Once again, Andy Hort is back at the end of his rope.
Once again, the blocks surrounding his 100-year-old midtown printing business are constantly mobbed with cars. That’s a reality almost anywhere in New York City. But Hort’s problem is a little different, because once again, the cars — sometimes dozens at a time — are almost all parked illegally. And, once again, he says, most are owned by NYPD officers, retired officers, or relatives of either.
For months Hort has been documenting parking scofflaws who use purported NYPD connections to avoid tickets in his neighborhood, which also happens to house the Midtown South precinct. As we reported in April:
The cars that are giving Hort trouble aren’t police cruisers or other marked vehicles, but personal cars of members of the NYPD (and, in some cases, their families) as well as retired cops. And Hort says he would understand if the vehicles — almost uniformly parked without paying for metered parking, or with all manner of infractions, like in front of fire hydrants or in clearly marked “no standing” zones — displayed a valid police placard, which allows cops on official business to park where they need to without fear of a summons. But instead there are handwritten notes, reflective NYPD vests, badges that read “family of NYPD,” and, in some cases, just a copy of the NYPD patrol manual sitting on the dash. Fed up, Hort decided to start documenting what he saw.
Hort had taken pictures of the dubious “parking passes,” and also shot some video of his confrontations with traffic officers. Those officers told Hort they couldn’t enforce violations in the area; with the precinct so close, the surrounding blocks are considered a self-enforcement zone. That means cops at Midtown South are supposed to do the ticketing on vehicles that don’t have the proper placards, a fact confirmed by the precinct. They just appeared not to be doing it.
When the Voice first wrote about Hort’s complaints in April, there was a quick reaction from the precinct. Not even twelve hours after the story was posted online, Hort got a visit from a Midtown South detective who acknowledged the problem and assured him that the department was going to do something about it. Soon, flyers were posted on the windshields of illegally parked cars warning that future violations would “result in this vehicle being summons [sic] and towed.”
“They said all the right things,” Hort told us back then. “They said it was wrong…and if they follow through, I’m satisfied.”
But as Hort feared at the time, the progress didn’t last. In fact, only days after the swift response from the precinct, Hort said, the problem seemed to return.
One day last week, Hort counted twenty cars that were illegally parked. He tried to notify the precinct that the problem persisted, but several email messages to a communications officer at Midtown South went unanswered. When he did get a response — to an email on which the Voice was copied — it was a pretty boilerplate assurance that the precinct was working on the issue.
This is the statement sent by the precinct detective:
As soon as we became aware of Mr. Hort’s complaint we met with him and began addressing his concerns. We have continued to address his complaint on a daily basis which has resulted in a significant improvement on the available parking spaces on the block. We will continue to address his concerns on a daily basis, as we do all complaints we receive from the community.
“It’s actually even worse than it was,” Hort says today. With construction under way on the block, there are even fewer parking spots than usual.
Having already acknowledged that many of the cars in the area parked illegally, and having put up warning flyers to no avail, the department, Hort says, must now actually issue summonses to the offenders. The inconvenience is a problem — he’s been forced to have his delivery vehicles park blocks away, and to use carts to move the supplies down the sidewalk.
But more than that, he feels like the friends and families of police officers are getting special treatment by being allowed to park with impunity. “It smells of abuse of power,” Hort says. “And police officers who think that they’re above the law with little things think that they’re above the law with big things. If they sent out an NYPD officer once a day to ticket illegally parked cars, this problem would be solved.”
Jon Campbell is a staff writer for the Voice, covering criminal justice, legal issues, and the occasional mutant park squirrel.