NYCLU Urges NYPD to Set Boundaries for "Professional Courtesy"

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
November 13, 2006 12:00 am

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NEW YORK - In response to reports that New Yorkers are using police union cards to avoid prosecution, the New York Civil Liberties Union today called on the New York City Police Department to assure that the "professional courtesy" given police officers and their friends and families does not turn into law-enforcement immunity.

"Nothing is more corrosive to law and order than the perception that law-enforcement officers are above the law," said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director, in a letter sent today to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

A report released this week by the Civil Complaint Review Board reveals that people are attempting to use "courtesy" cards obtained from police unions as free passes when stopped by police officers. The review board said it had received several complaints filed by people whose cards were confiscated by police officers during the past 18 months. The officers apparently confiscated the cards after civilians used them to avoid being ticketed or to receive special treatment during an investigation. The review board found that the officers in these cases wrongfully seized the cards, when in fact the cards should be treated like any other form of personal property.

In the letter to Commissioner Kelly, the NYCLU said that the complaints of confiscations "reflect what we suspect is a widespread understanding" among cardholders that they are "entitled to a 'free pass.'"

"While deserving of great respect, police officers are not above the law and neither are their families and friends," said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn. "The police department needs to assure that professional courtesy does not translate into law-enforcement immunity."

The NYCLU also called for an investigation into the conduct of NYPD Officer John McNeeley, who was pulled over for speeding in Kansas last month and showed his police identification in an attempt to evade a ticket. McNeeley submitted a letter to the Kansas court describing the incident: "I then tried to ask him why a cop would write another cop a ticket? He would not answer. I have stopped many people and the minute they pull out their Law Enforcement ID card I say 'Sir or Mam [sic] have a nice day' No questions asked. ... You see it's called professional courtesy."

The NYCLU's Dunn said, "It's troubling that an NYPD officer would say that he will always allow a cop to walk away. Whatever might be the proper bounds of professional courtesy, it does not include ignoring violations of the law."

The NYCLU letter and McNeeley's letter are online at: www.nyclu.org/pdfs/nypd_professional_courtesy_ltr_111306.pdf

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