Daft Punk is playing on the radio behind the service counter of East Harlem’s Department of Motor Vehicle’s traffic violations foyer. “We’re up all night to get lucky,” croons Pharell Williams from tinny stereo speakers on the 5th floor of the 125st street office.
It’s 9:30am and it’s bedtime for officer Carlos Gonzalez, whose shift for the NYPD traffic enforcement team started at 11 the previous night. Gonzalez has spent the last hour with administrative judge Sue Zalewski in Hearing Room 3. Rattling off identikit speeding ticket testimonies as effortlessly as the Miranda rights, Gonzalez pauses only to fill in the blanks – details of the vehicle, the date and location – and occasionally to yawn.
“I’ve got over 90 percent convictions, but I’ve been doing this for nine years” said Gonzalez, whose weapon of choice is the cruiser-mounted F14 Tomcat radar gun.
Not everyone has such an enviable conversion rate.
Down the hall, Officer Joseph Gianni’s hands tremble as he checks his stack of notebooks. Gianni is testifying for a speeding violation he issued to a yellow cab driver in mid-November. According to his testimony, Gianni clocked Yassine Khoudari on a radar gun going 41 miles per hour in a 30 zone in Lenox Hill. The evidence is not “clear and convincing” for Judge Martin who returns a not guilty verdict. Khoudari’s attorney, Philip Musico, has barely said a word and the hearing lasts less than six minutes.
“Quick and easy,” says Musico, who has worked in traffic litigation for over a decade. The attorney sees roughly 100 clients a week and estimates he beats around 40 percent of the tickets, mostly through police error. Some cops testify better than others according to Musico, and Gianni failed to make an adequate case that he was qualified to use the equipment.
Automated tickets, though, are almost impossible to beat. “You’re fighting a picture and if it has you going a certain speed there’s not much you can really say,” Musico said. “When the machines take over, there’ll be less human error right?”