The New York Post by Brad Hamilton - March 4, 2012
The NYPD is so worried about ticket fixing that it has sent teams of Internal Affairs Bureau investigators to traffic court to spy on officers as they testify — and dock the pay or vacation days of cops who lose cases. The new system, devised by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly last year after the ticket-fixing scandal, permanently stations IAB investigators at each of the city’s eight traffic courts. There are three IAB sergeants at the Manhattan South Traffic Violations Bureau, at 19 Rector St., the city’s busiest, where they watch officers’ every move to make sure cops aren’t tanking cases to help out friends or family. The IAB team also listens to proceedings without being in the hearing rooms, which are wired with microphones. Undercover officers observe. Cops deemed to not have performed well risk losing as many as 10 vacation days or two weeks pay, sources said. “They manage this through a spirit of fear,” said one veteran cop. “Maybe the officer doesn’t present his testimony good enough. So they say, ‘OK, we’re going to take a week’s pay from you.’ ” The result is higher conviction rates — and a tense atmosphere in which officers sometimes falsify their notes and don’t tell the truth in court to avoid being punished, police and defense lawyers say. Defense lawyers say sympathetic judges even coach cops on what to say. “They see these cops every day, and they get to know them,” said one. “If a guy’s going to get into trouble, it’s, like, ‘I don’t want to let that happen.’ ” Statistics obtained by The Post show that each of the six judges in Manhattan South logged a higher percentage of guilty verdicts last year than in 2010. Judge Mark Harris had the highest conviction rate — 65.4 percent, up 9 percent over 2010. Judge Claudio Collins went from 44.9 to 61.8 percent. The mounting stress has encouraged cops to fudge evidence, both sides say. “Officers aren’t being honest because they are under this tremendous pressure,” said defense lawyer Lauren Asher Rosenthal. “It’s had this chilling effect.” Said another attorney: “They turned good cops into lying cops.” One officer admitted to The Post that he lied in a recent case in which a driver contested a ticket for failing to signal a lane change. The motorist told a judge that his signal light wasn’t working, and he presented a repair bill showing the light had been fixed soon after the ticket was issued. When the judge asked the cop if he’d checked at the scene to make sure the light was working, the officer falsely claimed he’d done so — and promptly won the case. “It didn’t really bother me to say it. There’s no f--king way I’m losing my vacation over a vehicle summons,” the cop said. Lawyer Stacy Posner said she spotted a cop scribbling notes about a ticket right before being called to testify. “When I asked when he made those notes, he said it was at the time of the summons. So I asked for the memo book and ran my finger down the notes. The ink came off on my finger. I still didn’t win.”
You just can’t win
How hard is it to win in traffic court? Hard — and getting much harder. A probe by a veteran traffic-court defense lawyer revealed spiking guilty rates for the six judges who hear cases at the Manhattan South bureau on Rector Street, the city’s busiest. Each convicted a higher percentage of drivers who argued cases against cops last year than in 2010, according to DMV stats that the lawyer received through a Freedom of Information request. This comes following an NYPD crackdown that docks officers’ pay and vacation time if they make mistakes in court. Most are well known to judges, who might be sympathetic to their plight.
Here’s the scorecard: