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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Filler: Police corruption is just that, not 'courtesy'

Police officers and union members demonstrate in support

Police officers and union members demonstrate in support of the police officers indicted in a ticket-fixing scandal at the Bronx Supreme Court in New York. The cops held signs that read: "It's a courtesy, not a crime," and union officials said the longtime practice of ticket-fixing was not criminal. Credit: AP, 2011

If the favoritism former Nassau Police Department Second Deputy Commissioner William Flanagan showed a thief with a connected father seemed unusual, it wouldn't be so infuriating. It's the fact that the special treatment doesn't feel shocking that fills me with rage.

Flanagan was convicted last week of three misdemeanor charges because he used his position to keep a wealthy police benefactor's ne'er-do-well son from being arrested. Zachary Parker stole thousands of dollars worth of equipment from John F. Kennedy High School in Belmore in 2009. Police never arrested him, but the Nassau district attorney's office finally charged him with burglary. He pleaded guilty and is now serving 1 to 3 years in prison.

Zachary is the son of Gary Parker, a former director of the Nassau County Police Department Foundation, which is raising money for a police academy. Gary donated $110,000 to the foundation, and according to Flanagan's indictment, spent at least $17,000 taking cops out to meals and sporting events and having them over to the house for barbecues.

Flanagan and two other brass who have not yet been tried were accused of helping head off an arrest and charges.

The son was a civilian employee of the police department, apparently thanks to dad's connections, but Internal Affairs, which should have handled the case, was shut out. And records show the son's license plates were run at least 20 times during traffic stops, but he got no tickets.

The special treatment from Nassau brass, and what looks like the special treatment from all the cops who ran those 20 checks, isn't surprising. We all know there is a class of people who get special treatment from cops. What hasn't been made as clear is how poisonous and destructive this system is.

In 2011, in the Bronx, 16 officers were arraigned on charges related to fixing traffic and parking tickets, in indictments containing 1,600 counts. More grotesque and pitiful than the indictments was the protest outside the court house: hundreds of off-duty officers chanted "Down with the D.A." and carried signs that read "It's a courtesy, not a crime."

More widespread are the cards from the Police Benevolent Associations that friends and family members flash to keep from getting tickets in the first place. Officers get a few to hand out, as do retirees. The Long Island Press story that broke open the Parker/Nassau brass travesty largely focused on the special version of these "get out of scrapes free cards," photo IDs handed out to big contributors to the foundation.

I've had PBA cards offered to me and, if I weren't a journalist, would have been tempted, being no stranger to lawlessness or lover of punishment.

"What's the big deal," I can practically hear people saying as they read this. "Is it so wrong to extend a courtesy between brothers in blue?"

Yeah, it's terrible. It's unjust, and creates a multitiered society in which the law applies to some and not others. It also turns a black-and-white issue gray -- which is how you get cops thinking it's OK to get their buddy's son off of burglary charges.

Say an officer lets the teen kid of a cop off on a speeding ticket that, because the kid drives like a lunatic, would have cost him his license. Soon after, the kid is doing 105 mph when he clips a woman driving her daughter home from nursery school, killing them both. Now a cop doing a "courtesy" has, morally, become accessory to enable those deaths.

We can't have special rules for special people. We can't make laws apply only to the peons who aren't well-connected enough to get PBA cards.

It's not courtesy. It's corrosive corruption, and it should be stamped out at every turn.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.