The New York Times by AL BAKER and JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN - April 19, 2011
As scores of police officers, supervisors and union officials are investigated for fixing tickets in the Bronx, the Sergeants Benevolent Association — the powerful union for the Police Department’s 12,000 front-line supervisors — has started a campaign arguing that the practice, while widespread, is one of courtesy, not corruption. Edward D. Mullins, the president of the sergeants’ union, has recorded an audio message calling on current and retired members of the force, across all ranks, to come forward with testimonials about the beneficiaries of ticket-fixing. He said he expected to find evidence that politicians, prosecutors, clergy members, business leaders, celebrities, athletes and others have been among those who have had tickets fixed, often with the help of top police officials. The move is a striking public frontal assault on the investigation by the union, even though the inquiry itself has never been officially acknowledged by law enforcement officials, and no charges have been filed. Mr. Mullins said in an interview that his aim was to highlight a culture of courtesy that had been the norm since the inception of the summons. But it could also serve to embarrass or even implicate public officials or others who have asked police officers to do them a little favor and make a ticket go away. “For nearly two months, members of the N.Y.P.D. have been attacked by the media and placed under public scrutiny for allegations of tampering with tickets,” Mr. Mullins says in the message, according to a transcript that a spokesman said would be posted on the union Web site Tuesday night. Mr. Mullins goes on: “However, the portrayal of some members of the department being involved in a major corruption ring of ticket-fixing for favors to which labor organizations discreetly approve is ludicrous.” Since the whiff of the ticket-fixing scandal emerged on a wiretap in a separate police corruption inquiry last year, the Internal Affairs Bureau and the office of the Bronx district attorney, Robert T. Johnson, have interviewed dozens of officers, set up layers of surveillance and identified several high-profile targets, according to several people with direct knowledge of the case. Though the inquiry is centered on the Bronx, according to one law enforcement official, it could spread to other boroughs. Roughly two dozen officers could face criminal charges and hundreds more could face internal administrative sanctions, officials have said.
Steven Reed, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, had no comment on the sergeants’ union’s characterization of the investigation as a witch hunt against rank-and-file officers. “They can put out whatever statement they want,” Mr. Reed said. “We have neither confirmed nor denied any investigation.” Mr. Mullins’s message is about three-and-a-half minutes long, according to Robert E. Mladinich, a union spokesman said. Mr. Mladinich said the sergeants’ union did not check with other unions about the campaign. Mr. Mullins, in claiming that the ticket-fixing did not qualify as corruption, said he had never heard of an officer’s taking a bribe in exchange for fixing a ticket. He said it might be time to change the department’s culture, but argued against any move to criminalize its longstanding behavior. In addition, Mr. Mullins said that requests to make tickets disappear often came from high places, and that in some cases, officers were just trying to please senior commanders. “These phone calls were as much a part of the culture of the department as arresting criminals,” he said. Mr. Mullins cited a news account to raise a question about whether the department’s longstanding chief of Internal Affairs had participated in the practice by voiding a summons given to the chief surgeon. But Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman, said that the chief, Charles V. Campisi, never voided a ticket for the surgeon. “Under I.A.B.’s program of placard enforcement, a vehicle assigned to the chief surgeon was summonsed and towed, and the chief surgeon paid the fine,” Mr. Browne said. Because of their connections across precincts in the city, police union delegates have long been the go-to people for officers seeking to have tickets fixed. Now, several union leaders have expressed outrage that they will take the brunt of disciplinary action for a practice that they characterize as departmentwide. Some lawyers described the fixing of tickets as criminal if it involved the destruction or obfuscation of government records. To some officers, ticket-fixing has always seemed risky. One supervisor — who insisted on anonymity because of not being authorized to speak publicly on the matter — recalled a time more than a decade ago when, in seeking to erase a summons, a colleague in the highway unit took offense, and Internal Affairs investigated. “I tried it once, and I got burned,” the supervisor said. “When I told people my story after, they said, ‘Well, you should have gone to the delegate,’ but to me, I was like, ‘I am never doing that again.’ ”