Mixed Signals From Bratton’s NYPD Jaywalking Directive

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s memo ordering precincts to focus on dangerous jaywalking offenses looks like a positive sign, but it still directs officers to write out citations in a way that ensures many won’t be heard in court.

The Daily News reports that Bratton issued guidelines Tuesday that instruct beat cops to issue warnings to “elderly and handicapped” pedestrians “absent reckless disregard for safety.” Senior Kang Wong was left bloodied after a jaywalking stop on the Upper West Side earlier this year. Charges against him were dropped and he is suing the city.

“If pedestrian actions are not causing a safety risk or the ends of justice are not met by issuing a summons,” the memo reads, “warn and admonish the violator instead.”

Attorney Steve Vaccaro says Bratton’s directive appears to address the department’s tendency to concentrate on generating mass summonses for technical violations that are more likely to stick in court — what Vaccaro calls the “fish in a barrel approach” — rather than targeting behaviors that are more likely to result in injury. “I think this would be consistent with a data-driven approach to dangerous violations,” he says.

On the other hand, the memo cites the NYPD Patrol Guide rule that says pedestrian summonses should be processed through New York City Criminal Court. As Vaccaro wrote in a March Street Justice column, the Criminal Court does not adjudicate traffic offenses. The current protocol is a waste of time and resources for NYPD, the courts, and people who are ticketed, says Vaccaro.

With tickets being thrown out of court, the practice also works against Bratton’s stated goal of encouraging “safe pedestrian practices,” and provides no judicial check against bogus summonses. ”If the summonses will never be heard, cops can do whatever they want,” Vaccaro says. “The tickets are never reviewed.”

NYPD had issued 916 jaywalking summonses as of Sunday, according to the Daily News, compared to 532 tickets total in 2013.