Southern Brooklyn

Police Are Arresting People Every Day For Minor Infractions

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Should performers sanctioned by the MTA be subject to arrest for drawing a crowd? Photo by Erica Sherman

THE COMMUTETwo weeks ago, I reported on the TWU’s concern for rider and employee safety. However, according to Channel 2 News, instead of focusing on some of the problems regarding safety, such as the accuracy of crime statistics — a major concern among the prospective mayoral candidates — the transit police are endangering rider safety by arresting and jailing riders overnight for infractions that are usually dealt with by handing out summonses.

Have you ever walked between subway cars at the terminal in Brighton Beach? Not only should that not be illegal because it is not dangerous, it can subject you to a $75 fine or, worse yet, land you in jail. So don’t do it unless your life is in danger. However, that is not even the worst of it. When questioned by Channel 2 News, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly had the audacity to defend the arresting officers, calling this a good police practice. And this man was actually asked to run for mayor?

He had several other choices:

  1. He could have condemned the arresting officers and explain they would be re-instructed.
  2. If familiar beforehand with the specific incidents, he could have explained that their actions were justified due to the specific circumstances, such as refusal to accept the summons, or the person becoming belligerent to the officer.
  3. He could have simply stated that it may or may not have been justified and he would investigate those specific cases and report back at a later date.

Any one of those responses would have been satisfactory. Calling it “good police practice” is not.

While it discourages future illegal acts, it also makes riders fearful to ride the subways. Let’s examine the four transit cases highlighted by Channel 2 News. First, there was the case of the passenger given a summons for occupying two seats on a subway train at 1 o’clock in the morning. It is difficult to imagine the train was crowded at that hour, inconveniencing anyone. If the passenger became belligerent or questioned the officer when he began to write the citation, would you not consider that a normal human reaction?

The larger question that must be asked was why a summons was being written in the first place? Was it to fill quotas that the police commissioner steadfastly refuses to admit exists, but officers insist do exist? Part of good police work is the ability to use discretion when enforcing the rules. A warning would have been more than sufficient.

The next case involved someone walking between subway cars, a practice now considered dangerous. In the past, before the advent of air-conditioned cars, that was routine practice. The end doors were not only unlocked, but also kept in the open position during the summertime on some cars to improve ventilation. In fact, every time the nostalgia train operates, the end doors are still kept in the open position, like in olden days, allowing passengers to walk between cars. Why is that allowed, not considered dangerous, and even encouraged on the nostalgia train that operates every December?

Another case involved someone who walked through the fare gates because he had just paid his fare but had realized too late that he had entered the wrong subway. If there was a station agent on duty, he could have easily explained the situation to them. It happened to me once, when I got off the train at the wrong station in Boston at North Station. I needed South Station instead and was allowed back into the station for the same fare after I explained to the agent what had happened. You can’t give logical explanations to a machine, a fact that highlights the importance of human presence in the system.

The passenger was doing what he believed he was justified to do. The officer was apparently not interested in explanations. What would you do if you already paid your fare, exited through the turnstiles, and then found out you cannot get out of the subway station because the exit was locked? As Matt Flegenheimer of The New York Times asked, would you jump the turnstile just to get back into the subway so you do not remain trapped? The MTA believes you should pay another fare.  What if you do not have it?

The final case was a couple arrested for dancing on the platform. How can that be considered dangerous? Well, according to a professor at John Jay College, who defended the police commissioner, it could cause a crowd to form and someone could be bumped down. By enforcing the law, the police are protecting the public, he stated. Not everyone in criminal justice agrees. Others have criticized these arrests as unnecessarily clogging up the courts.

Okay, Mr. Professor, answer me this: Why could they not have just been given a warning? Why was a summons or an arrest necessary? How did arresting them protect the public? If we don’t want crowds to form on the platform because they are so dangerous, why don’t we have enough trains and subway lines so that some platforms do not become overcrowded every single day?

Hold on, I even have a better one for you, Mr. Professor. If we don’t want crowds to form on our platforms, why does the MTA encourage crowds with the Arts for Transit Program, which permits musical acts and other entertainment on mezzanines as well as on subway platforms? Should MTA officials be arrested also?

