That's the Ticket

Summer of summonses


New Yorkers were sorely vexed this summer by an alleged "ticketing blitz," a spate of summonses issued for violations of obscure or trivial laws in what many see as an attempt to fill dwindling city coffers. Even the people handing out the tickets are expressing frustration: New York City's Patrolmen's Benevolent Association launched a "Don't Blame the Cop" ad campaign to defuse public anger over "revenue-raising disguised as traffic control and other quality-of-life matters."

While the raw number of total summonses issued in 2003 had actually decreased relative to the previous year as of May, anecdotal evidence suggests police are being pressured to issue tickets in an attempt to meet quotas. Of 111 smoking-related tickets handed out during the first month of New York's new ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, 86 were for indirect violations, such as keeping ashtrays in public view or failing to post a "No Smoking" sign.

As press accounts in the New York Daily News and elsewhere recounted, Pedro Nazario was cited for feeding pigeons, while Crystal Rivera, who was six months pregnant at the time, received a ticket for sitting on subway steps. Barbers Kim Phann and Bruce Rosaro were ticketed for "loitering" in front of their own barbershop. James Smith got a summons for "obstructing" a turnstile when he stopped to pick up a few coins he'd dropped on his way to the subway.

Jesse Taveras was hit with a $50 fine as punishment for his "unauthorized use of a milk crate" after the 19-year-old was caught sitting on one. Taveras told reporters the partner of the officer who ticketed him offered some consoling words: "It's not a big deal. The judge will throw it out anyway."

New York's arcane traffic laws provide a seemingly endless source of tickets. Nicole Rapaccuiolo totaled her car only blocks from her Queens home. When she left it parked in front of her house pending a visit from an insurance adjuster, she was ticketed for having a broken headlight on three consecutive days. Erika Gross was pulled over and handed two speeding tickets at once: One charged her with speeding in a posted zone, the other for speeding in an unposted zone less than two miles down the road. Jacob Walzer owes the city $55 for his "improperly displayed plates" because he never bothered to remove a license plate frame bearing the name of the dealership where he'd purchased the car.

There's money in trash as well. Sanitation cops reportedly handed out a flurry of tickets after roaming through one Queens neighborhood picking through trash bags in search of stray recyclables mixed with ordinary garbage. Lorena DeLuca was even fined for putting her trash in the blue plastic bags formerly used for recycling glass, even though New York no longer recycles glass.

An informal survey conducted by the Daily News found that 65 percent of cops whose duties include writing summonses report feeling either "some" or "a lot" of pressure to issue more tickets. Of 95 officers asked whether they had written tickets they knew would be thrown out of court (if challenged), more than a third replied that they had.