Raises some eyebrows…
The arrest of 16 New York City police officers in the Bronx last week, 11 of them for fixing tickets, was bad enough. What added to the outrage was the thuggish behavior of a crowd of off-duty police officers who went to the courthouse to support their accused colleagues. Some chanted “Down with the D.A.!” in reference to Robert Johnson, the Bronx district attorney whose office is prosecuting these cases. Others mocked welfare recipients who were lined up at a benefits office near the courthouse.
Patrick Lynch, the president of the patrolman’s union, tried to excuse illegal ticket-fixing: “A courtesy has now turned into a crime, and that’s wrong.” He said ticket-fixing was conduct “accepted at all ranks for decades.”
If this conduct is part of the police culture, then Commissioner Raymond Kelly needs to do more to end it now. It is a crime to make a ticket summons disappear for friends, relatives and people with connections to other officers. Mr. Johnson said the ticket-fixing had drained between $1 million and $2 million from the city’s coffers.
After the investigation began in 2008, Mr. Kelly began a system for tracking officers’ appearances in court, and last year the department created a new computer system that is supposed to make it difficult to delete a ticket. That’s a start.
Mr. Kelly’s challenge is made more daunting by allegations that the ticket-fixing investigation was plagued by leaks to the police union from the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau. One person indicted was a lieutenant, who worked at Internal Affairs and was charged with leaking wiretap information. Unless the department’s leadership can root out this insidious behavior, the anticorruption bureau can’t possibly do its job.
For Mr. Kelly, the past week was an embarrassment. Eight current and former officers were separately charged in federal court with smuggling illegal firearms into the city. The ticket-fixing scandal is another stain on the department’s reputation. Not only does it further undermine public trust, but it could jeopardize hundreds of cases in which the accused officers are crucial witnesses.
It is time for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Commissioner Kelly and the union leaders to make sure the police live by the laws they are supposed to enforce.