Stronger Legislation Needed to Protect TEA's and SEA's
September 27, 2012
By Joe Maniscalco
Since 2008, New York City Traffic and Sanitation Enforcement Agents have been protected with a law that makes it a Class D Felony to attack an officer with the intent to cause them physical harm.
But that hasn't stopped TEAS and SEAS from being spit on, cursed at, and assaulted while trying to do their jobs – and the union representing them says it's now time to beef up the law.
"This happens to our people everyday," CWA Local 1182 President Robert Cassar said. "Whether it's somebody calling them a derogatory name, somebody spitting at them, or falsely accusing them of doing something wrong. It's an extremely hard job, and our people are targets out there."
In 2010, there were 258 attacks on TEAS. Last year, a female TEA was struck in the head with a metal can after issuing a summons on Staten Island. In recent years, other traffic agents have been beaten and hit with automobiles.
"There have been serious incidents where people have been badly hurt even while directing traffic at an intersection," said CWA 1182 Secretary/Treasurer Patrick Plummer. "Agents are giving motorists a command to go a certain way they don't want to go, and then next thing you know, the mirror or some other part of that car is coming at the agent."
Rank and file members in the field complain that the NYPD's decision to take away their power to issue moving violations hasn't helped the situation.
"We have an active case out against that," Cassar said. "It's like taking a gun from a cop. Would you send a guy out there to catch criminals without a gun? How the hell do you send a guy out into an intersection to tell people turn left, turn right, but if they don't do it…oh, well."
Section 120.05 of the New York Penal Code deals with attacks on TEAS and SEAS (among others). But the actual application of the law is so nebulous as to make felony cases brought against those attacking TEAS and SEAS rare. According to Cassar, that needs to change.
"We shouldn't be under the same classification as a civilian who gets into a fight with his brother-in-law," Cassar said. "My goal has always been to create legislation that says specifically what the penalties will be for attacking a Traffic or Sanitation Enforcement Agent. I want the law to say that if you push that traffic agent in the act of issuing a summons, that will be considered an assault. Same as the police officer who has a specific category for assault, we want a separate category of assault for other city workers."
According to Plummer, the existing law has led to a number of convictions.
"The problem is the district attorneys," Plummer said. "The one in Brooklyn gets a lot of these cases to court. But the rest of the DA's around the city don't show the same level of interest that he does. If all these district attorneys would prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, we would have more prosecutions."
As happy as he is to hear that his office is doing a good job of seeking justice for TEAS and SEAS, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said, "I would support protecting traffic agents just as we protect other uniformed forces."
"The law as it stands has limitations," Cassar said. "We want to take this out of the hands of the DA. We want to change the law to give them a clear guideline. If a guy pushes a traffic agent or sanitation agent while issuing a ticket, that's assault. Simple as that. That would be the ideal."
But even the toughest laws on the books are not going to stop incidents from happening in the field.
"We want to legislate it away, but it's not going to go away," Cassar said. "It's part of this job. You give tickets, and people get mad. One day, somebody is going to get mad and they are going to want to fight with you."
Despite that reality, TEAS and SEAS are not offered any type of ongoing training that might help them diffuse the volatile situations they so often encounter – nor are they given any effective counseling to relieve the chronic human stress that comes from being almost constantly derided.
"People don't want tickets," Cassar said. "They'll do whatever they can to get out of getting a ticket. They'll lie on an agent. It's a very stressful thing for somebody to have to go through on a regular basis."
According to Cassar, all TEAS and SEAS working in the field should be offered a class in stress management at least once every three years – and the NYPD should administer it.
"The Department owes a responsibility to these workers who are suffering the psychological effects of constantly being harassed by people out in the field," Cassar said. "So, we feel that the Department's responsibility is to come up with some sort of methods that will help our people deal with that kind of stress."