1998-02-08 Police Balk at Crackdown on Jaywalkers – NY Times

February 8, 1998
Police Balk At Crackdown On Jaywalkers By Giuliani



Committing an offense that now carries an automatic $50 fine, pedestrians were scurrying across the street yesterday near the South Street Seaport in Manhattan. Few chose to wait for the walk sign to flash before leaving the curb, and, when they did, it was seldom at the crosswalk. None seemed to care about the police officer watching from the other side. And they had little reason to worry.

”I haven’t written up anyone for something like this since 1996, and I’m not going to start now,” the officer said, twirling his nightstick. ”The only incentive they have to make me is fear, and that ain’t gonna work because writing these is up to our discretion, and I don’t even carry a book for it.”

”This is just taking hard-earned money from people who can’t afford it,” he added, ”and I’m not going to prostitute myself for the Mayor or anybody else.”

After a brief reprieve from the anti-jaywalking campaign he started last month, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani announced on Friday that he had directed the standard $2 fine to be increased to $50, adding that he would ask the City Council to increase it further through a change in the city law. Police Commissioner Howard W. Safir also issued a directive to his officers, telling them to enforce the higher fine.

The Mayor’s directive was easily accomplished because the law has always allowed judges to impose such a fine, although the summons stated that those who pleaded guilty would only be charged $2. Those tickets have now been rewritten, with a $50 box to check off, Deputy Mayor Randy M. Mastro said.

He added that the Mayor would meet with the City Council this week to discuss raising the fine to $100, but that implementation would require at least two public hearings and would be three to six months away. The Mayor is also hoping to transfer authority for the tickets — which are now criminal offenses heard by judges — to the Parking Violations Bureau, Mr. Mastro said. He added that this move would require approval by both the City Council and the State Legislature.

”This is an integrated and comprehensive approach to improving both traffic and pedestrian safety,” Mr. Mastro said. ”Jaywalking is unsafe, not only for those who do it, but also for others. It’s not just a matter of common courtesy.”

However, many of the officers who are now charged with enforcing the higher fine think that the Mayor’s logic is skewed. Though crime is at a record low in the city, several beat officers interviewed yesterday, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were still plenty busy keeping more dangerous ne’er-do-wells at bay.

None of the officers seemed happy about the measure, most saying they would only enforce it if a supervisor stood over them, as is done at the barricades.

”I just don’t think that walking across the street is a crime, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable getting down on people for doing it,” said one officer on patrol near the east side of Canal Street.

Another officer nearby added, ”It’s all politics, not safety. New Yorkers are New Yorkers, and this is a free spirit city. People cross the street where they want to.”

Most pedestrians said the new fine would deter them from crossing the street wherever they wished, but they thought the enforcement was a waste of resources.

”What about homelessness or crime, or renovating old buildings so they don’t fall on people?” said Davenie Petta, 24. ”These are real problems in the city, not jaywalkers.”