What about the Polar Bears? Do they not break the law every time they enter the water without a lifeguard? Why wasn’t Borough President Marty Markowitz arrested when he joined them during his first term in office? We cannot have such selective enforcement of the law. You may be a professor, but with all due respect, as my father used to often tell me, “They don’t teach brains in college.”

That couple arrested for dancing sued the city. I do not remember how that specific case was settled, but I am sure it was not the only lawsuit for false imprisonment. There have been many cash settlements for large amounts — money that could have been spent for transit instead of draining funds from the city’s budget.

People want to feel safe on our subways and buses. They don’t want to think that anything they do might subject them to arrest. Is vomiting in a station illegal? If you feel sick and there are no restrooms available, is there really any time to consult the rulebook to find out?

We need to make our mass transit system more accessible and attract and encourage commuters — not scare off potential riders by engaging in practices that discourage its use.

Most look to additional funding as the key to improving mass transit when there is so much that could be done that does not require more money. Several weeks ago, I took the B4 for the first time to the United Artists Theater in Sheepshead Bay. I discovered that, in the northbound direction, there is not even a bus stop to serve the theater. It is required that you must walk an additional 400 feet in addition to the 200 feet already required.

A new bus stop where there is currently a “No Standing” zone could be easily instituted right in front of the Amity School, which would serve that institution as well. Placing a bus stop closer to the theater would impede traffic. I recently made a recommendation for an additional bus stop to the MTA for them to forward to DOT. I am eager to see if it will be accepted, or if the response I will be given is that the current bus stops are adequate because they are within existing walking guidelines of a quarter-mile.

If so, that is not what the bus driver thought, because he allowed my friend to get off between bus stops, closer to the theater, so he would not have to walk so much since he is an elderly gentleman who has difficulty walking. My friend did not even ask for special treatment. That bus driver also broke the rules. Should he have been arrested too?

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

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45 COMMENTS

  1. We must support the police in everything they do! They have a difficult job and must be allowed to accept gratuities, execute motorists, frame innocents, rob straphangers and beat and maim minorities!

    Everyone does something illegal and the police must make sure that they pay- Except for the police… No one has any rights in NY, except the police.

  2. Police are thiefs….Cops are nowadays in legalize extortion business $$$. They could care less about your well being and safety….

  3. How dare you! Surely when you are being beaten, robbed, your wife and children beaten and raped, you home ransacked, your car robbed you call the police since you cannot legally defend yourself and need to make a claim to your insurance company -And when they come three hours or so later you THANK THEM for their report!

    Hypocrite!

  4. Thanks Ned for posting this. I have the high honor of serving on CB 15 for nearly the past decade, but, professionally, I have spent the last 26 years as a Legal Aid Attorney, representing indigent persons charged with crimes. The situation as referenced in your blog and the Channel Two story is even worse. I repeatedly have seen clients arrested, and put through the system for taking up more than one seat on the subway at a time after 1 a.m., when the subway is empty. I have seen clients put through the system for riding their bikes on the sidewalk. That is totally unacceptable.
    Please be aware that giving people a Summons is not always the answer. Many of the Summons issued are for misdemeanors, and people do not know that, even the police do not know that, and people merely pay the fine by mailing in the ticket. Thus, giving these persons a Criminal Record without knowing it. For example, any violation of the Park Rules and Regulations, no matter the act, is a Misdemeanor. Thus, if you are merely playing ball in a park, after dark, and you are given a ticket, that is a misdemeanor.
    Nobody is saying that persons charged with serious crimes should not be arrested, but, some of these acts should not be even given summonses..
    Thanks again Ned for Publishing this article.

  5. How dare you. Everyone does something illegal and these heroic Police Officers are putting their lives at risk in finding these people doing something illegal. Until the day comes when there are as many police officers as therw are citizens so each citizen can be arrested and charged with EVERY CRIME THEY COMMIT, the police must have leeway in arresting anyone they think is committing a crime, surely if they are guilty of taking up two seats on a subway, they murdered or kidnapped someone or planned to.

    G-d bless the police may they arrest everyone and collect lots of fines.

  6. I wrote the article and yes Ned did post it for me. Yes, the police are wrong in making these arrests, but that shouldn’t be a reason for condemning the entire police department for everything they do as some of these comments suggest. (Not specifically addressing this to you Mr. Popper.)

