New York Times
January 9, 2015


Ticket Falloff, 2 Officers’ Deaths and Overdue Contracts

By JIM DWYER

Hoisting boxes of chicken parts from a truck at 1 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, Victor Arroyo did not, at first, notice the four police officers strolling up Ninth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. He stepped off the tailgate and stacked the boxes on a dolly for his partner to roll inside a butcher store.

Their truck was double-parked, no question about it.

The four officers glanced at one another, then the youngest looking of the group pulled a summons pad from the cargo pouch on her uniform pants and began to fill out the ticket, marking the box for double parking, a $115 fine. Mr. Arroyo took a quick look over his shoulder at the officers and continued his work.

“My third ticket of the day,” he said. “I should do this well with the lotto.”

His partner wheeled the chicken into the store, muttering, “They got a whole SWAT team just to write a ticket.”

For all parties involved, it was all in a day’s work. Ordinary drivers might throw a fit over a $115 ticket, but commercial trucks rack up tens of thousands in fines while making deliveries, especially in Manhattan, and businesses are able to negotiate mass reductions at hearings. Police officers, for their part, are supposed to perform a certain amount of verifiable activity over the course of a month, including issuing parking tickets.

That process has broken down, at least temporarily, on the police side, with a drastic falloff in parking tickets in slightly more than two weeks since the murders of two police officers in Brooklyn. If Mr. Arroyo’s experience was any measure, there was no shortage of parking tickets being issued on Thursday. The mayor’s office said it would release figures at the end of the week.

To some eyes, the apparent police slowdown is a clash of civilizations that began with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s public sympathy for those protesting the lack of judicial action against an officer involved in the case of Eric Garner, an unarmed black Staten Island man who died while being arrested. It accelerated with the execution of the two police officers by a disturbed man who had tried to kill himself, shot his girlfriend and then traveled to New York, citing the Garner case.

So here was the scorecard to explain the decline in police activity over the last few weeks: police versus the liberal mayor who will not back them, the forces of order against chaotic progressives.

Or perhaps something else was at work.

Most parking tickets are issued not by officers, but by traffic enforcement agents. Tickets issued by the traffic agents have also gone into a steep decline in the last two weeks. Those agents have specific daily goals. “The number is 22 or so on foot, a little more when you are in a vehicle,” said Robert Cassar, president of the union that represents the agents, Local 1182 of the Communications Workers of America.

The agents in cars were warned on Wednesday to get their numbers up or face being assigned to foot patrol, Mr. Cassar said, but he insisted that there was no organized slowdown, just caution. “We don’t have the same beef that the police union does,” he said.

They do have something in common with the officers who were also not issuing tickets: Neither the agents nor the officers in New York have had a new contract since 2010. In fact, that goes for nearly all of the city’s unionized workers. During the last four years that Michael R. Bloomberg was mayor, the unions and the administration dug into their positions until it became clear that nothing would happen during his tenure.

So last year, Mr. de Blasio began negotiations, first striking a deal with the teachers’ union and then, in early December, with a coalition of uniformed superior workers. It gives them an 11 percent raise covering seven years. The police captains ratified their contract by a vote of 339 to 151. But no deal has been made with the two largest police unions: the Sergeants Benevolent Association and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. The sergeants are still negotiating with the city but, for now, the patrolmen are going for arbitration. The current wage scale pays about $69,000 after five years.

“We plan on fairly and professionally arguing our case to an arbitration panel, and we believe they will see that New York City police officers are dismally paid,” Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the patrolmen’s union, said. “We are at the bottom of the heap.”

Mr. Lynch has placed ads in newspapers to say it is “cynical” for people to believe that distress among police officers is a negotiating tactic. Perhaps. But to believe the recent high-decibel rage is unrelated to the contracts would simply be foolish.

Email: dwyer@nytimes.com