How to use WebCrims to look up criminal charges

Greetings from Senegal! I’ve been taking some time off from performing here, but do want to continue adding a few legal tips to the site over the winter. The holiday season is busy down there, so if there are problems to report, let us know!

If you have the bad luck to be arrested or given a summons, it’s important to have accurate information about what you’re charged with.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to get that information. WebCrims, a service of the New York court system, allows you to see your charges, future court dates, and other information concerning open cases with scheduled court appearances. If the police spelled your name correctly — as they intermittently manage to do — you can bring up your case. On the “Case Details” menu on the left, you can find the exact charge, the time of arrest, and any future court dates. The charges should look something like this:

Charge Detail Disposition/Sentence
CO 1050.6 (B
**TOP CHARGE**
Infraction, 1 count, Arrest charge, Arraignment charge

Description
CO 1050.7 (J Infraction, 1 count, Not an arrest charge, Arraignment charge

Description

Fortunately, the “description” field has been left blank to avoid overwhelming us with information. But the number can help you figure it out. In this case, “1050.6 (B” refers you to paragraph of section 1050.6 of the MTA Rules of Conduct, and “1050.7 (J” to paragraph J of the next section. It’s important to read carefully and not be discouraged. For example, 1050.6 B above prohibits soliciting donations, but 1050.6 C specifically allows performing and accepting donations. The police can cherry-pick language that appears to justify your arrest, and it’s up to you to point out that artistic performance and tipping is allowed!

If you have any difficulties — for example if your name returns no results — there are additional resources on the WebCrims FAQ that can help you work around typos that may have occured on the NYPD’s end. Finally, if you are having a hard time figuring out a charge or finding your charges, please drop a line — we’ll be happy to help!

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86th St: meet the station agent who has everyone arrested

I got a tip from a performer recently about a problem at 86th and Broadway. He was able to be quite specific about the problem: apparently, the station agent on the weekday afternoon shifts calls police every time she hears music, which has led to a number of arrests.

I made a trip up there today to see what the problem was. The station agent was very forthcoming about having called the police because of music on the platform. I showed her a copy of the rules, which she said she had never seen before. After a careful reading of the section about permitted non-transit activities, she said she now shared my opinion, but that she would still call her supervisor when she heard music. (According to her, station agents are trained to call their supervisors whenever they hear music. Fact or fiction? Maybe FOIL can tell us).

At this point, I asked her to confirm her claim with the Music Under New York office at the MTA. Surprise, she said: she is only able to call her supervisor and no one else. She did, however, agree to “call someone” to “come sort this out.”

After a fifteen minute wait, who arrived but a police officer. I showed her the rules pamphlet and she agreed that I’d be okay playing in the station. (She did ask why I had taken a picture of the station agent’s badge, which is required to be displayed in window of every station booth. Apparently the station agent had complained, in her call to the police, that a member of the public had dared record her badge number. I’m sure the MTA will love to hear that an employee was retaliating for having her badge number recorded.)

The police officer then went into the station booth to speak with the station agent for a few minutes. When she came back out, she had changed her opinion: it’s not okay to play on the platform, she said, but only on the mezzanine and only with a “license.”

I then showed her the pamphlet again, and provided the MUNY phone number so that she could confirm that no license was needed. She was convinced regarding MUNY, but seemed to think that the sections mentioning noise and blocking traffic provided a blanket justification for arresting and jailing any performer who ever performs on 86th St between the hours of 1 and 9 PM.

There was only one thing to do at that point. I pulled out a copy of the settlement notice from my lawsuit and told her that the last police officer to share her opinion cost the City of New York thirty thousand dollars. That made her doubt herself again. She said she would check with her sergeant about the rules, and invited me in to the 59th St precinct to discuss the matter further.

The only problem there? Well, the sergeant in question once threw me out of 59th St for daring to show him a copy of the rules (itself currently the topic of a CCRB investigation). So I doubt that the issue will get a fair hearing — at least, that is, until my two arrests from this summer cause some lawsuits to land at the 59th St doorstep.

And as far as the station agent goes? I’ll be filing a complaint shortly about the badge number reprisal and the harassment of performers. Given that my complaint about harassment at 81st generated a personal phone call and a promise to speak with the employee in question, I have high hopes. 86th St, we’ll bring the music back yet!

