NYPD vehicles park on sidewalks, violating city law and impeding accessibility

New York City Police Department drivers routinely park on sidewalks illegally. Police parking violations go unenforced, obstructing pedestrians and wheelchair users.

A+New+York+City+Police+Department+van+is+parked+on+a+public+sidewalk.+Pedestrians+walk+past+the+vehicle+near+Union+Square+on+East+14th+Street.

Caleb Pisoni

A New York City Police Department van parked on the sidewalk of East 14th Street. (Caleb Pisoni for WSN)

Caleb Pisoni, Contributing Writer

Late last month, a Honda SUV and what appears to be a yellow cab could be seen blocking a sidewalk near the New York City Police Department 6th Precinct in Greenwich Village.

The cars are parked crookedly jutting out of a driveway, making the sidewalk impassable. A sign behind them, on the door of a garage they obstruct, reads “Active Driveway / Do Not Block / Towed at Owner’s Expense.”

These were NYPD vehicles. The NYPD has been criticized by disability rights organizations and city residents for violating parking guidelines, hindering the accessibility of city streets. A local law, which came into effect in 2020, allows citizens to report illegal parking by official city agency vehicles. Since Jan. 30 of that year, there have been 4,021 reports of city agency vehicles parked illegally on sidewalks.

On Oct. 25, WSN found six NYPD vehicles parked on the sidewalk near the Sixth Precinct, which includes Washington Square Park. WSN also found two vehicles illegally parked near Tribeca’s First Precinct and another at Union Square, one of which was parked fully on the sidewalk.

The Twitter account @NYPD_Parking tracks and submits complaints about vehicles that are parked illegally. The page, which uses the display name “NYPD Parks On Our Sidewalks,” said it has filed more than 2,000 complaints — all of which it alleges were improperly closed.

Steve Cruz — the co-founder of the Copwatch Patrol Unit, a group of volunteers that follows and records NYPD officers in order to document police brutality and harassment — said that he has noticed illegal parking from officers, particularly at the 46th Precinct in the Bronx. 

“They park everywhere, on top of sidewalks,” Cruz said. “They’ve got two big parking lots around the corner, and they don’t use them. They say they’re afraid they might get vandalized. Really?”

The NYPD eased disciplinary action against officers from 2013 to 2016 under the tenure of former Police Commissioner William J. Bratton. Bratton disbanded a tow-away squad that would ticket and tow NYPD vehicles that were parked improperly. Some, including the @NYPD_Parking accountpage, have cited this as the starting point for the police department’s reputation for parking violations.

In June, the advocacy group Disability Rights New York filed a class action federal lawsuit against the city alongside Bronx residents Carlos Leon and Stephanie Diaz. The residents say that the illegally parked cars have made their neighborhood difficult to navigate. According to their first filing, Leon relies on family members to run errands for him because he can no longer use his wheelchair on the frequently blocked and poorly maintained sidewalks.

“The problem existed prior to COVID, but with COVID it just got out of control,” said Christy Asbee, the program director of Disability Rights New York. “After months of DRNY’s involvement, the only option was to file a lawsuit. That was a last resort.”

Federal attorneys have argued that the city’s failure to keep sidewalks clear of illegally parked cars violates the Americans with Disabilities Act in an Oct. 5 brief regarding the lawsuit.

The ongoing lawsuit names the NYPD as a defendant and alleges that the organization fails to enforce parking laws, which makes the city hazardous for disabled residents. According to city data, the NYPD is the only agency that can respond to 311 reports about parking violations — which could be a potential conflict if NYPD vehicles are also the ones being reported.

Cruz said he has witnessed instances of disabled residents struggling to navigate the city due to the illegal parking. He recalled that police were unwilling to help, instead instructing people with disabilities to go around the parked cars, even if it meant having to go around the block.

The NYPD did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Correction, Nov. 13: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed a quote by Christy Asbee to Katrin Haldeman. The article has been updated to reflect this correction. WSN regrets the error.

Contact Caleb Pisoni at [email protected]