By Tien-Shun Lee
Before Pat Martino reached her car last Tuesday morning, she spotted the dreaded fluorescent orange paper on her windshield. It was a $55 ticket for having a black frame around her rear license plate with “Monahan Ford” written on it.
It took Martino, whose car was parked near her house in Whitestone, a while to figure out what “improper display of plate,” the citation written on her ticket, meant. After she realized it was for the border, she promptly took her car to a nearby gas station to have it taken off.
“They say it covers up the plate, but it wasn’t covering up anything. You could still read everything on the plate — the number, the state,” Martino said. “It’s just another way of raising more money.”
Later in the day, Martino was heading to her car on 211th Street after coming out of the TimesLedger Newspapers office in Bayside, where she works in the classified department, when she saw another fluorescent orange ticket on her windshield.
This time, the $55 ticket was for not replacing her old-style Liberty license plates with the new, blue-lettered Empire State plates.
The Liberty license plates have a red Statue of Liberty in the middle of the plate, as opposed to the small, blue symbol of New York State, which is on the new plates.
“They sent me new plates six months ago, but I never knew I had to put them on,” Martino said.
Martino later found out that her co-worker, Karin Felix, had also gotten a ticket for having Liberty license plates on her car, and another co-worker, Jewel Davis, had gotten a ticket for having a plastic covering over her rear plate.
Cadet Colvin of the 111th Precinct, who did not want to give his first name, said it was illegal to have any sort of covering over a license plate because it could make the plate harder to read. The reason for the law against borders is that the frame might cover writing on the bottom of the plate indicating that the vehicle is “commercial” or a “TLC” taxi limousine, Colvin said.
“It was never really enforced before, but it is a law,” Colvin said. “I don’t know when they made (the law), but it’s just recently being enforced.”
Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said police should have better things to do than ticket people for having borders around their license plates.
“As long as a license plate is visible and up to date, that’s fine,” he said. “We should be directing our police forces to handle more important stuff.”
The ticketing for license-plate infractions is part of a recent blitz of summonses issued for seemingly insignificant infractions, such as sitting on a milk crate, using a blue recycling bag to throw out garbage, sitting on the stairs of a train station and parking within 15 feet of a fire hydrant, even though the fire hydrant was across the street.
Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Corona) organized a press conference last month to address suspected ticketing quotas. It was held in front of the No. 7 train stop at 103rd Street, after a Bronx man was ticketed for sitting on a milk crate and a pregnant Brooklyn woman, Crystal Rosario, was ticketed for sitting on the subway stairs.
“This is just a case of our billionaire mayor being out of touch with common New Yorkers and not understanding what it takes to work for a living and to have to fork over $55 for a ridiculous summons,” Peralta said. “It’s just another way of him saying, ‘Yeah, I’m a New Yorker, but I’m a rich New Yorker.’”
Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood) said she was introducing legislation that would make it illegal for police to be discriminated against for failing to meet arrest or summons quota. Currently, it is illegal to discriminate against police officers for failing to meet traffic ticket quotas.
“From my point of view, I’m willing to accept stepped-up enforcement in a budget crisis,” Nolan said. “The two should not be together, but I guess if that’s how it’s going to have to be, they have to come up with fair ways.”
Community Affairs Officer Anthony Lombardi of the 111th Precinct said there are not quotas where officers are told they have to have a certain number of tickets or summonses.
Peralta suggested people pay their tickets if they are given for a legitimate reason and fight them if they are for something frivolous. They can fight tickets by contesting them legally and complaining to elected officials and news agencies about them.
Peralta’s office is helping a taxi driver to fight a ticket he was given while parked in a seemingly legal zone, waiting for a passenger.
Martino said she paid both her tickets right away and did not want to contest them. She figured she did not have a case, since a lot of other people had been ticketed for the same infractions, she said.
“I don’t have time to deal with fighting it.”
Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.