Op-Ed: Welcome Dermot Shea — Now, Carry Out the Council’s Placard Crackdown

Placard abuse. Photo: David Meyer
Placard abuse. Photo: David Meyer

The following was written by the keeper of the Twitter account, @placardabuse, after the City Council passed nine bills aimed at ending illegal parking by the city’s 150,000 or so legal placard holders. The Twitter account was created to document frequent violation of the law by possessors of fake and real city-, state- and federally issued parking privileges. Its overseer requested anonymity because of prior harassment by the NYPD in 2017.

Last week, the City Council spoke clearly. With a unified voice, our elected representatives declared that placard abuse is corruption. They passed a full slate of new laws in the hopes of finally putting an end to the corruption.

This was a good-faith effort by our legislators to use the tools available to them to make our streets safer and more fair for everyone, and they enacted these laws over the strong objections of the politically powerful NYPD, which, starting today, is overseen by new Commissioner Dermot Shea.

The council’s package was the culmination of years of hearings, during which NYPD officials consistently perjured themselves and attempted to stonewall every attempt at reform. (It was after a 2016 City Council hearing when senior NYPD officials lied about the prevalence of placard corruption and their enforcement efforts that we started the @placardabuse account to publicly document the problem and hold city officials accountable.)

Last week’s action by the City Council was undoubtedly a good step forward, but it may fail because it still depends on the agencies charged with enforcement to actually perform their duties honestly. After all, placard corruption was always illegal.

It is difficult for our contributors to shake a sense of pessimism. Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD have announced one fake crackdown after another to end the corruption. Every time, those announcements have been followed either by a brief, publicized burst of selective enforcement against fake placards without touching any of the corrupt members of the placard class, or no effort whatsoever.

There was the NYPD fake crackdown on illegal license plate covers, the fake crackdown on illegal windshield and front window tint, the fake crackdown on placard corruption, the fake crackdown on blocking bus lanes and bus stops, the second fake crackdown on placard corruption when the mayor repackaged and watered down the promises from the first fake crackdown that he never implemented, and the fake crackdown on bicycle lane blockers. Every one of them was a total sham when it came to taking action against members of the placard class. Of course everyone is skeptical that anything will happen now.

Many question if the new laws went far enough. There is the suggestion to transfer parking enforcement from the NYPD to the Department of Transportation, but there have been several instances of placard corruption at DOT and there are several agencies other than the NYPD that already have authority to issue summonses and routinely fail to do so, making it unclear if transferring the responsibility would ensure success.

There is a clear frustration with the lack of consequences for officers who refuse to honestly write the tickets for violations they observe and make false reports to close out 311 complaints, yet it is not clear how legislation could be crafted that would make the District Attorneys any more likely to prosecute when there are already criminal charges for much of the corruption that they choose not to pursue. And while we appreciate City Council Speaker Johnson’s effort to use the Department of Investigations as an outside check on the NYPD, the uncomfortable fact is that the DOI has also been a central partner in their placard corruption all along.

More than anything else, what last week’s vote accomplished was sending the clearest possible message to newly minted Police Commissioner Dermot Shea: this corruption will no longer be accepted. From day one, Shea knows that the New Yorkers he serves expect him to ensure that the law is enforced impartially, instead of allowing a privileged placard class to opt out of the rules that govern civil conduct on our streets.

We are not sure Shea has what it takes, given the particularly virulent strain of placard corruption that manifested itself among the detectives while he was their chief. But Sunday is a new beginning for Shea as he took control of the NYPD. It must also be a new beginning for a law enforcement agency that struggles with corruption within its ranks. Going into the New Year, they need to act with resolve to finally solve this long-festering corruption, which undermines their integrity and deteriorates the safety and comfort of our streets.

Starting today, we will see if Shea is up to the job.