    It Is disheartening to believe that so many hold the police in such low esteem. This needs to be corrected, but you can’t judge the entire department by these acts.

  7. Illegal like the guy who drove in slowly into his parking spot of his house…….and got arrested and was going to get 7 years because this heroic being…..stated he tried to run him over…… Imagine, Just imagine he didn’t have proof……….. 7 Fucking years because of your Heroic Officer…….

    I get it, they all need Jobs…. To bad our system is sooo fucking corrupt it’s scary….

  8. You sicken me! How disgusting to call them corrupt. They are DOING THEIR JOB. EVeryone is guilty of something and must be made to pay fines and attorneys.

    Once in awhile the sometimes have to make up something, but that is only because they have to. Keep your mouth shut and pay your tickets and fines or we’ll make sure they find out every illegal thing you do and have to pay!

    Policemen are HEROES! Only despicable criminals with things to hide hate police – and you are precisely who the Police have to devote additional resources to

  9. Alright, so we all know to ignore policeluvr, right? Good.

    On a different note, I pass through Union Square when heading home from school (and sometimes when heading to school). While there are police there, they haven’t stopped me for my bag (yet). Now imagine that they stop me and are trying to check my bag for no reason whatsoever. If I refuse, they would probably kick me out and slap me with a fine, even though I would say that it was merely to invade my personal space. All I carry around are water and school supplies, with the occasion that I also have food to eat. The only thing that could possibly save me is my school I.D.; without that, I would be as screwed as these people getting slapped with summonses unnecessarily.

  10. It’s best to cooperate and not antagonize them causing them to arrest you for no reason. I feel sorry for some Black and Latinos who get stopped once a month or more often just because the police don’t like the way they look. Some Muslims are also unnecessarily targeted for searches.

  11. “What about the Polar Bears? Do they not break the law every time they enter the water without a lifeguard?”

    I don’t believe that’s illegal. You swim at your own risk when there’s no lifeguard on duty.

  12. That should be the case to swim at your own risk. That’s how it is in Florida.

    In New York, it is definitely against the law. People have been given $150 fines for refusing to leave the water after 6PM when lifeguards go off duty, although it is light outside unti

    That makes it impossible for many to go for a swim after work, although there are no riptides, or waves and the risk of drowning at most beaches is low. The City will not pay lifeguards overtime to stay an extra hour or two on hot summer nights. And they pay Park personnel to chase people out of the water after 6PM. How sensible is that?

  13. Yeah, we know it is technically illegal. I wonder how that regulation would stand up in court in light of federal requirements (based on Constitutional or ancient common-law rights) for public access to the waterfront. Does that not include public access to the actual water?

  14. Hmmm my house was broken into while i was home. Cops came harrassed me as if i was the intruder in my own house almost took me down as i went to my room to get my I.D. They stood and nodded their heads as i explained what happened exchanging stares of boredom. Next day I recognized the two guys who I saw entering my house, went to the police station only to find they never made a legal report. Finally i found the detective who arrived at my house that day, he sighed and said “I dont solve personal problems” Very thankful indeeed.

  15. They showed up? Are you sure they came because of a break-in? Maybe it was a call you made the week before?

    You really should be ashamed of yourself, calling the police to take a report about a trivial break-in. They have more important things to do. They could have written two or three seatbelt tickets, illegal dog-walking summonses, drank a couple of cups of coffee – It is people like you who waste the police’s time and wonder why there is so much crime.

  16. Not my experience when I was robbed twice. They came within a reasonable time and were very sympathetic and treated me with respect. They were also honest by saying the chances of catching anyone were very slim.

  17. I don’t think there is a constitutional requirement for waterfront access. Look how access is cut off to the East and Hudson Rivers. Is there a lawyer in the house?

  18. Sad what is happening. Welcome to Bloomberg’s New York. Where every citizen who makes or is worth under $250,000 is seen as a criminal.

  19. Can we please be entirely truthful and explain that people are not routinely arrested for simply sitting on two seats or walking through a train car. They are in fact arrested because they have outstanding warrants for other infractions or crimes previously committed that they did not resolve as they are legally required. I read this same nonsense recently in the news where the glaring headline mentioned a man who was sentenced to seven years in jail for simply jumping a turnstile. Only when the story was read did I learn that the perpetrator was carrying a loaded firearm as well. The whole truth needs to be mentioned in this story.