Working with the MTA: accountability for station agents

Summary:

Station agents often wrongfully call police on performers. If police tell you they were called by a station agent, or simply that they “got a call,” you can assert your right to perform. But also, you have the option of reporting the station agent. To do so, record the number on the badge displayed in the booth window. Then, call 511 and leave a clear complaint stating what occurred. The MTA will follow up with you by mail to consult about retraining — and you have created an official record that will protect future buskers in that station.

Are station agents ever responsible for the arrival of the police? And can we effect change by working with the MTA to address harassment that arises from station agents’ misunderstandings of the rules? That’s a question that most of us don’t think to ask — and indeed, it seems that the police most often get involved with performers of their own accord, when they really should be doing other things.

However, it may be that station agents do request police interventions more often than we realize. After all, when the police throw you out, you have to get right out — which precludes going to the booth to find out from the station agent if there were factually any concerns about noise or traffic. (It also keeps you from filing any complaints, and we’ve written before about being ejected precludes any documentation of the harassment). So really, a performer who’s ejected has no way to know if a complaint was made by the station agent at all, unless he or she risks arrest by disobeying an officer’s order to stay out.

I had the rare opportunity to find out directly about a station agent’s involvement on August 1. As I wrote in a post about that incident, I showed the officers a copy of the rules, and after reading them, they agreed that there was no reason for me to cease the performance.

I haven’t yet shared information about the next part. Once the officers had left, I went to the station agent and asked if she knew why the police had come. To my considerable surprise, she told me right up front that she had called them, apparently in response to a customer complaint. “And you know that performing here is legal?” I asked. “Well, I had to call, because it was a customer complaint,” she replied. I found this a bit unsatisfactory, and asked her if she would call the police if told by a customer that there was a train in the train station. She replied that she wouldn’t, but that she did feel obliged to call to report a musician.

I didn’t find that answer acceptable. So, I took down her badge number and immediately dialed the MTA at 511 to file a complaint. I told them that the police had been called to ask me to stop performing, and that the police themselves had refused to enforce that order. I explained the law to them briefly, and asked if they could look into why the station agent had called the police to report an activity permitted by the MTA.

Well, lo and behold, I got a call this week from the 81st St manager, who is looking into the complaint. I told her in no uncertain terms that she should find out what’s going on with this station agent. When she didn’t immediately sound convinced, I mentioned that wrongful arrests have begun to cost the city through the nose — and indeed, she sounded receptive to that point.

When I arrived home today from Boston, I had a follow-up letter from the MTA. It read:

“This is in response to your August 1 telephone call to MTA New York City Transit reporting a station agent at the 81st Street station.

We regret if you experienced any difficulty while using the subway system. We have forwarded your complaint to supervision in our Department of Subways for review. Based on the information you provided, we hope to identify this station agent for questioning and appropriate action.”

I’m pleased to know that the MTA is looking into this. It doesn’t make sense for their staff to be enforcing rules that don’t exist, and they’re handling the problem the right way.

But, they’ll only be able to do that if we let them know about harassment stemming from station agents, and that means doing some sleuthing ourselves. If you’re ever harassed within a station, given a summons, asked to leave, or arrested, make sure you follow up on it with the station agent. Even if it’s the next day, you can likely find out who the person was and obtain a badge number. If you get confirmation that the station agent called the police — particularly if there’s a known problem with harassment, as there is at 81st St — you should call up 511 and report it.

The MTA’s willing to work with us on this one. And every time we advocate for discussion and training, we have the change to make a ‘harassment station’ into a safe station. That’s what we call change for the better in NYC!

Case closed: disorderly traffic summons

This is the first post in our case database. Hoping it grows, to give performers more information about dealing with legal threats in the future.

We had some good news in court today — not for me, but for a friend. She had been issued a pink summons for playing the guitar and singing at 53rd St. Once again, the charge didn’t fit the crime artistic performance: she was facing §240.20, ‘Disorderly Conduct.’ The statute reads:

A person is guilty of disorderly conduct when, with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof:
[…]
5. He obstructs vehicular or pedestrian traffic.

Of course, it could have been worse: she could have been charged with section 7, “[creating] a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose.” These laws are so hurtful!

On a more serious note, she went in for her court date and reports having had the charges immediately dropped. So that’s a victory for sanity, for music, and for culture. Cheers, all!

7/30: Rules pamphlets: Update

Update 7/31: Further detective work has uncovered a new lead on pamphlets in downtown Brooklyn. The crack BuskNY team is headed over to investigate and will let you know if pamphlets are found.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post on how to request an MTA rules pamphlet. This was important to be able to demonstrate to MTA officials and to police what the rules say, and it also makes a visual impact when it’s sitting in the case.

