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Monday, September 26, 2016

Chronicles of Stolen Space - New York Police Department

This is the first in a series of posts about the failures of city agencies to protect New York City's public spaces, using the example of the Millenium Hilton. This post examines the role of the New York Police Department (NYPD).

The NYPD was ok with the parking garage taking over a busy sidewalk


In New York City, as in any other civilized city, it is illegal to drive or park on a sidewalk. It is the responsibility of the NYPD to enforce these laws, which were enacted by our elected representatives to protect the safety and convenience of pedestrians. Title 34, Chapter 4, Rules of the City of New York is quite clear:

Section 4-07 OTHER RESTRICTIONS ON MOVEMENT 
(c) Restrictions on crossing sidewalks. 
  (1) Driveways. No person shall drive within any sidewalk area except at a permanent or temporary driveway. 

Section 4-08 PARKING, STOPPING, STANDING 
(a) General provisions.
  (2) Stopping prohibited. When stopping is prohibited by signs or rules, no person shall stop, stand or park a vehicle, whether attended or unattended. 
(e) General no stopping zones (stopping, standing and parking prohibited in specified places). No person shall stop, stand, or park a vehicle in any of the following places, unless otherwise indicated by posted signs, markings or other traffic control devices, or at the direction of a law enforcement officer, or as otherwise provided in this subdivision:   
  (3) Sidewalks. On a sidewalk. 

There is no ambiguity that cars are not allowed on the sidewalk, unless they are crossing on a driveway. "No stopping" is the most restrictive of the regulations, further reinforcing that cars are never allowed up on the sidewalk, not even "for just a moment." There are no exceptions for parking garages, or any of the other profiteering businesses that routinely occupy the city's sidewalks, nor are there any common sense rationalizations that could support them.

Nonetheless, for several months, the 1st Precinct systematically closed out every complaint it received about illegal parking outside the Millenium Hilton parking garage without addressing the illegal activities. Every complaint about cars parked on the sidewalk was closed. Every complaint about cars driving on the sidewalk was closed. All day long, day after day, the parking garage continued to drive cars along the sidewalk and maneuver them into spaces where they remained on the sidewalk.


In total, the NYPD ignored or lied about more than 200 complaints. Excuses, false statements, and flat refusals to enforce the law flowed in, one after the next, an endless stream of complicity. The standards the NYPD is actually applying exposed themselves over time.
The Police Department reviewed your complaint and provided additional information below. PREVIOUS TOUR 
The Police Department responded to the complaint and with the information available observed no evidence of the violation at that time.
The Police Department responded and upon arrival those responsible for the condition were gone.  
The Police Department responded to the complaint and took action to fix the condition.  
The Police Department responded to the complaint and with the information available observed no evidence of the violation at that time. 90Y [NYPD radio code 10-90Y = "unnecessary"]
The Police Department reviewed your complaint and provided additional information below. insufficient information given regarding vehicles and location. incident at this location is chronic   
The Police Department responded to the complaint and determined that police action was not necessary. HOTEL VALET PARKING CARS
The Police Department responded to the complaint and determined that police action was not necessary. cars are parked on curtilage of the millenium hotel
The Police Department responded to the complaint and determined that police action was not necessary. 
The Police Department responded to the complaint and determined that police action was not necessary. 
The Police Department responded to the complaint and determined that police action was not necessary. 
In some cases, they simply lied about observing any illegal conditions. In other cases they attempted rationalizations for the illegal activities. The refusal to enforce the law was absolute. The 1st Precinct demonstrated its awareness of the ongoing illegal practices, and then made a clear decision to put the financial interests of a private corporation above the law. Allowing the garage to earn a little extra cash by breaking the law was somehow viewed more favorably by our law enforcement officers than enforcing laws that protect the safety and comfort of pedestrians. The NYPD was content to let the garage destroy the quality of life for residents, workers, and tourists so long as it hadn't actually hit somebody with a car or made it completely impossible for pedestrians to squeeze through.

To justify its protection of this racket, the NYPD pursued two separate lines of argument: 1) that it was outside its jurisdiction, and 2) that the violations were too minor to warrant its attention. A few complaints were closed with statements that cars were parked on the "curtilage" of the Millenium Hilton. This argument is disturbing both in its attempt to protect illicit activities and in its profound ignorance of the law. "Curtilage" is a common law concept that recognizes portions of property outside the structure of the house, like fenced yards, as part of the private space of the home entitled to protections against unwarranted searches. None of this space could remotely qualify as "curtilage," since the cars were parked on a combination of a privately owned public space and the public sidewalk.


Presumably, the police were again pretending they thought the cars were not encroaching on the publicly owned sidewalk, and were referring only to the privately owned space. Even if the NYPD had been unaware of its legal designation as public space, there is still no way an open space with no separation from the sidewalk, in front of a business that is open to the public, could possibly enjoy any privacy from observation by the police. The attempt to rationalize their non-enforcement by citing "curtilage" merely demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the basic concept.

In all likelihood, they were really just trying to dress up in authoritative language the claim that the cars were parked on private property. Complaints about parking on the sidewalk are under jurisdiction of the NYPD, while parking on private property where it is not allowed by zoning or building codes would be enforced by the Department of Buildings. Of course, this would require us to believe that police officers were unable to see that the vehicles plainly extended several feet beyond the property line, where the sidewalk was paved in a different material, and it requires us to completely ignore the constant driving on the sidewalk.

The other line of argument seems to be that the violations were not significant enough to enforce. This simply has to be rejected on its face. With regulations that make it illegal to drive or park on the sidewalk at all, it is simply impossible to accept that it is a minor instance when the same people drive scores of vehicles back and forth in the same place, leaving them parked on the sidewalk for hours every day. Nor can it be argued that these particular regulations are too minor to justify the attention of a busy police precinct, given the constant and consistent enforcement of more minor parking regulations on regular citizens throughout the area.


Despite the NYPD's refusal to enforce the law, I am happy to announce that I have finally achieved a limited success in addressing this problem. Since last Wednesday, I have not seen any more cars driving or parking on this sidewalk. Even though the people we pay to enforce the law wouldn't do it, I found some people in Chicago who did ensure compliance: SP Plus Corporation. I asked the parent company of the parking operator for comment on this situation, and last Monday they responded: 
Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. It is, of course, our policy to conduct all of our operations safely and legally, and we will immediately initiate an investigation of the location you have cited. Again, thank you for bringing this to our attention.
The NYPD is empowered and entrusted to enforce the law, yet they failed to restore order outside the Millenium Hilton parking garage for more than four months. Meanwhile, people in Chicago got it done in less than two days. It is unfortunate indeed when people halfway across the country are more effective at protecting public space in New York than our own police.

It is an improvement for pedestrians to walk down the sidewalk without cars bullying them out of the way pulling in and out of illegal parking spaces. Yet the vacant public space, its concrete broken from the weight of the cars, has a depressing, forlorn appearance. It is not yet the sort of public space the people of New York City deserve.




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