  20. Gene you may be partially correct but if that is the case, shouldn’t the police commissioner have stated that in his response to the press?

    I agree that you will only be arrested for walking between cars or taking up two seats if the officer does not like your attitude (other than for outstanding warrants). Sometimes people just can’t help themselves when they are given a $75 or $100 fine they just can’t afford to pay for what they believe is trivial and may talk back or say something they will regret later. Does that mean they shoud spend the night in jail. I think there are just too many police officers out there that just get off on asserting their authority or are just too immature to know better.

    I once got a parking ticket when my car extended about four inches onto the sidewalk. Someone on the block told me tat a cop had an argument with another neighbor and he thought the way to get even was to find someone and issue them a summons

    Just tell me why the dancers were arrested. Do you have an answer for that one?

  21. “Sometimes people just can’t help themselves when they are given a $75
    or $100 fine they just can’t afford to pay for what they believe is trivial and
    may talk back or say something they will regret later. Does that mean they
    shoud spend the night in jail.”

    Its ok for them to talk to us like we
    are herd for them, which is absolutely right…we are a herd for them in order
    to profit from us. But G-d forbid in the process we talk to them back with
    attitude while they are with pleasure issuing us a ticket….I received a ticket $165 for blocking sidewalk
    ramp, which in my case there was not any…..I have more recent dealing with pigs…

    Pig who deliberately decided to punish me for $165 took chances that I might just pay it because I don’t have time to waste….but I took my time from my busy
    schedule and fought back with crooks….eventually after so much stress for me
    prove my not guilt the bastrads dismiss my ticket I have a prove http://nycserv.nyc.gov/NYCServWeb/NYCSERVMain

    So you tell me how can you trust these damn PIGS….i have more cases of PIGS
    lie, steal and harassment….I just hope people united…I assure you we all been harass
    and issues tickets $$$ unfairly…damn at this point well all know need to play
    system…I always try my best to beat the system I am tired to play fair and
    square….

  22. SHUT UP AND PAY YOUR FINE! You’re lucky you didn’t get a plunger or baton!
    The POLICE DID THEIR JOB! YOU ARE JUST ANGRY BECAUSE YOU GOT CAUGHT! Back in the good old days you’d have been taken down to the station, had you scrotum tied to a radiator and punched in the stomach till you sang soprano.

    Keep your mouth shut, thank the Police Officer for punishing you, you deserved it.

  23. NYPD is dirty. I have no respect for them, and they are the lowest form of scum in NYC. Nothing but gangsters in uniform. Their mothers should have swallowed.

  24. The only people who can correct this are the sub human monsters with guns out there. No one else. They don’t get respect because they did not earn it. The real skells are in uniform.

  25. Not true, you are lying. Personal experience tells me otherwise. Please, don’t lie to protect the filth walking the streets…

  26. “Doing Their Job”

    Are you smoking Crack?

    The video of showed him Driving calmly into his drive way…. The Cop said he tried to Run him over…..

    Really………You need to lay down the crack pipe.

  27. Gene.. unfortunately, you are wrong.. I have represented numerous clients who had no warrant, no other infractions, and who were arrested and incarcerated until arraigned on the infractions that i referenced in my original reply. Many of these persons, this was their first ever experience in the Criminal Justice System.

  28. People talk like it is 1965 still. Cops are getting fired for taking so much as a free cup of coffee these days, yet people still act like they are all on the take, and the days of Serpico are back. Wow. Wake up. Cops are losing their jobs for DWI arrests with no accident or injuries. Firemen, and everyone else on the other hand, just go back to work on Monday as if nothing happened.

    I am no fan of the police usually, but lighten up a little. Now, if you all want to beat up on the 61st precinct, feel free. That happens to be the worst, do nothing, screw up a cup of coffee command in the whole city. Their response time is usually within a week.

  29. And referring to the Louima case. Class move. BTW the guy who did that will spend 30 years in prison. But good one, buddy. regular skells spend 6-8 years copping to manslaughter.

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