A few months ago, New York State Transportation Commissioner Christopher Giambrone was in the middle of explaining the agency’s new traffic-enforcement plan when he got a call from a driver in New Jersey.
“She said, ‘Oh my God, there’s a cop coming,'” Giambone recalls.
“And she had no idea where the cop was going to be.”
So he drove to the police station, got his license and registration, and waited.
After all, the New Jersey cop’s badge had just been stolen in the course of an ongoing traffic investigation.
In that moment, Giambre’s frustration boiled over.
“This guy, this cop, he’s out there doing something wrong, and he’s not answering our calls,” he says.
“We’re going to stop him.”
A year later, the police force is better equipped than ever, with more than a hundred officers dedicated to driving on streets without a license plate.
But when the cops are trying to do their jobs, they are still sometimes unprepared to handle situations they never expected.
A lot of them are rookies.
The new policy, which went into effect last month, requires that officers stop anyone who is not wearing a helmet, wears a badge, or has a valid license plate, or who appears to be intoxicated.
“When we see someone driving on the road, it’s really the responsibility of the officer to know where they’re going and when they’re about to do something stupid,” says Sgt. Brian Murphy, the new commissioner of New York’s traffic bureau.
“They’re going somewhere they’re supposed to be going, and they’re not.”
It’s a system that New York already has.
For years, police departments across the country have been mandated to have cameras on their cars to record any traffic stops.
The cameras are meant to catch officers in the act.
But they’ve also caught cops who are in the right.
The first problem with this system is that it can be unreliable.
New York has one of the highest rates of traffic fatalities in the country.
In the past five years, there have been more than 100 fatalities, according to the New York Department of Transportation.
And when officers do make a stop, they’re sometimes asked to justify their actions to a supervisor or a prosecutor, who can then charge the officer with a misdemeanor.
(This is what happened to a young black woman in Brooklyn in April, when she was pulled over and charged with drunk driving.)
It’s also often hard to get a judge to agree to a traffic stop in the first place.
When a cop’s patrol car pulls up next to a car, the cop can’t legally pull out his badge and start recording.
Instead, the officer has to wait for the cop to clear the way, then take the car away.
“The officer is in the wrong,” Murphy says.
The second problem is that, as a rule, officers don’t record any calls they make, even if they know the person in the car is driving.
(A New York Times investigation found that about half of New Yorkers have never received a call when they are stopped.)
If the officer in question isn’t acting as an eyewitness, then the only person to know whether a car is stopped is the driver, and the officer doesn’t have the right to tell them who to stop.
“You can’t call it a call-to-duty or call-out,” says Eric Schad, an associate professor of criminology at Rutgers University and an expert on traffic stops and policing.
“It’s not a stop-and-frisk.”
If there’s nothing to stop the cop from doing something, it is often the duty of the judge to decide whether the stop is lawful.
In New York, the judge has the power to issue an arrest warrant.
But the police department in New York is not in charge of arresting people.
Instead of arresting drivers, the NYPD’s traffic division, which investigates traffic violations, handles traffic tickets.
In its latest report, the city reported that more than 80 percent of traffic tickets are issued for speeding, failing to yield, and failing to stop for a pedestrian.
(Some tickets also include traffic violations that are not criminal offenses, such as operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license.)
In the case of the NYPD traffic unit, which is responsible for the enforcement of traffic laws, officers are given a list of about 200 people they can call to respond.
They usually get about 50 calls in a day, but the department is constantly expanding its coverage.
“That’s the only way we’re going in,” says Murphy.
“To get as many calls as we can.”
This means that, every day, there are about 50 traffic stops per day.
The problem, as Murphy says, is that many of those calls are innocent, innocent drivers who were simply speeding.
For instance, the department recently had a man in his 20s ticketed for speeding from New York to Boston and for failing to obey a traffic light.