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NEWS > 22 April 2011

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 Article sourced from

New York Times
22 April 2011
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With Computerized System, Preventing the Police From Fixing Traffic Tickets

To prevent police officers from fixing traffic tickets, the Police Department has come up with a system that would be familiar to any grocery store checkout clerk doing inventory.

New tickets are electronically scanned at each stage of their journey — once, twice, three times, and then once more.

The system has been in place since last summer, but was not publicized until a far-ranging investigation of ticket-fixing emerged in the Bronx. The system involves a new summons form complete with electronic bar codes intended to detect diversions.

The tickets are bundled in packages of 20, and each one has six copies, for distribution to everyone from drivers to the Department of Motor Vehicles to station houses and borough police commands.

Before any officer gets a bundle, the tickets in it are scanned by a hand-held device by a supervisor, with each summons number forever linked to that officer’s name.

They are scanned again, immediately after an officer turns each one, or a few, in. They are scanned again before they are taken from a box in each station house by a supervisor for transport and again at borough headquarters.

“If there is a summons that is missing, at any time, there is an investigation,” and the Internal Affairs Bureau, which investigates police misconduct, is notified, said Deputy Inspector Kim Y. Royster, a department spokeswoman. She said that integrity control officers routinely audit the numbers. “The system picks it up right away” if a summons is missing, she said.

The system was created in response to the growing ticket-fixing investigation. It is unclear why the department did not put it to use sooner.

When asked if he believed that ticket-fixing could be a widespread or common practice in the Police Department, Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman, said “it’s certainly not common practice for police officers to engage in such misconduct.”

Of course, all the speculation, and all the layers of security in the new system, are for scraps of paper that nobody wants. The hope is that under the system, no summons can vanish — which is exactly what they have long had a habit of doing, as officers would try to do favors for some who had been ticketed.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said he put a great deal of faith in the new system.

“Once it gets into the system, it would be very hard to fix it, get rid of it, because it’s just — it’s too easy to track,” Mr. Bloomberg said on his weekly radio program on WOR-AM on Friday. “So, if that practice that’s alleged to have taken place did take place, then at least we’re convinced it won’t in the future.”

Those were the mayor’s first extensive comments on the investigation, in which a grand jury in the Bronx is reviewing the suspicion that scores of officers fixed tickets. Dozens of officers could face criminal charges, and hundreds more could face administrative charges, according to people with knowledge of the investigation. The grand jury is looking at tickets issued before the new system went into operation.

“There seems to be a lot of evidence that there was a practice that should not have taken place,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

Much of the inquiry focuses on police-union delegates, who are believed to have acted as conduits for favor requests. The union has fought back, saying that ticket-fixing is a longstanding courtesy, not corruption, and suggesting that over the years many requests came from high-ranking police officials and other notables.

Under the old system, it was possible to discern a ticket’s disappearance, but that would have involved a more painstaking reconstruction. Once the old forms were distributed, someone in each station house was responsible for manually tallying which summons numbers went to which officers.

Officers placed the summonses they issued into a box behind the precinct’s desk officer; now a supervisor does it. If something disappeared, it would have to be discovered manually, “and that would take time,” said Inspector Royster. And the search would begin only “after some report that it was missing.”

An officer can still fix a ticket by intentionally missing the driver’s trial date in court, so that the driver wins by default, something the new ticket-tracking system would not prevent. But officers are leery of such moves because judges can set a second date for a trial, forcing an officer to call in sick two consecutive times, which could raise a red flag or hurt the officer’s performance evaluation.

Officers might also show up and plead ignorance to events that happened months or years earlier, including a driver’s defense, during the hearing. An officer might testify that he had “no independent recollection” of facts that were not outlined in his notes from the traffic stop, said one officer, who insisted on anonymity.


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