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16 Jul2010

NYPD traffic agent issues traffic ticket for no good reason

On June 14, Queens Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Queens) observed an NYPD Traffic Agent, Daniel Chu, speeding through a stop sign with his police lights flashing. Halloran tailed Chu and stopped to snap photos of him parked illegally in front of a Dunkin’ Donuts in Whitestone, Queens. Chu yelled at Halloran and wrote issued him a ticket for blocking a crosswalk.

After Halloran complained about Chu’s behavior, Chu confessed to driving recklessly while talking on a cell phone and was disciplined. Chu’s been forced to say goodbye to the vehicle he’s pictured with above and has been demoted to foot patrol. He is required to undergo retraining at the Police Academy, which includes sensitivity training. He also faces several days’ docked pay.

Yesterday, the traffic ticket issued to Halloran was dismissed.

After the story found it’s way into the news, Halloran was bombarded with calls and e-mails from motorists claiming to have been wrongly ticketed by Chu. Halloran is still calling for a review of every ticket the agent wrote.

While a review of such closed traffic ticket matters is unlikely in my opinion, this story raises a couple of interesting points:

1. Thousands of “spite” tickets are written every year to people who verbally challenge an officer, pass an officer’s vehicle, drive too close to an officer’s vehicle or otherwise behave in a manner that results in the issuance of a traffic ticket where no real ticket-worthy violation was committed. It’s an outright abuse of power.

2. It takes a complaint from a Councilman to get anyone to listen. The vast majority of complaints made by people who were issued traffic tickets are blown off by officials as sour grapes.

3. If a complaint from a rich or otherwise powerful person is much more likely to be acted on than complaints from “ordinary” ticket recipients, enforcement officers decrease their chances of getting disciplined by pulling over taxi drivers, less expensive cars and less “connected looking” motorists in general. Why pull over the guy in the expensive BMW who may have the ear of some city official when you can pull over someone who barely speaks English and in unlikely to initiate any kind of effective complaint at all?

4. NOT ALL POLICE OFFICERS ISSUE BAD TICKETS. This type of story gets people cynical about enforcement officers. I’ve appeared against hundreds at traffic hearings and spoken to many off the record. Most simply issue tickets when the see blatant violations and tell the truth in court and that’s that. Behavior like Daniel Chu’s is way more the exception than rule. Unfortunately, most of the tickets that are written for the wrong reasons ultimately end up in convictions as traffic judges have little incentive or means to determine that an officer completely fabricated a charge.

Submitted by Scott Feifer