As a matter of fact, this booklet is even recommended by the NYPD’s own crime prevention page:

“All persons who are interested in performing on the subway and who wish to avoid violating the law are strongly advised to contact New York City Transit beforehand to get a copy of the Rules of Conduct, as well as a more complete explanation of their requirements.”

When I wrote that post, I submitted my own new request for the booklet through MTA.info to check if the process was working. Four days later, on 7/22, I received this response:

“We truly appreciate your interest in New York City Transit.  The information you requested may be available under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).  You must submit an electronic FOIL request to the appropriate MTA Agency via the FOIL Request page on the MTA web site.  If you send an electronic FOIL request in any other way or to the wrong agency, you will not receive the records you are seeking.  You may submit an electronic FOIL request at http://new.mta.info//foil.htm.  Be sure to select the appropriate MTA Agency.”

This was not what’s supposed to happen — but I went ahead and completed a FOIL request addressed to MTA Headquarters. Two days later, on 7/24, I received this response:

“In response to your FOIL request, below is the link from the MTA website  for the New York City Transit Rules of Conduct
http://www.mta.info/nyct/rules/TransitAdjudicationBureau/rules.htm
This completes the MTA’s response to your FOIL request.”

I replied that I needed a physical copy of the booklet, and was immediately emailed a phone number to call the woman I was emailing with. I called, and she said that I should go to the New York Transit Authority building at 130 Livingston St., Brooklyn to get a copy in person. I took down the address, and although things were interrupted by my arrest, I got down there yesterday on the 29th:

NYTA Building

I walked in, but to no avail: the check-in staff told me they had never even heard such a question before and couldn’t tell me where to go. And without a specific office to go to, I wasn’t even allowed in the building.

Fortunately, I’m not easily dissuaded. I called up the MTA representative I had spoken with before, and she said she could call around to find out. She then emailed back with this:

“I called someone at New York City Transit; she has a Rules of Conduct booklet dated 2005 (which I am told is the most recent); if you want to pick it up, you can call [redacted] or she can mail it to you.”

I called the new number, gave my address, and was told that the pamphlet will be mailed out. “In fact, it’s my very last copy,” she said. “Wait, then I have another question,” I said. “I know a number of other musicians who need this pamphlet, and one has already told me that mta.info responds that the supply is exhausted. Who can we call?”

She was unsure.

I emailed back the MTA representative from before, explained about the warning on the NYPD site, and asked if she was aware of any remaining stock of pamphlets. She said she would inquire. Three hours later, she replied with this:

“I am told that the Rules of Conduct brochure has not been printed for several years.  The link you provided to me is from the NYPD website, which does not appear to be up-to-date.  The Rules of Conduct on the MTA website are current.  I was also informed that abbreviated rules are posted in some stations on the front of station booths.”

Now, I am not sure if she’s aware that officers routinely ignore home-printed rules on 8.5×11.” I do assume she’s aware that we are not allowed to play in front of station booths where the abbreviated rules are posted. But in any case, I wrote back with this:

“The link I provided is dated 2013.”

I haven’t heard back yet, but I’ll keep pushing. In the meantime, I’d invite anyone who’s filed a request and had it turned down to drop me an email so I can get a rough count. Again: it is NOT fair for the NYPD to request a pamphlet that cannot be obtained.

18/7: How to request the MTA rules booklet

Update: we eventually found a source of official MTA rules pamphlets. They’re available in Downtown Brooklyn at the Transit Adjudication Bureau. The address is 29 Gallatin Place, and the pamphlets are on the 3rd floor on the rack outside the elevator.

Lately we’ve been picking up an increased amount of traffic from Google. Don’t worry, we’re not talking about a flood of thousands yet! But there is definitely targeted traffic coming from buskers — and indeed, last night I got an email with a question specifically on busking legality.

So, like I mentioned yesterday, we’re planning to post more tips and resources for musicians, all the way from macro (class-action suit, you say?) to micro. Today’s subject is how to get your hands on a official booklet version of the MTA Rules of Conduct.

Many of you have seen me walking around, doing my folk-lawyer act, with my trusty blue-and-white booklet of the MTA Rules of Conduct. In fact, I often have it lying in my case while I perform:

IMG_0191

It’s pretty visible, and it may remind transit officers doing routine station-checks that my work is permitted. Who knows — maybe having it out even provides a measure of protection to other buskers? And on a more pragmatic note, I suspect it may even make me a teensy bit more money. We all know where our priorities are!

