[update: Reaction of Albany pols, plus editorials, at the end of this post.]
.. It’s not as helpful as a Monopoly Get Out of Jail Free Card. And it might not be as powerful as Captain America’s Shield. But, a little red and blue bull’s-eye sticker has been protecting Albany, NY, police officers and their friends and lovers from parking fines for at least 15 years. See “Free ride from tickets: ‘Bull’s-eye’ stickers from Albany police union give ‘pass’ on fines to hundreds” (Albany Times Union, by Brendan J. Lyons, Nov. 15, 2008); plus 810 WGY News.
“An untold number of ‘ghost’ parking tickets that carry no fines have been issued to the private vehicles of Albany police officers, their spouses, friends and civilians employed by the city under an informal practice that dates back years and involves a secret system of coded windshield stickers, the Times Union has learned.
“Several police officers and other people familiar with the matter said the system was developed more than 15 years ago as a way to provide free on-street parking to police officers attending court hearings in their personal vehicles. But over the years, they said, the practice has expanded and arguably been abused as many people who are not police officers, including bar owners and friends of officers, have been provided the secret, red and blue ‘bull’s-eye’ stickers that are affixed to a vehicle’s windshield just above the registration.”
Public servants giving themselves the equivalent of Park-Here-Free Cards may seem like a tiny little abuse, but it’s the kind of special treatment that helps turn citizens into cynics. (You may recall that we wrote about parking abuse by officials around Schenectady’s City Hall back in March of this year.) I’m especially bemused by the fact that the courageous heroes in the Albany police union were not available for comment, while Chief James W. Tuffey says he was unaware of the bull’s-eye stickers, despite the fact that they are (according to the TU) “visible on the windshields of dozens — if not hundreds — of cars around the city, including many vehicles parked at police headquarters.” I’m reassured, naturally, that Tuffey says:
”If there’s something out there that’s been abused I’m going to deal with it.”
Of course, it ain’t just the cops taking advantage of Captain America’s Shield. The Times Union tells us:
“Spot checks of vehicles parked on city streets near the Albany County courthouse, Family Court and City Hall showed that ”courtesy” parking tickets are routinely issued to private vehicles of people who work for the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s department.”
You get the point. But, do they?
Wanna bet that quite a few friends of the Albany FOP were out scraping a little bull’s-eye sticker from their windshields yesterday?
Noon Update: With a little nudge from Scott Greenfield I searched a bit more and found a picture of the Albany police bulls-eye sticker at the TU Read & React weblog, where you’ll find over a hundred reader comments. I’ve added part of the TU image, with the sticker above a Registration Tag, near the top of this post.
update (November 17, 2008): The Mayor of Albany, Jerry Jennings, and a number of political leaders have reacted very negatively to the story of the sticker and ghost tickets. See “Mayor halts ‘ghost’ tickets” (Albany Times Union, Nov. 18, 2008); and “Jennings halts ‘no fine’ parking tickets in Albany” (Daily Gazette, Nov. 18, 2008). An Albany Times Union editorial, “A fine mess, Albany” hits the important points with the right tone:
The chief has some explaining to do about a cozy arrangement that apparently dates back more than 15 years. So does Christian Mesley, president of the police officers union. So, in fact, does Mayor Jerry Jennings. . . .
The Issue: Some Albany parking tickets are for real, and some aren’t.
The Stakes: Such discrepancies and inconsistencies undermine confidence in government itself.
update (Nov. 19, 2008): Today’s Schenectady Gazette editorial is suitably righteous and makes a very good point. See “Pretense of justice courtesy of Albany” (Nov. 19, 2008). After asking why this “comes as so little shock,” it notes every city needs a system to allow certain of its employees to be able to park near public buildings efficiently, but:
“Typically, the system calls for the judicious use of special placards that bearers place in their car windows. They signal ‘hands off’ to the meter maid — and explain to any civilian who might wonder, why a blatant violation was overlooked.
“In Albany, however, cops were apparently given free rein to devise and manage their own system. . . . Meter maids would still write tickets for illegally parked cars displaying these stickers, but they were dummies — no fine payment necessary. In other words, just a time-consuming exercise to fool the public into thinking justice was being done.”
afterwords (Nov. 21, 1008): This week’s Opinion column in the Capital Region’s alternative newspaper, Metroland, is “Demand Your Free Parking Sticker!” (Vol. 31 No. 47, Nov. 20-26, 2008). It provides a form that says “I want a Bull’s-Eye Too!,” with space for your name and address, plus addresses for Christian P. Mesley, President, Albany’s Police Officer’s Union/Council 82, as well as Albany’s police chief and mayor.
(Nov. 23, 2008): A bit tardy, Fred LeBraun adds his few cents in a column today in the Sunday Times Union, titled “Scam hurts Albany police.” With the reaction, “how dumb can you get?”, Fred says: “Eventually, this sort of elaborate conspiracy to defraud was bound to be exposed, and the result could only be a public relations nightmare for the cops and another knock on their credibility.” And he adds:
“Most emphatically, what stinks has nothing to do with offering cops a few perks.. . . [W]hat galls, what irritates to the quick, is the covert nature of the system, the secrecy. The cops were trying to put one over on us, the public.”
just arrived —
their dog sniffs
in the parking lot