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14 Mar2017


The Issue with PBA Cards in NYC

The City of New York employs a very large police force with nearly 35,000 uniformed officers on the payroll. Current Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to increase that number under his Vision Zero Initiative. While there are many different considerations with respect to increasing the force and some may be for and some against, one thing is true for sure–more officers means more people are legally allowed to get a card from and signifying support for the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association or other police union, a.k.a. a PBA card.

This card can often act as a “get out of jail free” card for minor traffic violations. They are often given to close friends and family of police officers, as well as connected politicians and other VIPs. On the card is printed something like: “The bearer of this card is a supporter of the PBA, and you should try to extend every courtesy possible.”

In the past, that often meant getting off with a warning — or less — for minor violations like speeding or running a red light. But does it still now? And should it? 

There has been increasing dissonance when it comes to citizens using PBA cards, whether it’s because they are becoming easier to get or because they are an abuse of officer power. But do PBA cards even work? And should they be in the wallets of New Yorkers?

In our experience, a PBA card can only make a minor difference, and only in very specific situations. No matter what strategies you use to attempt to dissuade an officer, they may still issue you a ticket. If this happens to you, you can learn the legal strategies you may be able to use to fight your ticket during a free, no-obligation consultation. Call Feifer & Greenberg, LLP today at (888) 842-5384, or contact us online to schedule your free appointment now.

The Effectiveness of PBA Cards

If you ask a cop whether having a PBA card really does get you out of tickets, more likely than not you’ll get a harsh look (or, depending on the cop, a citation for disturbing the peace) in response. But, in practice, using a PBA card can be hit or miss. There are plenty of factors that go into whether an officer honors your card or not.

First, for many issuers, there are tiers of cards. Silver cards are the highest honor given to citizens. It’s almost universally honored by officers, and can also help save money on insurance. Gold PBA cards are only given to police officers and their families. You’d be hard-pressed finding a cop who won’t honor a gold card, provided it is a genuine indicator of being a member of the police force or at least a relative.

The lowest tier of cards are simple plastic, and these are the most common type seen for resale online. A regular plastic card is sometimes honored in the same town or neighboring town as where you got pulled over — if there isn’t a feud going on between the police departments. If all is well, the cop will sometimes honor it if they happen to know the officer who issued the card— and that officer is on good terms with them.

But are the plastic cards even worth carrying? With a recent influx of them available, it may not be.

Where You Can Get a PBA Card

So, you aren’t a politician with connections, nor do you have a cop in the family. You can still get a PBA card — and that’s become an issue for the NYPD. PBA cards are easily available on eBay (31 results for “NYPD PBA card” as of the date of this publication) and other eCommerce sites. They are often authentic cards, and therefore officers have no idea whether they are legitimately issued to someone connected with the police department or not. Nor do you have to have a card dated this year for it to potentially work. What’s more, selling the cards isn’t actually illegal; it’s just heavily frowned upon by police unions. 

Alleged Benefits of a PBA Card

The prevailing myth is that flashing a PBA card of any type can instantly convince an officer to bid you a good day, turn heel, and leave after issuing you a warning. Some people even consider them “Get Out of Jail Free” cards.

The truth is much more complicated and inconsistent. If your card actually does connect you to a specific organization that the officer is familiar with, they may take the card as a sign that you aren’t going to cause them trouble. This may reduce the chances that they will have “reasonable suspicion” to search you, but that result is far from guaranteed. Some officers may even take the card as a sign of disrespect. It also may make them worry about being accused of corruption.

At very least, the presence of a card is supposed to show that you have a relationship with a specific officer – or several – in the stated organization. If the officer approaching you is familiar with the person you claim to know or at very least the organization itself, it may possibly help relax their demeanor, if nothing else.

Different Types of PBA Cards

There are many different types of PBA cards, especially as their issuance has become more common, and imitations abound. Many bear the image of a badge, a kneeling LEO, American flags, and other typical hyper-patriotic imagery. Some even come with a type of physical badge.

Any official PBA card is issued by an actual police union or “fraternal order” organization. It should, ideally, bear the symbol of the local municipal police department or relevant precinct. That way, the officer knows who issued it and what the actual connection to their line of work is.

Many cards bear a “Family Member” logo, and these are supposed to only be legitimately issued to the immediate family of member officers. Some organizations will also issue a silver card to honored non-law-enforcement citizens.

How Often Do PBA Cards Actually Work?

As mentioned above, plastic PBA cards are being issued and sold more often. There has also been an increasing glut of “unofficial” (some might even say counterfeit) PBA card products.

Collectively, the current circumstances mean that plastic cards are being honored less and less by officers. As the cards become more common and the tactics for wiggling out of trouble using them become more brazen, many officers have become jaded by the sight of someone presenting the card in an effort to escape a citation.

Know that while you may have come by your PBA card honestly, it may not be enough to get you out of a ticket. It is always up to the officer’s discretion whether or not to issue a ticket, given their judgment of the situation. They also have the right to issue a warning after observing certain violations. Some officers report that seeing the card can put them at ease, but there’s always the chance the card was found “on the floor of a men’s room.” Some officers may even become indignant after being presented with what they might interpret as an attempt to persuade them to shirk their professional duties.

On the whole, there is no way to estimate how often PBA cards actually result in reduced or dropped charges. What we can say is that they are not likely to make a difference in a situation where an officer has witnessed a potential violation and intends to issue a citation before even speaking to the alleged perpetrator.

If you are issued a traffic citation in New York, you have legal rights. Before paying that ticket, contact the attorneys at Feifer & Greenberg today for a free consultation. To schedule your free case review, call us now at (888) 842-5384, or contact us online.