Outcry over petty fines to plug budget deficit

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The citizens of New York are bristling at a campaign by the police to ticket anyone and everyone who breaks any of its laws and regulations, however petty or obscure they may be.

Throw litter, sit down in the wrong place or ignore the etiquette of the subway train and you are liable to be fined as the city looks for any means possible to raise cash for its yawning budget deficit.

"Welcome to Nitpick City," the liberalDaily News boomed in an editorial last week, excoriating the Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, for the blizzard of fines. "City Hall is nicking ordinary New Yorkers with tickets for infractions so tiny nobody knew they existed. Forget quality-of-life crimes. Simply living can get you a summons."

Just ask Jesse Taveras, 19, who was nabbed for breaking an ordinance from 1988. No sooner had he pulled up a crate on the pavement outside the hair studio where he works in the Bronx than a police officer was writing him a ticket. Just as surprised was Yoav Kashdia, a tourist from Israel, recently fined $50 (£30) for occupying two seats at once on a subway train. Never mind that the carriage was almost empty.

Or take the case of Crystal Rivera, a student aged 18 from Brooklyn, who erred by resting on the steps inside a subway station. She is pregnant and the step looked a little less filthy than the benches on the platform. But blocking a passageway is apparently illegal too.

Mr Bloomberg has made no secret of his mission to to tackle the city's financial deficit, which is threatening to reach $4bn next year. Every fine levied helps just a little bit. Like the $400 demanded of Pedro Nazario, a Greenwich Village shopkeeper, for having too many words on his awning.

The Mayor says the police are just doing what they are meant to do, but officers are grumbling. The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the main police union, was even moved to spend $100,000 on newspaper advertisements, blaring "Don't Blame the Cops!"

Patrick Lynch, the union's president, complained: "This is eroding the trust between the police and the public."

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