By Katie Way
Mike, a white man in his 50s, was in a bad spot: He was stuck idling in traffic on New York City’s Riverside Drive, running late for a meeting, and he needed to get to the Upper East Side pronto. Hopping on the shoulder to bypass the other cars wasn’t the right thing to do, he told VICE, but he’d seen other people get away with it before.
Mike, whose name has been changed to protect his privacy, said he knew it was risky—especially because the borrowed car he was driving didn’t have a license plate, let alone a registration under his name. He decided to roll the dice anyway. Right away, bad news: a traffic checkpoint, and cops pulling people over.
“That was probably the tightest spot I could’ve been in,” Mike said. “Because [the offense] could’ve been ‘driving without a plate,’ ‘driving with no registration…’” By driving on the shoulder, too, Mike was driving illegally in at least three different ways.
Despite that, he felt confident as the cop approached his car and told him to roll down his window. Instead of pulling out his driver’s license, Mike simply introduced himself and produced something better. “I just basically happened to have one of their PBA cards on me,” he said, referring to the small, plastic “courtesy” cards issued by the Police Benevolent Association, which usually have an officer’s name, phone number, and signature on the back.
The cards are designed to be presented in a low-stakes police encounter, like a traffic stop, as a laminated wink-and-nudge between officers that says, “Hey, would you mind going a little easy on this one?” When a cop is handed a PBA card, they can call the number on it to verify the relationship between the cardholder and the issuer, then decide whether it means they should give the cardholder a break.
According to Mike, the officer looked at the card, then let him go without asking for ID or the car’s registration. “By knowing somebody and having that connection, it worked,” Mike said.
Picture: Ildar Sagdejev (Specious) / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)