The backlash to the Bronx district attorney’s indictment of police officers in the ticket-fixing scandal is fully underway. Dennis Hamill says the prosecutions are part of a “witch hunt” and Cynthia Brown thinks it’s “hypocrisy” that “Police officers who risk their lives on a daily basis may have to pay with their jobs and pensions for participating in a long-accepted practice.”
A persuasive argument that’s getting made is that ticket fixing is a time-honored courtesy that cops at all levels of authority have engaged in, so it’s unfair to now single out a few officers in one borough.
But some of the cops’ supporters also contend that the ticket-fixing is, in Brown’s words, a “victimless crime” and a “harmless practice.”
The retort is that, if officers’ families and friends (and friends of friends) are getting preferential treatment, the victims of that practice are all the people who don’t get those favors. And that means there are a lot of victims, because the city writes a lot of tickets—for parking violations, traffic violations and low-level infractions against the penal code.
As the first chart below indicates, the city takes in a lot of money in those little orange parking violation envelopes—at least half a billion dollars each year. What does that revenue mean in the context of the city budget? If the city takes in as much parking-ticket money this year as it did in 2010, it will pay for the Parks Department, the Buildings Department and the Brooklyn, Queens, Citywide and Research library systems. Nothing to sneeze at.
The other charts below quantify quality-of-life and traffic summonses. When it comes to parking tickets, the numbers are at a different scale. In 2002, the city wrote 8.2 million parking and red-light tickets, and in 2007, they penned 10 million; after that year, some unhelpful changes to the annual Mayor’s Management Report made that number harder to track.
The city’s courts last year dealt with 577,000 summons cases, about as many as they’ve seen every year for the past decade. But the number of infractions and violations—the lowest-level offenses—that made it into a court hearing annually doubled between the year 2000 and 2010. Among summonsed offenses, open containers of alcohol led the field with 140,000 write-ups in 2010, followed by disorderly conduct (81,000) and bike on a sidewalk (25,000).
When you’re the guy who’s double-parked, or trying to beat the red light, or riding on the sidewalk to avoid being jammed between parked cars and traffic, these are all victimless crimes. When you’re the patient in the ambulance trying to get down a car-choked avenue, or a pedestrian crossing the street where the light just turned red, or a father walking down that sidewalk with a baby stroller, they might not be. Perspective is everything.