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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Police Chief Denies Knowledge of Ticket Fixes

Tuffey had knowledge of sticker system
Chief: Decals meant just to ID union members
The Albany Times Union by JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST AND BRENDAN J. LYONS - March 31, 2009

ALBANY, NY -- Police Chief James Tuffey acknowledged Monday that he not only knew about but initiated yellow-and-blue decals distributed by the police union he once led. But the chief told city lawmakers there was no understanding the stickers would serve as a coded message to parking enforcement officers. Tuffey's revelation under oath before a special Common Council investigative committee was the first acknowledgement by a high-ranking city official that he or she was aware of the decals. Over the last five months, Tuffey has denied knowledge of the stickers used by police union members to avoid parking tickets, but never publicly made a distinction between the older stickers issued when he was president and the new ones. Tuffey, testifying under oath, told the Common Council Monday that the blue-and-gold stickers were not used to avoid parking fines, only to show membership in the union. "I started the blue-and-gold. We bought one version of them, and then we went to lapel pins" in 1994, said Tuffey, who served as union president between 1980 and 1994 for all but 10 months. But near the end of his testimony, under questioning from council members, he said each officer received two yellow-and-blue stickers because they might have more than one car they drove to court. "Again, we were using our personal cars to go to court,'' he said.

Yet Tuffey, who left the department in 1995 and returned as chief in 2005, said he had no knowledge that the police union replaced the blue-and-yellow stickers with numbered red and blue stickers known as bull's eyes in the late 1990s. He also said that as chief he was "absolutely ... not aware'' the stickers were being used by members of his police force, and others, to receive tens of thousands of no-fine parking tickets. The former detective and union president had previously said he only first learned of those stickers when the Times Union revealed their existence in November and that, in many cases, they were being used to afford unsanctioned parking courtesies to police officers, their friends and family. Those courtesies came in the form of no-fine or warning tickets, which look like official city summonses but which carried no penalties.

Tuffey said he first learned about another privileged parking system, a special "VIP" list held in police department computers that exempted specific vehicles from fines, when he received a no-fine or "ghost" ticket in 2006 in front of City Hall. Tuffey said he later instructed a commander to add a plate to the VIP list of a person who works for the state Liquor Authority. When he joined the force in 1975, Tuffey testified, there were no parking meters, let alone no-fine parking tickets, Tuffey said officers required to testify in court often drove their own cars. But rather than rely on the stickers to dodge tickets, he said, they often put their business cards or police patches in the window a tactic that, at least in his case, often didn't even work. "If they gave (officers) a courtesy, they did. If not they took it up to the traffic division" to have the ticket adjudicated, Tuffey said. Tuffey's testimony followed that of city Treasurer Betty Barnette and two of her aides, in which Barnette staunchly repeated earlier denials that her office, which oversees parking fine collected, ever knew about the system. Barnette appeared with James Van Apeldorn, director of the Parking Violations Bureau, and Andrew Sterling, a computer specialist in the office.

"My knowledge of that system came on the morning I read it in the Times Union," said Barnette, who, along with Van Apeldorn and Sterling, appeared with attorney Brian Devane. Still unresolved is how the no-fine tickets issued by parking enforcement were apparently filtered out in police computers before they were sent to City Hall as well as who started the second, bull's-eye sticker system. Barnette said the computer system in her office would be incapable of processing a ticket that carried no violation code or fine. Current union President Christian Mesley declined the council's invitation to testify earlier this month and could still face a subpoena if lawmakers are intent on hearing from him. They are expected to discuss where their probe heads next on Wednesday night. Jordan Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at

Tuffey's remarks
  • Nov. 13: ''What bull's-eyes? ... There's no policy here on that, I can tell you, that I know about. ... If there's something out there that's been abused I'm going to deal with it,'' Tuffey told the Times Union.
  • Nov. 14: Tuffey tells the newspaper coded stickers were issued through the police officers' union. He pledges a departmental order stating the stickers are not sanctioned and suspending all ghost ticketing.
  • Nov. 15: Times Union publishes first story on ghost tickets. From the article: ''Tuffey said he was unaware of the bull's-eye stickers, which are visible on the windshields of dozens -- if not hundreds -- of cars around the city, including many vehicles parked at police headquarters.''
  • Dec. 10: Tuffey discusses origin of ghost tickets at Common Council Public Safety Committee meeting. ''I stopped it as soon as I found it out, as soon as it was brought to my attention,'' Tuffey said. ''The union did it. The union gave it out. ... The people are all gone and that's what I'm trying to reach back to some of those people to find out how it actually started. ... I'm going back and trying to talk to an official who may have knowledge of this.''
  • Dec. 10: During post-meeting interview Times Union reporter Cathleen Crowley asks Tuffey how long the system has been in place. ''Fifteen or 20 years,'' Tuffey said. ''And you hadn't heard of it before this?'' Crowley asked. ''The bullets? No,'' Tuffey responded. ''I've been gone. I was gone. Did you know that?''
  • Dec. 12: Times Union reports Tuffey said he had ''nothing to do with'' the bull's-eye stickers, which many officers call ''bullets.'' ''When I came back here I knew nothing about these tickets being issued,'' Tuffey said. ''I got them on my car ... but that's the chief's car. I didn't know that they issued thousands of these.''
  • Feb. 6: Times Union reports ''Police Chief James W. Tuffey and Mayor Jerry Jennings both said they were unaware that cars with the bull's-eye stickers had been receiving free parking tickets dating to the early 1990s.''
  • Monday: Tuffey said he was aware of the original blue-and-yellow stickers used by the union when he was president but unaware that numbered red-and-blue stickers had been used since the late 1990s by officers and others to avoid parking fines.

Bull's-eye points

Chief James W. Tuffey said he was president of the union when these yellow-and-blue bull's-eye stickers were given to city police officers, who used them to attend court. Tuffey said he had no knowledge as police chief that the numbered stickers were being used by officers to avoid parking fines. These stickers were issued by the police union.

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