New York's Video Vigilante, Scourge of Parking Enforcers
Sunday, August 3, 2008
NEW YORK -- He calls himself "Jimmy Justice," a self-styled "cop-arazzi," armed only with a video camera as he prowls the streets of New York looking for law enforcement officers who are breaking the law. His targets are illegally parked city government vehicles -- particularly cars of traffic cops blocking bus stops, sitting in "no parking" zones or double-parked.
Cop cars blocking fire hydrants make him particularly incensed.
"Something like that is just despicable," Jimmy fumed, pointing to a police enforcement vehicle parked next to a fire hydrant on 33rd Street on Manhattan's West Side on a muggy July afternoon. "They're never allowed to block a fire hydrant -- but they do it."
He posts his best videos on YouTube and sends regular e-mail to the union representing the city's traffic enforcement agents, pointing out the most egregious parking offenses. And he has gotten results, he said, with some parking enforcers being fined because of his videos.
"I'm using a video camera as a weapon," he said. "I believe a video does not lie."
He is a fairly big, stocky guy, and with his brusque and hectoring manner, he has been described as obnoxious, self-righteous and worse.
"He acts like an adolescent," said James Huntley, the president of the traffic enforcers union. "I believe he's a big kid, or he wouldn't go around intimidating people who are just doing their job."
But in the digital age, Jimmy Justice represents a new kind of citizen vigilante at a time, particularly in New York, when amateur videos are increasingly being used to hold law enforcers to account and shine a public spotlight on their excesses.
Within the past week, two videos have surfaced showing what appears to be police misconduct in New York. In one video, viewed more than 1 million times on YouTube, a police officer is seen charging a bicyclist and knocking him to the ground during a July 25 group bicycle ride through Times Square -- despite the officer's sworn complaint that the cyclist tried to run him down.
A few days later, a separate video appeared, showing another police officer apparently swinging a baton and beating a handcuffed suspect lying on the ground during a July 4 arrest.
The police department has been stung by the incidents, and the officers involved have had their badges and guns taken away while the department investigates. Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said there will soon be a way for people with videos of crimes -- and incidents of police misconduct -- to send them directly to the police through 911.
In the eyes of civil libertarians and others who have long complained about police excesses under New York's "zero tolerance" policy, the increasingly common use of video by ordinary citizens has started to shift the balance away from law enforcement officials in questions of official misconduct.