Wrong place, wrong time, but did this CEO deserve a summons?

| March 7, 2014

On the morning of Thursday, February 27, Peter Shankman had two things on his mind: his busy schedule and his upcoming Ironman competition. In order to squeeze training into his day, he planned a 10-mile run, starting before 4:30 a.m.

Shankman headed to New York City’s Central Park, entering at 63rd Street and Central Park West. The first two miles of his run were uneventful. Then, police stopped him on the park’s east side near 85th Street.

An officer asked why he was running so early in the morning and informed him that Central Park is actually closed between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. Not content to leave it at a warning, the officer proceeded to write Shankman a summons.

Should it be legal to jog in the park before opening? From Jeffrey Zeldman.

Should it be legal to jog in the park before it opens? From Jeffrey Zeldman.

Outraged athlete

Shankman is set to appear in court in May and plans to fight the ticket. So certainly some taxpayer dollars are being put to work on this case. Is ticketing early morning runners the best use of those dollars?

Shankman certainly doesn’t think so. He called the whole thing “ridiculous.” He says that he doesn’t believe he violated the law because it’s meant to prevent people from spending the night in the park, not to deter runners from pursuing a healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, he says that by trying to stay in shape, he was acting in accordance with many other laws, such as one banning smoking in bars and another banning sales of super-sized sodas.

Not only that, Shankman pointed out that there weren’t any signs, gates or traffic cones at the park entrance he used, indicating the hours the park is open. How was he supposed to know it was closed?

Wrong side of the law

Most likely, Shankman is not this law’s target audience. But it doesn’t seem to make a special exception for runners. And he’s right when he says that he was in line with other laws, but that seems a bit beside the point.

It’s unfortunate he didn’t realize he wasn’t supposed to be in Central Park at 4:30 in the morning. The city really ought to post a sign. Then again, ignorance of the law isn’t a stellar excuse for breaking it. By that argument, anyone could claim ignorance of any number of laws and get away with, well, murder if you want to take it to the extreme.

Of course, some crimes, like murder, are more obviously criminal than others, like running in a park during the wrong time frame.

Waste of time crime?

Is this case “a waste of taxpayer dollars,” as Shankman describes it?  Well, yes and no. It’s difficult to argue that runners—running purely for health and enjoyment and not from a crime scene—ought to be targeted by a law likely meant to keep riff-raff out of Central Park. However, police are clearly taking this law seriously if they’re willing to ticket a runner for disobeying it.

As it stands, the law is designed to keep everyone out of the park between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. It doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t ask police to accept that anyone running by in athletic gear must be an upstanding citizen, while anyone sleeping on a park bench is a criminal.

Like it or not, Shankman wasn’t entitled to be let off with just a warning. He broke the law and got his ticket. Hopefully, his case will lead to changes that improve the law, if needed, as well as the methods used to publicize it.

Category: News, Trespassing

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