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NYC Department of Investigation Confirms What Everyone Already Knew: Cops Aren’t Doing Anything About Parking Permit Abuse

When City investigators reported parking permit violations, police enforced the rules zero percent of the time.

This is what a “Self Enforcement Zone” around a NYPD precinct house looks like (Hell Gate)

The NYPD whiffed on its explicit legal obligation to rein in the abuse of City-issued parking placards according to a report issued by the New York City Department of Investigation Wednesday. The report paints a picture of lawlessness fostered at virtually every opportunity by the police.

The City issues special permits to employees in some of its departments, allowing them to park in designated areas where non-permit holders aren't allowed to park. But as anyone who's ever found their crosswalk or fire hydrant or sidewalk blocked by a vehicle sporting a permit, drivers often use the permits as a license to park in totally dangerous and illegal places where nobody is supposed to park. This is a problem because the City gives out an extraordinary number of permits. In 2022 alone, 95,000 were issued—about 40,000 to the NYPD, 30,000 to the Department of Education, and another 26,000 to the Department of Transportation.

Confirming the obvious, the report found that cops and traffic officers frequently "use their discretion" to let people park illegally if their vehicle displays some kind of permit.

Under the law, when vehicles showing City-issued permits park illegally, the NYPD is supposed to not only cite them for the illegal parking, but for permit misuse. Three strikes, and you lose the permit. But according to the NYPD's own data, it's letting placard abusers skate on the misuse citations more than two thirds of the time, meaning that the abusers can keep abusing in perpetuity.

In the "self enforcement zones" around police precinct houses and other government facilities, where traffic agents don't patrol and the local command is in charge of enforcing the law on its own officers, the report found that the "NYPD’s enforcement activity in its self-enforcement zones was significantly lower than areas outside of those zones."

In integrity tests in which DOI investigators submitted their own 311 reports of permit abuse, the NYPD took enforcement action exactly zero percent of the time. Half the time, they didn't even bother to show up at all before closing out the complaint as resolved. That might help explain how the NYPD closes out complaints of permit abuse with remarkable speed, with more than a quarter of complaints resolved within 20 minutes, a timeframe, the report notes "so tight as to raise questions about whether NYPD took sufficient steps to address the complaint."

Sometimes, as Streetsblog reported last year, if a New Yorker reports parking permit abuse to the police, the police actually respond by harassing the people who reported the illegal parking and unsafe road conditions that it created.

Local Law 6 of 2020 required the NYPD to report weekly on 25 intersections or blocks with a parking permit abuse issue and 25 other intersections or blocks where bus lanes, bike lanes, or fire hydrants were often blocked by parking. The NYPD produced three months of reports before abandoning the effort during the height of the COVID pandemic. In those three months, the DOI found, "NYPD did not follow the required criteria for selecting the times and places of the evaluations as set forth in the law." In 40 percent of the reports, the spaces in the report forms where police were supposed to log the number of legally and illegally parked vehicles were simply left blank. Sometimes the police reported that zero vehicles were parked at all. 

When the DOI checked the NYPD's work, it found glaring contradictions. Where the NYPD reported an average of 0.06 illegally parked vehicles displaying a City permit per reporting location, DOI investigators found, on average, 7.95, 132 times as many violations as the NYPD claimed.

So what's to be done about this? The DOI has some suggestions. The NYPD's "self-enforcement zones" clearly have to go. The department should train its officers to obey the law better. Police shouldn't be able to close out a 311 complaint for permit abuse without providing information like the identity of the officer who resolved the complaint, a picture proving they actually responded to the scene and fixed the problem, and, if necessary, an accounting for why they didn't take any action.

Alternately—and this is the really interesting suggestion—the City could take the discretion away from the police altogether, and automate the process using license-plate recognition systems, as Hartford, Connecticut did in 2017. The technology could be mounted on Traffic Enforcement Officer vehicles, allowing them to identify permit abusers without even leaving their car.

Asked for comment on the Department of Investigation's findings, an NYPD spokesperson said the department is "reviewing the report and will carefully consider the recommendations."

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