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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cops Will Monitor Courts for Ticket-Fixers

New Police Unit Will Monitor City Courts for Ticket-Fixing
The New York Times by Joseph Goldstein - May 18, 2011

Investigators from the Internal Affairs Bureau will be assigned to monitor the city’s traffic courts in an effort to determine whether police officers are intentionally losing cases as favors to colleagues, police officials said Wednesday. The formation of this unit, the Court Monitoring Unit, is the latest step by the Police Department to address concerns that a pervasive culture of ticket-fixing exists within the department. An investigation by the office of the Bronx district attorney has found evidence that police officers sometimes ask their union delegates to help get rid of traffic tickets received by friends or relatives. Various methods for fixing a ticket emerged in wiretapped conversations. In one situation, a union delegate would try to find an officer in the precinct who was willing to pull the ticket from the summons box. The department tried to end that practice last summer, when it began electronically scanning each summons to identify those that disappeared after being issued. Police officers can also make a ticket disappear by encouraging the officer who wrote it to throw the case once it goes to court, according to interviews with people following the Bronx grand jury investigation. An officer can do that by failing to show up, by altering testimony or by claiming forgetfulness. Speaking at a City Council hearing on Wednesday, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said he was forming the new unit “in response to disturbing indications that some police officers failed to appear or otherwise willfully undermined a case in court.” Investigators from the new unit will therefore spend some of their time in courtrooms observing cases, said the Police Department’s chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne. He said investigators would look for instances in which officers did not show up or an officer’s testimony raised questions. “If the original incident says one thing, and now a different account is given in court, you’ll have I.A.B. investigating why,” Mr. Browne said. The existence of the grand jury investigation into ticket-fixing has set officers on edge in the Bronx Traffic Violations Bureau, as traffic court is called. “They’re much more nervous about everything than they were before,” said a lawyer practicing in the traffic courts who insisted on anonymity. “They don’t know if they’re being observed, and they’re much more careful.”

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