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Feifer & Greenberg, LLP
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Row of NYPD police cars
14 Mar2017

The Issue with PBA Cards in NYC

The City of New York employs the biggest police force in the nation, with nearly 35,000 uniformed officers on the payroll. For better or worse Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to increase that number under his Vision Zero Initiative. While more cops patrolling may cut down on traffic violations, it also means more people are legally allowed to get a card from 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.”

Often, that means getting off with a warning — or less — for violations like speeding or running a red light. But 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?

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, 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.

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 know the officer who issued the card, and that officer isn’t on their bad list.

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

Where You Can Get a PBA Card

So, you aren’t a politician with connections or 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 authentic cards, and therefore officers have no idea whether they are real 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. As such, plastic cards are being honored less and less by officers.

While you may have come by your PBA card honestly, it may not be enough to get you out of a ticket. 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.