Gersh Kuntzman

Let’s Call the Parking Police on the NYPD

Gersh Kuntzman

April 20, 2023

The department’s disdain for basic civility is a public safety problem

The department’s disdain for basic civility is a public safety problem

Chaos. Filth. Danger. Disrespect.

These are the hallmarks of the roadways around New York City’s 77 police station houses because of the manner in which the NYPD enables both the low-level corruption of its own officers and the worst aspects of car culture.

Anyone who has ever walked or biked past an NYPD station house immediately intuits the disquieting mix of police entitlement and official indifference: Roads that feature a normal configuration of cars neatly parallel parked against the curb suddenly give way to an anarchy of official police vehicles and officers’ personal cars double-parked, parked at hydrants and bus stops, or even parked perpendicular to the curb, half in the street, half on the sidewalk — a configuration colloquially known as “combat parking.”

The term belies decades of copaganda about “community policing”; the resulting lawlessness of the streetscape not only makes the roadway statistically more dangerous, but sends the message that the NYPD is not a benign local force committed to understanding its neighbors, but an occupying force ready to jump into squad cars and peel off into “combat.” Surely there are times police officers do have to race to crime scenes, but if the NYPD truly strengthened bonds with the neighborhoods they serve, such instances would be rarer.

Over the past four years, I have spent considerable time documenting the gateway drug for this abject disrespect for communities.

In the 84th Precinct in Downtown Brooklyn, officers’ personal cars are combat-parked to completely eliminate a sidewalk on Prince Street.

In the 110th Precinct in Elmhurst, Queens, police officers’ personal vehicles ring the 43rd Avenue station house with such disregard for neighbors that the officers park in residents’ driveways, even those with massive “NO PARKING” signs on them. Cops have even painted lines where they will double-park — the message being that neighbors should not take the spaces against the curb because they will be locked in all day.

In the 84th Precinct in Downtown Brooklyn, officers’ personal cars are combat-parked to completely eliminate a sidewalk on Prince Street, forcing any would-be pedestrians to use the other side, which for several years now has featured a dangerous construction site. Cops also park their personal vehicles in the entranceway of a nearby housing complex, depriving locals of spots; in the median of Tillary Street, which the city once redesigned to make more attractive, yet isn’t; and under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, which has become a muddy field. My analysis of this dumping ground led to one man: 84th Precinct commander Adeel Rana, whose personal car’s driving record indicates a complete disregard for the city he is supposedly protecting and serving: 16 school zone speeding tickets and two red light tickets in less than three and a half years.

And at the 75th Precinct in Brooklyn’s East New York, where police ought to be going out of their way to nurture effective partnerships with the people they’re sworn to serve, cops add a pernicious twist: They’ve commandeered several parking lots that are zoned residential. Of course, they also combat-park their vehicles and leave junked cars on both sides of the Sutter Avenue station house. The resulting blocks are strewn with garbage, and the cars narrow the two-way roadway so that buses have difficulty passing.

No wonder peak speeds last month on the B14 route averaged less than 6 mph, according to the MTA’s bus dashboard. That’s 43% below the citywide average.

“The 75th Precinct is the worst of the worst,” the area’s councilman, Charles Barron, told me last week. “It has been abusive to my community. But this is of course true in all precincts.”

Barron doesn’t think anything will change. “Not with Mayor Cop, Eric Adams, it won’t change,” he said, spitting out his derogation of the mayor.

Barron said he’s working with the East New York Community Land Trust to take the lots away from the NYPD.

The group’s report of the NYPD’s land grab in the neighborhood, “Black Paper #1: Redistributing the Land Resources of the NYPD in East New York and Across NYC,” details how four parking lots adjacent to the station house could be housing people, not cars.

Two of the lots were slated under the East New York Urban Renewal Plan for more than 1,300 single-family Nehemiah Homes. Another lot was targeted for 37 two-family homes as part of a different urban renewal plan.

