NEW YORK — New York City wants to make its tickets harder to ignore.
That’s because every year about 40 percent of the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers slapped with the familiar pink tickets for such low-level offenses as drinking and urinating in public, littering and riding a bike on the sidewalk ignore, forget or otherwise miss their appointed court dates, resulting in arrest warrants and even jail time.
Hoping to reverse an unnecessary burden to an already overloaded justice system — and shrink the number of people who wind up in the troubled Rikers Island jail complex — city officials on April 14 plan to unveil a series of reforms, starting with the pink summons itself.
Borrowing techniques from the advertising world, city officials consulted with behavioral economists who redesigned the tickets to move the court date from the bottom to the top of the page, added bubbles to highlight the location of the summons court and even changed the form’s language to be more direct.
“To avoid a warrant for your arrest, you must show up to court,” the form now reads in big, bold letters.
A pair of pilot programs to begin next month in upper Manhattan will study how well would-be scofflaws respond to two other innovations: robocall and text-message reminders of court dates, and floating court dates that allow people to show up a week ahead of time and one night per week, whichever is more convenient.
“This is really part of a larger effort to make the system fairer,” said Elizabeth Glazer, the Mayor’s Criminal Justice Coordinator. “And there’s never been an effort to look at the summonses themselves.”
Summons cases made up half of people’s interactions with police officers last year — there were 359,202 issued last year compared to 355,397 misdemeanor and felony arrests — so changing the ticketing system is an ideal place to start broader reforms, officials said.
“We’re trying to be responsive,” said NYPD Deputy Commissioner Susan Herman, adding that officers will be trained at the academy and subsequently on how to use the new-and-improved forms.
Alissa Fishbane, the managing director of the non-profit behavioral science consulting group ideas42, which worked on the summons form, said the objective is not just to give people the information they need but to make clear the consequences of failing to act.
Her group has previously helped South African officials prevent the spread of HIV and is working with Mexican officials to encourage its citizens to save for retirement.
Business at the main summons court in downtown Manhattan, where lines often stretch around the block, will also become more efficient after court-appointed attorneys are given tablets containing case information well before defendants see newly trained judges, officials said.
The number of summons issued annually was down 35 percent last year form a high of 544,541 at its peak in 2009, a drop that corresponds to police policy changes on marijuana use and the stop-and-frisk tactic.
Advocates have long said black and Hispanic New Yorkers are disproportionately targeted with summonses. The new forms will include a section that notates the race of the ticketed person and quarterly police precinct-level summons data will also be publicly posted online, officials said.
“Adding racial data is a major step forward,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “And I think the changes in how the summons process works should improve things.”