NY Traffic Cop Blows Whistle on ‘Get-out-of-Jail-Free’ Courtesy Cards, Sues after Superiors Retaliate

(Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP) (Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images)

By The Vanguard Staff

NEW YORK, NY – A New York Police Dept. cop, according to the Guardian, is suing the city and a police captain here because he, in effect, blew the whistle about a “get-of-jail-free card” for families and friends of NYPD officers to avoid traffic tickets—and, he alleges, his superiors “retaliated” against him for it.

In all started, said Mathew Bianchi, when he issued a traffic ticket in November 2018 to a “civilian who held a New York City police department laminated courtesy card, an unofficial credential issued to NYPD officers based on their union affiliation that can then be distributed to family members and friends to carry with them,” wrote the Guardian.

“Bianchi claims his superiors retaliated against him for his stance against the ‘corrupt’ cards after he was warned by an official with the Police Benevolent Association, New York City’s largest police union, that he would not be protected by his union if he wrote tickets for people with cards. And if he continued, he’d be reassigned,” said the Guardian.

In some instances, the complaint said, Bianchi was reprimanded for writing a ticket to a relative or parent of an officer; in others, his commanding officer reviewed body-camera footage to see if he was giving motorists with cards a “hard time.”

“I see card after card. You’re not allowed to write any of them [up],” he told the Associated Press. “We’re not supposed to be showing favoritism when we do car stops, and we shouldn’t be giving them out because the guy mows my lawn.”

The Guardian wrote Bianchi “told his precinct commander that he did not agree with the courtesy card policy and claims he was told: ‘Is it better to be right or better to be on patrol?’ The lawsuit cites several instances where his NYPD colleagues complained about his ticket writing, including on Facebook.

“Still, Bianchi continued, ultimately writing up traffic stops in which he in effect ignored or questioned courtesy cards carried by fellow cops’ family members and friends. In one instance, he issued a ticket for speeding to a woman who’d blown through a red light. She still complained about the speeding ticket despite being given a break on the light as a result of her PBA card,” the Guardian story noted.

In the complaint, Bianchi claims the NYPD violated his First Amendment right to speak out as a citizen regarding a matter of extreme public concern, “namely widespread corruption, illegal practices and the manipulation of issuance” of traffic tickets due to courtesy cards.

“Bianchi’s service as a traffic cop ended last summer when he wrote a ticket to a friend of the NYPD’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, Chief Jeffrey Maddrey, the lawsuit states. The woman never mentioned to Bianchi that she knew Maddrey, and the stop was ‘unremarkable,’” according to the lawsuit.

Bianchi claims he was later warned by a lieutenant that the stop “pissed off someone very high up,” and “Maddrey had called the precinct commander to demand that Bianchi be punished. Three days later, he claims, he was off traffic duty and on a night patrol shift,” the Guardian wrote.

“Even though my car stop was a standard stop with no confrontation I am still being retaliated against solely because the motorist I summonsed knows a chief and that chief is now mad at me,” he wrote in a complaint quoted in the suit,” said the Guardian, adding Bianchi noted, “This is not only corrupt but it’s a safety issue.”

The lawsuit, said the Guardian, claims the “practice of selective law enforcement, including giving the cards away in exchange for a discount on a meal or a home improvement job, comes with a component of racial bias.”

Staten Island, where Bianchi patrolled, is predominantly white. 

“White drivers in the borough, the complaint said, ‘are significantly more likely to have courtesy cards than minority drivers.’  As a result of a ticketing quota system, this means ‘police officers are forced to disproportionately ticket minority drivers.’”

The Guardian quoted Ronnie Dunn, a professor of urban studies at Cleveland State University who has written a number of academic papers on structural racism in traffic ticketing practices, who said Bianchi is alleging is a form of bias.

“It’s not only racial bias, because minorities are less likely to be given courtesy cards based on the demographics of the police, but also creates a status bias, because courtesy cards give impunity to violate traffic laws to family and friends of law enforcement and predominantly European-Americans,” Dunn said to the Guardian.

Traffic stops, he added in the Guardian story, resulted in “deadly use of force by police against Black Americans and minorities is one issue beneath the surface of the courtesy card issue because…it further perpetuates an uneven justice system which unfortunately falls along racial lines. Once again, Black and racial minorities are unlikely to be the recipients of these cards and given a pass of traffic stops and violations.”

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