The abuse by cops of parking placards is an unambiguous example of low-level yet blatant corruption that suggests a lack of public sector and police accountability. Significant, yet incremental, reforms like transferring the Traffic Enforcement Division from NYPD to NYC’s Department of Transportation could be worth exploring to align those who set the rules of the road with those who enforce the rules of the road — and thereby unbundle from police responsibility a civil enforcement activity that does not inherently require police involvement.
Placards are a highly corruptible perk that signal a general culture of venality. It is well established in global development literature that widespread, low-level corruption is worse for governance overall as it erodes trust and tears the social contract. It also signals that public servants can get away with more corruption too; for this reason, NY1’s Errol Louis actually calls placard abuse a “gateway drug.”
Louis correctly makes an explicit connection in these pages between placard abuse and broken windows policing, which, as controversial as it may be today, argues that tolerating low-level abuse and disorder signals a tolerance for more and greater criminal behavior. In this case, that low-level abuse is coming from public servants themselves. No public servants, but especially not those charged with upholding the law, should be above the law.