By Aman Ali
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ever since traffic tickets were invented, police officers have been asked to make them disappear for family, politicians and celebrities, a top police union chief said on Wednesday.
Edward Mullins, the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, said it's just a fact of police life and should not be the focus of an ongoing criminal investigation of as many as 400 cops accused of waiving tickets.
To prove his point, Mullins urged his members to reveal and potentially embarrass the big names who have sought a ticket fix.
A "Wanted" poster on the union website urges police to reveal any requests for "police courtesies," especially from "high-ranking police officials, elected officials, members of the judiciary, the medical profession or any other persons of notoriety."
Mullins, a cop for over 30 years, said it's unfair to target these officers because it is not uncommon for police to get calls from their bosses instructing them to waive tickets for people.
"These phone calls are as much within the culture of the department as arresting criminals," Mullins said in an audio recording released on Wednesday.
"If the culture needs to be changed, then change it. But to criminalize these actions and demonize so many hard working officers is dehumanizing, demeaning and downright wrong."
Mullins said prosecutors in the Bronx were conducting a probe of officers mostly stationed in the area.
The Bronx prosecutor's office declined to comment on the investigation and the New York City Police Department did not immediately respond to questions seeking comment.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg confirmed to reporters that the investigation was taking place but said police in recent years have implemented "an electronic system where doing this fixing tickets is almost impossible."
The mayor said, "There's always the possibility of somebody scamming any system. You can never make it 100 percent bulletproof. But the common practice - or the practice of just calling up and saying, 'Can you fix a ticket for me?' really isn't possible anymore because once something's in the database electronically somebody that can look to see whether it was removed and go and see why."
Mullins said labeling police waiving traffic tickets as corrupt is "ludicrous" because they don't do it in exchange for favors.
"If the truth were to be told, it is hard to call such practices acts of corruption when the culture of extending courtesies to members and their families within the NYPD has existed since the day the very first summons was ever written," he said.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)