because it was easier to register those complaints. The agencies reported an increase in complaints in 20 of 29 key service categories, ranging from fixing potholes to addressing noise complaints. The total number of complaints in those categories for the first four months of the 2004 fiscal year rose to 333,000 from 285,000 for the same period a year earlier.

City officials said agencies had been able to cope with the increased demands, starting with 311 itself. Operators there still answered calls within 30 seconds 96 percent of the time, a slight decline from the 99 percent reported for the few months the system was in operation before July 1, according to the report.

As for other city services: While pothole complaints during the first four months of fiscal year 2004 doubled, to 12,232 from 6,007 during the same period a year earlier, the report said the Department of Transportation was fixing a higher percentage within a month. "It's been more work, but it's been more productive work for us,'' said Iris Weinshall, transportation commissioner.

Not all the statistics were favorable. Fire Department response times rose by 11 seconds during the period, to an average of 4 minutes, and 25 seconds. Fire officials cited an overload of 911 calls and communications problems involving the August blackout, but critics said the city had started to see a slight rise in response times before the blackout, and they pointed to the administration's closing of six fire companies and other budget cuts.

"It's obvious that the mayor's cuts to the Fire Department have had an effect," said Stephen J. Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which represents 8,600 city firefighters.

Otherwise, the report found that streets were cleaner, parks were in better shape, noise and air complaints were being addressed quickly, and the city was increasing its pest control efforts.

The biggest surprise appeared to be the increase in quality-of-life summonses issued in the 2003 fiscal year - a trend that appeared to be continuing. Police officials reported issuing 228,053 summonses in the first four months of the 2004 fiscal year, compared with 195,540 in the same four-month period a year earlier..

Mr. Browne said that the summonses had been undercounted because while the Police Department had switched to a computerized data system last year, several bureaus had continued to report their numbers by paper. It was those numbers that were left out of the count.

Edward Skyler, the mayor's press secretary, pointed out that the 532,817 summonses issued in the 2003 fiscal year were a slight increase over the 526,080 issued in the 2001 fiscal year. He said that the number issued in 2002-443,998-was low because police officers stopped writing summonses for quality-of-life offenses after Sept. 11.

The largest city police union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said that the new number backed up its earlier claims of a blitz.

"It's a clear demonstration that a quota system exists in the N.Y.P.D., and unfortunately it takes discretion away from the police officers and forces the public to pay the price,'' said Patrick J. Lynch, union president.