ANOTHER RETREAT: De Blasio Fails to Rein in Recklessly Driving Police Officers

Police officers and employees at the 34th Precinct have some of the worst driving records in the city. File photo: Ben Verde
Police officers and employees at the 34th Precinct have some of the worst driving records in the city. File photo: Ben Verde

Well, he’s not a liar — he’s just lackluster.

Mayor de Blasio’s promise last year to crack down on reckless driving by police employees and create a “real atmosphere of consequences” turned out to be the opposite of a crackdown with the thinnest amount of oxygen: cops are still driving recklessly whenever they want with no accountability.

First, some background: After Streetsblog exposed the horrendous driving records of hundreds of police officers and NYPD employees in a months-long series last year, City Hall announced that for the first time, the NYPD would deny parking permits to police employees who have multiple camera-issued red light or speeding tickets on their personal driving records.

The new policy required each precinct’s “integrity control officer” to review the camera-issued tickets before renewing a cop’s parking placard — adding to an existing review of state DMV-issued violation points on an employee’s record.

A day after announcing the policy, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea called it “a good thing” because police brass and the public “have an expectation that officers and employees follow the rules as good citizens.”

And Mayor de Blasio said “there will be consequences” for reckless driving (like this NYPD employee. Or this one. Or this one. Or this entire precinct. You get the idea). That consequence would be the revocation of a parking permit — a dashboard totem that ostensibly grants police employees immunity to park anywhere and, at the same time, encourages more driving by some of the city’s worst drivers.

“This is about Vision Zero and keeping us all safe,” the mayor claimed. “So this is a step froward to create a real atmosphere of consequences and holding people to a fair standard.”

But when the rubber hit the road, the mayor didn’t finish the job — or perhaps simply let the NYPD write its own rules. The policy expressed back in December was finally added to the NYPD patrol guide in June [and updated in July; PDF below]. Here’s the language:

Vehicles with five or more red light camera violations or 15 or more school speed camera violations incurred within a 12-month period will be ineligible for a Restricted Parking Permit.

As a practical matter, the state Department of Motor Vehicles assigns points to various violations, and a driver’s license is suspended if he or she racks up 11 points in any 18-month period. But that point system does not include camera-issued tickets. If it did, a camera-issued speeding ticket would earn a driver a minimum of four points (more if the driver was exceeding the speed limit more than 20 mph). A red light ticket is worth three points.

As a result, if the city applied the state points system to camera-issued tickets, just three speeding tickets in an 18-month period — not 15 tickets in 12 months — or four red light tickets — not five — would trigger the parking permit revocation.

The “five or 15” standard may sound familiar to Streetsblog readers: It’s the same standard under which a civilian driver would have to undergo retraining or have his or her vehicle seized under the city’s Reckless Vehicle Abatement Program that was signed into law earlier this year. That program, of course, is itself flawed: The bill’s sponsor originally wanted a much lower threshold of violations before a car would be seized — and then Mayor de Blasio didn’t bother to fund the $1.6-million program in this year’s budget (oops).

Advocates for street safety were angered that the NYPD chose such a low standard for its own law enforcement officers.

“Drivers who amass that many tickets from speed and red-light cameras are a threat to the safety of New Yorkers. One would hope police could be held to a higher standard than the worst of the worst drivers,” said the group’s spokesman, Joe Cutrufo.

So how bad are police drivers? And how bad have they been since the mayor announced his new, toothless policy?

The results after we reviewed more than 1,600 NYPD employees' plates.
The results after we reviewed more than 1,600 NYPD employees’ plates.

Last year, Streetsblog spent weeks logging the plate numbers of cars parked in NYPD-only spaces or parked illegally with NYPD placards around dozens of station houses in all five boroughs. We ran those plates through the city camera-issued ticket database, easily obtained from the How’s My Driving NY database, and discovered that more than 77 percent of police employees have moving or parking tickets on their record.

More alarmingly:

  • Fifty-nine percent of cops had received at least one camera-issued serious moving violation.
  • Thirty-nine percent of cops had received more than one camera-issued serious moving violation.
  • Scores of cops had received more than five of those tickets.

Since the conclusion of our investigation, the worst recidivists have just gotten worse.

This week, Streetsblog went back to our earlier investigation and re-checked the driving records of the worst officers — defined as cops or NYPD employees who had gotten five or more camera-issued tickets since 2014. There were 167 of them.

Of those 167 officers’ cars:

  • Only 27 — or 15 percent — did not get any more moving violation tickets since we last reviewed their plates roughly 12 to 14 months ago (depending on the precinct).
  • The remaining 140 — or 85 percent — had serious moving violations:
    • 105 — or 63 percent — got from one to five serious moving violation tickets in little over a year.
    • 27 — or 16 percent — got from six to 10 serious moving violation tickets in little over a year.
    • 8 — or 5.4 percent — got more than 10 serious moving violations in little over a year.

Those drivers are out there, somewhere.

The pattern of de Blasio capitulation to the NYPD on reckless driving is a common one for a mayor who claims to be a police reformer. Earlier this year, the mayor said he supported a $1-billion cut to the agency’s budget, but once the cameras were off, the trim turned out to be much less. And he continues to let Shea and Shea’s second-in-command, Chief of Department Terence Monahan, undermine a chokehold bill he claims to support.

And he has consistently defended brutality by rogue officers within the police department.

The NYPD and City Hall declined to comment for this story.

Below is NYPD Patrol Guide, section 219-29