Just when you think problems at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey can’t get worse, they do. In a press release posted with little fanfare late Wednesday, the bi-state agency that operates bridges, tunnels, ports, airports, and the PATH subway line in New York and New Jersey disclosed that it has filed disciplinary charges against 44 Port Authority cops—roughly one-third of all cops who work for PATH command.
The officers are accused of “shirking duties”—specifically, sleeping on overtime—by “staying in break rooms and missing patrols while on the clock.” The Port Authority disclosed that an unknown number of those being disciplined could also be referred to local prosecutors for further action. The agency said that its inspector general, Michael Nestor, has been investigating what it called “serious transgressions” since May, when “numerous officers” were caught, some on camera, spending more than six hours of their midnight-to-8 am shift in a break room and, in one case, more than seven hours away from his assigned post.
The press release indicated that most of those being disciplined were assigned to the PATH police command but gave no details about the commands involved. It did indicate that officers had been caught away from their posts without notice at several police stations in New York and New Jersey. The PATH command is responsible for 24/7 coverage of the PATH rail system, which serves nearly 80 million passengers a year at seven PATH stations in New Jersey and six in Manhattan, south of 34th Street.
“This is clearly a serious problem,” said Kenneth Lipper, one of six New York commissioners appointed by the governor. “I’m glad the agency is dealing with it in such a forthright manner. Discipline within an organization like the PA is a key element of serving the public.” Lipper, a relatively recent addition to the board who has pressed for reform of the Authority and greater transparency in its operations, said that the agency needs to determine if such dereliction of duty is widespread or “systemic” within the 1,900 member police force—and, if it is, to “root it out.”
The New York Post reported in November that some PATH employees had been caught on camera sleeping on the job in the locker room at the rail system’s consolidated shop in Jersey City while racking up huge overtime pay. The Post also alleged that some supervisors had tacitly condoned these practices, and even joined in, and that such misconduct had been occurring for years. The press release said that some of the officers being disciplined had been assigned overtime on security details beefed up to guard against potential terror attacks.
Officials did not respond to our requests Wednesday night for more information about the nature of the disciplinary measures being considered, and other questions about what is believed to be one of the most sweeping disciplinary actions at the bi-state agency in modern memory. But, according to the New York Times, an agency spokesman said that the cops in question will remain on paid duty. The nearly 100-year old Authority and its police force have been the target of repeated criticism and scandal. As we reported recently in City Journal, a secret review of the Authority’s security mission five years ago concluded that the agency’s cops were among the nation’s most overpaid, poorly supervised, and unresponsive police forces.
The press release noted that the infractions had been detected by the chief security officer’s quality-assurance and inspections unit. The office of the CSO was created in response to the secret review headed by Michael Chertoff, the former head of the Department of Homeland Security, who was asked to perform a top-to-bottom study of the agency’s security operations. The most recent reports of dereliction of duty were then referred to the inspector general’s office. The top PATH commander was quietly reassigned in November in the wake of the inspector general’s review. “The allegations against these officers are extremely serious and we believe they have let down the public they are sworn to serve,’’ said Inspector General Nestor. “We will seek to take significant action against those officers who violated the public trust.”
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