If it was just parking spaces that the officers were taking up, perhaps it could be papered over with some other positive community benefit, but in my years of covering street safety issues, I have found that NYPD cops can be among the worst drivers in town. In 2019, I ran the plates on hundreds of police officers’ private cars at dozens of precinct houses and found that nearly 60% of police officers had at least one moving violation — and 38% had repeated moving violations. Those numbers are roughly double those found on a typical residential street in New York City.

The investigation led to a promise by then-Mayor Bill de Blasio to revoke parking privileges for officers with multiple tickets for reckless driving. To date, that promise has never been enforced.

In another analysis, I crunched the numbers on crash data and discovered that the chaos of roadways around precinct houses, coupled with the driving records of officers themselves, resulted in more crashes on the precinct block than on neighboring blocks.

In Manhattan, the average precinct block had more than double the crashes — 118% more, in fact — than the blocks on either side of the station house. In Brooklyn, it was triple. And in Queens, it was even more than triple — 232% more crashes, to be exact.

Only four out of the 77 precincts in the city — the 62nd in Bensonhurst, the 90th in Greenpoint, and the Fifth and 23rd in Manhattan — had fewer crashes on the block in front of the station house. 

It is worth noting, of course, that 51% of NYPD cops live in the suburbs. And an even larger majority of cops drive to work every day, enabled by a police car culture that values the comfort and convenience of “heroic” officers over requiring city workers to live in a manner similar to the people they serve.

It is easy for politicians to defend the driving of cops, who work weird hours in many far-flung neighborhoods that do not have optimal transit. But the majority of officers have chosen to live in the suburbs, which themselves were created by previous generations of New Yorkers who also wanted to get away from the city. Changing this dynamic should be a public policy goal, not a collective shrug.

Having free parking at their workplace is not the only way cops are bolstered in their feeling of entitlement. Recently, I have started documenting instances of drivers who cover or otherwise obscure their license plates to avoid speed cameras, which is proliferating thanks to two connected phenomena: more speed cameras and less NYPD enforcement against speeding.

Cops who cover their plates are sending a very visible message to their neighbors: We are not beholden to the law.

Many civilians employ this strategy, most notably a guy I call “Leaf Man” because of his plate cover of choice and whose plate I defoliated five times over the winter. But the majority of the people whose plates were defaced or covered were cops.

I gave a list of 12 such officers to the NYPD to see if any had been disciplined; none had. (It's awfully ironic that some of the cops who are seeking to evade accountability or to pay tolls they can afford are the same ones busting poor fare beaters in the subway.) 

Just as they do when they park haphazardly, leave garbage everywhere and drive recklessly, cops who cover their plates are sending a very visible message to their neighbors: We are not beholden to the law — in this case, the law of paying for traffic tickets that the regular folk have to pay or risk getting their car seized…by cops.

Recently, a noted academic visited all precincts and confirmed all of these findings in a research paper for the august journal Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives.

University of California instructor of City and Regional Planning Marcel Moran said he was astounded by the parking practices he saw.

"This behavior corrodes trust and goodwill towards the NYPD," Moran told me. "It's a type of disrespect to the city and to its residents. It poisons the well of people's ability to trust the department.”

That toxic well seems to be on Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell’s clean-up list. Earlier this year, Sewell announced the latest in a failed, multi-commissioner effort to address police-community relations. She calls her campaign “The First 15,” a reference to the first 15 seconds or first 15 minutes of interaction between cops and their neighbors.

Nothing concrete has been rolled out yet, but after all of my coverage, and after Moran’s academic paper came out, I asked the NYPD what it is doing to solve the disrespect of its parking problem. An agency spokesperson who declined to be identified (!) claimed that the NYPD listens to communities — but in the very next sentence suggested no solution is forthcoming.

“It is difficult due to the number of persons who work in a precinct and the amount of parking available,” the spokesperson said. “We recognize that this is a challenge and remain committed to addressing these community concerns.”

There is literally no evidence that this is true.