THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 439, October 14, 2007
"Yet another good reason to avoid world government."
Free Parking for Me, but Not for Thee
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
For the nearly 20 years I have lived and worked in New York City, one of my biggest pet peeves has been the double standard by which parking regulations are enforcedand for most of those years, I didn't even own a car. Anyone who has ever tried to navigate a sidewalk near a police precinct knows what I'm talking about. Cops feel their badge is a license to park their cars wherever they want, on-duty or off-duty. Middle of the sidewalk, no problem. Blocking an intersection, no problem. Blocking a fire hydrant, no problem.
Firefighters and bureaucrats from other city agencies are just as bad about flouting the law, and the police do nothing about it. All these government employees have "permits" inside their windshields that exempt them from certain parking regulations under limited circumstances, but the permits are widely abused to break the law outright. It is never legal, for example, to block a fire hydrant, regardless of any permit in the windshield. If you or I tried parking in front of a hydrant for just a minute while running into a drycleaner, the tow truck would be there before you got your change.
The response of average New Yorkers to this double standard has been to grumble and shrug. It's one of those only-in-New-York problems that "you can't do anything about," like squeegee men at the tunnels used to be.
All that is slowly changing with the recent launch of UncivilServants.org, the muckraking website from Transportation Alernatives. Truth be told, there is little else on the Transportation Alternatives agenda I agree with, but for this project I think they deserve one of those McArthur genius grants.
The format of UncivilServants.org is all very Web 2.0. The site relies on a community of volunteers to spot government employees violating parking regulations, take a digital photo, and upload the evidence. With dozens of new posts each day, UncivilServants.org is a testament both to the power of virtual communities and the pervasiveness of the scofflaw mentality among New York's Finest, Bravest, Strongest, Boldest and other dubious superlatives.
One of the website's most worthwhile achievements has been simply to set the record straight on just what privileges actually come with one of those official parking permits. The system has been abused for so long and so widely that many ordinary New Yorkers erroneously believe that the police may legally park wherever they wish.
As UncivilServants.org explains, the official rules regarding parking permits may seem complex at first, but they really boil down to some commonsense (by government standards) guidelines:
The site includes a handy quick-reference chart that can help you quickly figure out which permits allow parking in which areas.
To be fair, not all of the permit abuse is perpetrated by government employees, although they are by far the most egregious offenders. Spend just a few minutes scrolling through the recent posts on UncivilServants.org, and you'll see a fair share of Press, Clergy and Doctor permits being used to scam illegal parking spots, often with the same car parked in the same illegal spot for days on end.
The genesis of UncivilServants.org was a recent comprehensive report by Transportation Alternatives, entitled "Above the Law: A Study of Government Parking Permit Abuse in New York City." The report found that "citywide more than 3 out of every 4 permit holders (77%) used their permits illegally."
Not surprisingly, the police are the worst at breaking the law they get paid to uphold. Cops are responsible for 46% of all permit abuse, according to the Transportation Alternatives study, by far the most of any city agency. Lest anyone think this is just anti-cop liberal bias, the NYPD's own data are just as damning. In a July 2006 analysis of the Park Row street closure around One Police Plaza, the NYPD identified "1,217 cars parked illegally [around police headquarters] . . . Of those, 1,012 were private commuter vehicles with city-issued permits."
Other highlights of the Transportation Alternatives report:
All told, Transportation Alternatives estimates there about 150,000 "valid" permits in vehicles around the city (almost half of which are used illegally at any given time), and untold thousands of other illegal photocopies or outright forgeries. With so many targets out there, it's not surprising the UncivilServants.org user community is able to update the site so frequently with new outrages.
Of course, not everyone who posts to the website is a fan of the project. It also attracts a lot of cops who are livid that any of the serfs have the temerity to question their privileged status. It's never smart to provoke a copdeservedly or notin person, but on the web it can be great fun to watch them froth with rage.
One of the most frequent users is someone who identifies himself as "bklyncop1." I swear if you look closely at his posts, you can feel his saliva spraying through your computer monitor. In one post that was quoted in the New York Times, bklyncop1 wrote, "I understand you all feel like we take advantage, but look past the parking issue and look at the bright side . . . You wouldn't be on this site without the N.Y.P.D. protecting your lives and property. God bless America and God bless the N.Y.P.D.!!!"
Another retired cop posting on the site was even more blunt about both his sense of privilege and his regard for those who pay his pension (quoted verbatim):
"I have no intentions of ever parking legally whenever I am in NYC. It is a perk that has been in standard practice since the end of time. It is not the officer's fault that the NYPD does not supply enough legal parking for its workers. Where are the garages? This is the main reason police officers are given the parking plaques in the first place. I put my life on the line for the ungreatful scum of this city and this is how they repay us. Screw you and your whining, I put up with this for over 20 yrs and now I am owed a certain perk. Yes, I am retired 2 yrs and yes I have a current parking plaque. I answer to no one now that I am retired and thanks to the brotherhood of blue I am assured that I can park anywhere I want with impunity. Every cop in the city is on the same page. We do not summons our own. Take as many pictures of my auto as you like because I answer to no one. God bless retirement and godbless the NYPD!"
To their credit, not everyone in the police department is so defiant, at least on the record. Whether due to heat generated by UncivilServants.org or a rare streak of moral responsibility, at least one commanding officer is cracking down on permit abuse under his watch. Streetsblog.org, another site dedicated to NYC traffic issues, recently reported that Deputy Inspector Gin Yee, commanding officer of the 5th Precinct in Chinatown, has actually started towing away illegally parked cars near the stationhouse, permits be damned.
However, other cops remain unrepentant. As of this writing, the top post on UncivilServants.org is from bklyncop1, who reiterates: "I've stated a lot of times that people who post pictures on this site are either Cop haters or just jealous."
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