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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Criminal Investigation of NYC Sanitation Snow Removal Workers Is Off the Mark

The calls for punishment of unknown city workers who apparently didn't do their jobs well enough are leading to criminal investigations, according to one WCBS-TV report,  which may be as misguided and counterproductive as they are sham investigations designed to appease an angry electorate.

These calls for punishment, for retribution, for some sort of vengeance, all stem from an assumption that a stronger punishment will sufficiently deter public workers from doing less than their best job.  They arise from the core belief that workers can be motivated best by being made to feel pain and being threatened with more pain unless they comply or accede to the demands (or threats) that are being made upon them.

In other words, the beatings will continue until morale improves.

The mention of criminal investigations -- which support the inference that some city workers could be threatened with losing their freedom because someone else alleges, after the fact, that these workers were not sufficiently productive -- should make many people very uncomfortable.  

Criminal sanctions customarily were reserved for people who committed intentional bad acts.  Negligence or poor judgment should never be grounds for imprisonment. 

Threats of imprisonment because of poor, shoddy or incompetent snow removal results send a chilling message to public workers:  you can go to jail if we don't think you are doing your job well enough.

Such a standard is not merely unfair.  It poses a tremendous risk of abuse by those who would have the power to make this subjective determination.  

This is bad public policy, will make public workers less motivated and more inclined to shirk their duties, and ultimately result in the public receiving fewer needed services.  

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer who offers legal advice and strategic analysis to business, individual and political clients through Eric Dixon LLC.  Mr. Dixon can be reached for comment or consultation at 917-696-2442 and via email at

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