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Monday, February 9, 2015

Stolen Space and Leftover Space

The 52nd Precinct steals space from the community every single day. The inconvenience and the perception that the police lack respect for the law create an ongoing source of tension with the community the NYPD is supposed to serve. A review of the conditions surrounding the precinct demonstrates that parking could, in fact, be managed satisfactorily with a little professional attention and a basic level of discipline. The parking is, in fact, illegal, and the NYPD has an obligation to restore order both to maintain its own integrity and to relieve the burden on the community that hosts the station house.

Unlike many station houses in New York City, the 52nd Precinct has its own off-street parking lot. This is not a cheap piece of infrastructure, either, since it is largely on a deck over the MetroNorth Railroad. Additional exclusive parking has been created with parking regulations that dedicate the curb lane on the east side of Webster Avenue to the precinct. Yet this is not enough to keep the East Coast Greenway clear of parked cars.

These cars are parked on a shared-use path
that is part of the East Coast Greenway
Over the years, every commanding officer and the Community Relations officers have consistently said they plan to repave and stripe the parking lot to increase the amount of parking by reducing the space generally lost to an inefficient ad hoc layout, as well as drivers supposedly trying to avoid mud puddles. Yet after years, there has been no change. The only maintenance ever performed on the lot is to periodically fix the fence posts when drivers have damaged it again (a sign that is not particularly encouraging about the driving abilities of the officers who cruise the neighborhood all day long).

It is not easy to trust the safety of the police cars cruising our neighborhoods
when their drivers can't negotiate a gate 12 feet wide to pull into a parking lot

The lack of improvements in the parking lot are disheartening, but there are other, lower-cost solutions that would make some improvement. If the NYPD requested assistance from the Department of Transportation, they could quickly and easily adjust the markings on Mosholu Parkway to create new curbside parking spaces for the station house. Currently, Mosholu Parkway has a hatched area measuring six feet wide on each side of the street to create narrower lanes that discourage speeding. This residual space could be reconfigured to create new parking. If the lanes were realigned a little, an eight or nine foot parking lane could be created on the station houses's side of the street. The addition of parked vehicles would further act to calm traffic as well. Some attention should be paid to sight distances at the parking lot's driveway and near the intersection with Hull Avenue, but this could add more than a small handful of spaces.

Increasing the number of parking spaces alone is very unlikely to resolve the real problems, though. Many of the existing parking spaces are being taken by drivers who appear to have no official business at the precinct. Many seem to have no legitimate business there at all. There are sometimes vehicles displaying some form of "courtesy" paraphernalia, along with occasional placards for other enforcement agencies with no jurisdiction anywhere near The Bronx. These are people who do not need to be parked at the station house to help protect the community; they are just taking advantage of a free, convenient place to park because they (may) have some loose affiliation with law enforcement. If the station house had unused spaces, such courtesy would be perfectly fine, but illegally seizing more space from the community to be so accommodating of these personal whims is an inexcusable form of petty corruption.

There is an additional set of vehicles that routinely park in these areas, displaying handwritten notes identifying the officers who owns them. Since officers are issued placards for the privilege of parking in these dedicated areas, the handwritten notes raise a serious red flag. The two most likely possibilities for using a note instead of an official placard are:
  1. Their parking privilege was officially revoked as discipline for using the placard to park illegally where use of a placard is explicitly invalid, or
  2. The placard is being used illegally to allow another vehicle to park in an unauthorized/illegal location elsewhere while the officer is on-duty.
According to some NYPD personnel, there are supposedly other reasons for handwritten notes. These sound like bogus excuses for the practice, although they may excuse the conduct of the individual officer (ex. veterans just returning from a tour of duty supposedly have not had their new placards issued yet). The specific problem in each case may vary, but any potential explanation involves a problem that needs to be resolved if the department hopes to ever restore a modicum of professionalism. Even if the situation were something as seemingly valid as a returning soldier, there could be no excuse for the NYPD failing to provide proper papers in a timely manner when its officers turn out.

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Worse, some of the vehicles that do actually belong at the station house end up parked on the East Coast Greenway out of sheer laziness. Parking spaces remain unused while officers park on the shared-use path merely because they would simply rather not walk an extra 60 feet. No amount of parking will resolve the problem of undisciplined officers who are allowed to break the law just because they don't want to walk a short distance.

Parking spaces in the off-street lot routinely go unused
because officers would rather not walk a little farther
and their supervisors don't maintain basic discipline
As it stands today, the NYPD continues to steal space from the community rather than run a professional organization. Meanwhile, residual space that could easily be used to help solve any legitimate problem they do have, and might be useful for contributing additional traffic calming, remains unused.

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