To request a booklet, go to the MTA online comment tool. You can choose from several categories of request, and I believe either “MTA-wide” or “MTA Police (non-emergency only)” would be a good bet. Then, just write that you’d like to have a copy sent to you, and include your mailing address. You’ll receive a booklet in about two weeks.

Want two copies, to create the much-desired akimbo justice effect? Just ask a friend to submit his or her own request! When it comes to law, the more, the merrier.

16/07: Civilian Complaint Review Board

The original idea for the site was to make legal information about busking accessible online. But, it didn’t take long to see that a jumble of miscellaneous ideas about arrests, complaints, rules, and so forth wouldn’t attract very much traffic, and would consequently be difficult to find through Google, negating the original purpose.

Hence the blog idea — and indeed, I’ve been having a lot of fun sharing stories from underground. (There are so many!) But, it’s time to keep working on the legal aspect, especially now that we have a bit of an audience. We’ll also soon be adding a list of legal posts on the sidebar, so these notes are easily findable for newcomers.

So here’s an important update. Yesterday, I went to the Civilian Complaint Review Board at 40 Rector St., to do an interview in follow-up to a complaint I had filed after my arrest on June 18th.

It’s easy to file a complaint, by the way. Go to this link, and fill out the form or call. You’ll see below why that might be important.

I had actually filed two complaints after the arrest. The first was for wrongful arrest. Essentially, went my complaint, it’s legal to perform, but I was nonetheless arrested for it.

The second was about what the CCRB calls “Abuse of Authority.” When I went back to the Transit District 1 Stationhouse after I was released from Midtown Criminal Court on the 19th, I asked to file a complaint about the arrest. I was told not only that I could not file a complaint there, but in fact that there was no complaint form at all! (As you can see on the CCRB page, that information is not only false, but stationhouses are in fact mandated to accept complaints in person). That conversation ended at that point, because I was threatened with arrest if I didn’t leave the stationhouse.

The CCRB has two ways to pursue complaints. One is to schedule a “Mediation” meeting with the officer in question, and the other is to investigate. However, only certain complaints are in CCRB jurisdiction; the others are referred to other offices like Internal Affairs and the Office of the Chief of Department. (This is, at least, what I was told. I was not the only complainant in the office to experience bureaucracy-induced disorientation!)

When I met with the investigator assigned to my complaint, she immediately knew that the wrongful arrest complaint couldn’t be pursued by the CCRB, because it falls outside their jurisdiction. More on that later.

We did however decide that the abuse of authority complaint could be pursued within the CCRB. So, we did a tape-recorded interview about what happened, and then investigator then asked if I wanted the complaint to go to mediation or to investigation. The process of investigation is outlined in this article by a former investigator that I read last year. The gist of it (as I hazily recall — would that I had more time for this post before getting out the door) is that CCRB investigators make a valiant attempt to substantiate charges, but because they ultimately have no power to impose sanctions, the process is more or less moot.

Point being, I opted for mediation, because it will hopefully lead to a face-to-face meeting with the sergeant who told me I had no way to complain. I have a lot of thinking to do about how to handle that, but my hope is that it could be productive.

And if not, the complaint can always proceed to investigation following the mediation meeting. So, while the CCRB may be unable to impose any kind of sanction, this process still feels tentatively promising with regards to Abuse of Authority.

Now, back to the question of wrongful arrest. My investigator does not make decisions on referrals, and she was not initially able to provide many details on where the complaint could go. (Strange, right? Can I be the only person in NYC to file a complaint over wrongful arrest? Somehow I doubt it).

However, I really worked to advocate for myself and for other buskers who experience harassment. I told her on the record that arrest, harassment, and ignorance of the rules are all widespread problems, as per what I’ve heard in the grassroots, and that I’d like to be heard on that topic, not just about my own arrest. Further, I told her that the NYPD might well be interested in seeking a solution, i.e. reducing the amount of harassment, if the issue is brought to their attention through the right channels.

The end result is ambiguous: my complaint will be reviewed and referred, hopefully within the next two months. The theory I fleshed out with the investigator is that my personal wrongful arrest claim will go to the bureau responsible for those complaints, I believe the Office of the Chief of Department, and that follow-up on performers’ rights may, fingers crossed, be brought to the notice of Internal Affairs for a meeting.

So, touch wood on that one. I do hope this post outlines many reasons why the CCRB can help us with self-advocacy, and would love to hear from performers who have had experiences with CCRB in the past. And, I’ll keep the updates coming about all of these threads — especially the possibility of Internal Affairs!