In a recent federal lawsuit filed in Manhattan, a New York City police officer has accused the NYPD of corruption and fostering a culture of impunity through the use of unofficial “courtesy cards.”
According to the lawsuit, the laminated cards — often treated as a job perk — are often distributed among friends and relatives of NYPD officers, enabling them to evade traffic tickets for minor infractions such as speeding or failing to wear a seatbelt.
Officer Matthew Bianchi, who joined the NYPD in 2015 and became a Staten Island traffic cop in 2017, described the alleged practice of selective enforcement and its consequences for officers who refuse to follow the unwritten policy in his lawsuit.
Despite the lack of official recognition by the NYPD, these courtesy cards — referred to as “get-out-of-jail-free cards” by Bianchi — are widely circulated and exchanged with current and retired officers having access to hundreds of them.
Bianchi claims they are often given away in exchange for personal benefits such as discounted meals or home improvement services.
“I see card after card. You’re not allowed to write any of them (up),” he said. “We’re not supposed to be showing favoritism when we do car stops, and we shouldn’t be giving them out because the guy mows my lawn.”
In his complaint, Bianchi accuses the NYPD of violating his first amendment right to speak out against “widespread corruption, illegal practices and the manipulation of issuance” regarding traffic tickets and the use of the cards.
The officer further alleged that his superiors retaliated against him for opposing the use of these cards, claiming that an official from the Police Benevolent Association (PBA), New York City’s largest police union, warned him that he would not receive union protection if he continued to issue tickets to individuals possessing courtesy cards.
As a result, Bianchi faced reprimands and was ultimately reassigned to night patrol duty after issuing a ticket to a friend of Chief Jeffrey Maddrey, the highest-ranking uniformed officer within the NYPD.
“Even though my car stop was a standard stop with no confrontation I am still being retaliated against solely because the motorist I summonsed knows a chief and that chief is now mad at me,” Bianchi stated in his legal complaint. “This is not only corrupt but it’s a safety issue.”
Bianchi’s lawsuit goes on to argue that the widespread use of courtesy cards creates a culture of corruption and illegal practices, undermining the fair and impartial enforcement of traffic laws.
According to a statement from the PBA, officers are allowed discretion in enforcing traffic incidents.
“Each police officer determines how to exercise that discretion based on the specifics of each case. Likewise, the PBA does not determine where or how the NYPD deploys its personnel. That is the sole prerogative of NYPD management,” the PBA said.
Bianchi also raised concerns that the courtesy card system carried a racial bias component. According to his lawsuit, minority drivers are less likely to possess these cards compared to white drivers, resulting in police officers disproportionately ticketing minority motorists due to ticketing quota systems.
While the NYPD has not officially responded to the lawsuit, a spokesperson stated that the department would review it if and when served.
The PBA, in its response, emphasized that they do not determine department policies regarding officer duties and enforcement actions, deferring such decisions to NYPD management.
The controversy surrounding courtesy cards has drawn media attention in the past, raising concerns about potential corruption and the availability of these cards for sale on platforms like eBay.