Here’s a riddle for our readers to consider on a lazy August afternoon: If a government enacts a law, and no one is available to enforce it, does it make a difference?
Recently, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill allowing New York City to reduce its default speed limit from 30 to 25 mph on local streets. The effort, part of the ongoing “Vision Zero” strategy to reduce traffic and pedestrian accidents, was hailed as a critical step toward making streets safer for everyone.
What is the default speed limit? It’s the maximum speed any vehicle may travel on a roadway where speed limit restrictions aren’t otherwise posted with appropriate signage. This would apply to residential side streets rather than thoroughfares such as Queens Boulevard, where speed limit signs are regularly posted.
Who would enforce the default speed limit? The NYPD, of course, a force of over 35,000 men and women patrolling a city of more than 8 million residents—and assigned to a never-ending pile of responsibilities on their plate.
The NYPD is tasked with enforcing the city’s noise code, reformed a few years ago through legislation dubbed the “Mister Softee Law.” Recently, the NYPD assumed responsibilities for animal cruelty cases from the ASPCA’s Humane Enforcement Unit. This is all in addition to their conventional policing duties of investigating crime, arresting offenders, preserving the quality of life and keeping the peace.
Earlier this year, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito proposed including funding to hire 1,000 additional police officers in the fiscal year 2015 budget. It only made sense: the NYPD, down from a peak roster of more than 40,000 over a decade ago and with more responsibilities than ever, could use a little help.
But Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton rejected that idea, charging the funds would be better used to raise existing officers’ salaries. The final budget deal authorized the NYPD to hire 200 administrative aides to desk duties which officers currently occupy, shifting those officers back to active duty.
Governments across this country, even the most liberal of them, are stuck in a “do-more-with-less” mentality. They keep passing laws and adding responsibilities to public servants who already have way too much to do, and little time to do it.
We see this with the garbage situation in Ridgewood, as illegal dumpers continue to plague Fresh Pond Road. The Sanitation Department conducts some enforcement, but the problem persists. When the agency is urged to do more, they claim they don’t have the manpower sufficient to the task.
Other federal, state and city agencies cite a lack of manpower as reasons for failing to adequately address issues such as illegal conversions, landmark designations, medical care for veterans, and park preservation.
Every law, edict, ordinance and regulation passed by a government is totally meaningless if there is no one in government to enforce it. People will keep dumping, drivers will keep speeding and landlords will keep renting their basements as long as no one in authority is around to stop and punish the offenders.
The NYPD and other city agencies, with the massive responsibilities they’ve received in recent years, are stretched too thin to be effective at every task. The city has to choose whether it wants to pass laws for good publicity and nothing more, or to pass laws for the good of the public—and hire enough people to enforce them.
Simply put, it’s time for city lawmakers to put their money where their press conferences are.