Several of the highest-ranking officers with the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority Police Department were ordered to turn in their agency- issued firearms in December, according to the TBTA Superior Officers Benevolent Association.
The TBTA, a subsidiary of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, oversees the operation of seven city bridges and two tunnels. The SOBA's 140 Sergeants and Lieutenants supervise a force of about 400 Police Officers who since 9/11 have increasingly focused on counter-terrorism, in addition to traffic-control duties.
Those supervisors have been working under an expired contract for nearly a decade.
Used Guns to Hurt Union?
Beginning in late 2019, the union complained that TBTA had illegally armed higher-ranking supervisors in a bid to undermine its bargaining position by enticing members to take promotions to non-civil service positions that are not eligible for collective bargaining.
"They didn't use the civil service process to hire," said Lieut. Christina Lampropoulos, the SOBA president. "The Public Authority Law says the TBTA has to use the civil-service rules and regulations to hire and they completely disregarded that there was no civil service process. They just picked their friends and gave them guns and uniforms."
Ms. Lampropoulos continued, "There were around nine captains, three inspectors, an assistant chief and a deputy chief who had all been Lieutenants that were previously in our union."
MTA spokeswoman Abbey Collins denied anything was amiss, saying in a statement, "This is Christina's latest distraction from the fact that she has failed to secure a contract for her members for the past eight years, and it's ironic that she's criticizing the very titles that she has sought, also unsuccessfully, to bring into her membership."
She went on to say that the Captain position originated in the 1970s and was "a direct, upward career opportunity for the very people she represents. These positions are filled by longtime, highly trained and responsible law-enforcement professionals who provide an essential public-safety function, and they do it well."
According to the union, the TBTA practice of arming supervisors above the rank of Lieutenant ran afoul of state laws and regulations that govern who qualifies for Peace Officer status.
As a consequence, SOBA claimed, the TBTA illegally allowed armed upper-level supervisors to take actions like the detention and arrest of suspects and discharging their weapons.
"The straw that broke the camel's back was when we were trying to settle our contract and the Governor was creating that task force to stop the bus fare evaders" and SOBA got cut out, "with the TBTA telling us they were giving that work to the Captains," Ms. Lampropoulos said. "So, this was going to be the first time the [non-civil service] officers would be doing law enforcement work...It really bothered us, but we could not get anyone to listen."
Went Outside for Help
In August of 2019, the union wrote New York City's five District Attorneys, New York State Attorney General Letitia James and Carolyn Pokorny, the MTA's Inspector General.
In the letter to Ms. Pokorny, which was obtained by this newspaper, the union raised "a legal and liability issue" regarding the TBTA "practice of using employees not designated as peace officers to carry out law-enforcement functions including authorizing and effecting arrests within the five boroughs of New York City."
It stated the agency had 17 managers "working in police style uniforms, carrying a firearm and performing law enforcement functions" despite the fact "these titles do not qualify them as peace officers defined in the New York State CPL. The Authority has created new in- house titles such as Captain, Inspector, Deputy Chief and Chief for these employees but none of these titles actually exist within the TBTA."
The union added that prior to the 2011 retirement of then-MTA Director of Security William Morange, the agency required all Sergeants and Lieutenants who were promoted into managerial positions to surrender their weapons.
TBTA Head Still Packing?
Daniel F. DeCrescenzo, the president of the TBTA, worked his way up the ranks from Police Officer over the past 31 years and continues to carry a weapon, according to the SOBA.
"Since they made him a Captain he's been carrying with an off-duty holster," Ms. Lampropoulos claimed. Her union has asked the agency to "legitimately create civil service titles with civil service tests" before delegating law-enforcement powers to employees promoted above the rank of Lieutenant.
Ms. Collins, despite follow-up queries, never addressed directly the circumstances around the union's claim that non-union superior officers had been recently forced to relinquish their firearms and whether Mr. DeCrescenzo had been sanctioned by the agency to carry a gun. Ms. Lampropoulos said that several of her members said their superior officers had complained to them about having their weapons taken away.
In 2015, a SOBA pact was reached covering 2009-2012, and the union so far has been unable to reach a successor deal.
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