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New law protects traffic agents

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Assaulting a traffic enforcement agent will result in felony charges after a change in state law went into affect on July 22. 

The law, which puts traffic safety agents in the same category as police officers, firefighters and other emergency workers, was signed by Governor David Patterson, making violators subject to a second-degree assault Class D felony charge punishable by up to seven years in prison. 

And while community leaders agree that the change in the law is warranted, district managers representing communities plagued with parking violators are going out of their way to warn residents to play it cool when faced with a ticketing agent, more commonly referred to as meter maids. 

“I’m a little concerned,” said Community Board 11 district manager John Fratta.  “There are always incidents in Morris Park involving parking agents that have almost gotten violent.  We’ve had at least five in the past year.”

Fratta notified the Bronx Times of his concerns, pointing to several situations where overly aggressive agents write tickets for questionable offenses, resulting in arguments that he feels could escalate to violence. 

CB 10 district manager Kenneth Kearns agrees, pointing to a tragic incident where a heated argument over a ticket resulted in the heart attack death of Leo Magnotta, who was double-parked outside a Subway shop, at 3714 E. Tremont Avenue. 

“At no point should a driver ever allow their emotions to overcome them and say or do anything negative to an enforcement agent,” he said.  “Traffic safety agents are just doing their job and should not face physical or verbal assault.”

Eric Celemi, a traffic agent in the Bronx, received a dose of both on April 16, when he alleges that off-duty Police Officer Eladro Mata attacked him after receiving a ticket for a car illegally double-parked on Webster Avenue. 

Celemi was on the receiving end of several punches, resulting in three stitches needed to his left ear. 

“We are reminding folks that although a ticket is a stressful situation, drivers need to maintain their cool.  It could be a lot worse for them if they don’t,” said CB 7 district manager Fernando Tirado, who commented that he has heard of several incidents that fell just short of physical confrontat­ions. 

And CB 12 district manager Carmen Rosa wants to keep it that.  “We’ve been fortunate not to have situations get out of hand,” she said, adding she sees cars lined up near Seton Falls Park that have been towed due to unpaid tickets.  “But we are talking about tickets that range from $90 to $150.  During these economic hard times, residents cannot afford these fines.  It’s frustration.  We just want residents to know that there are other ways to handle it.”

Fratta points out that just like in a baseball game when a manager futilely argues a play with the umpire, there is no way out of the ticket. 

“All the hollering and screaming in the world won’t make the tickets go away,” Fratta said. 

“If the ticket is wrong, appeal it via the Internet or in person,” added Kearns.  “Go through the proper procedures.”

Fratta hopes agents do not see the new law as a way to overstep their bounds with arrogance and Tirado would like to see more efforts made to monitor the agents, but all agree that residents need to heed the law. 

Said Fratta: “A traffic ticket is not worth a jail sentence.”

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CNG: Community Newspaper Group