The day started quietly for Nathaniel W. O'Bleanis. He reported for duty, in his blue traffic enforcement agent’s uniform, at Second Avenue and 59th Street in New York, where traffic was flowing smoothly. But by the end of the day, O'Bleanis looked as if he had gone a round in a barroom brawl, reports the city’s Times. He had been shoved, bitten on the arm and suffered a fractured knuckle. He subdued a man with a headlock and, according to the authorities, brooked a racial slur and a threat of being shot in the face. And that was in just one encounter, with a driver who was blocking a garage entrance and refused to move.
Agent O'Bleanis recalled that ordeal and others recently during a break. “We are one step short of what cops do,” he said. “But we do this every day, without guns and vests.” Thousands of traffic agents write parking tickets, direct cars and operate tow trucks, among other unglamorous duties. While they are civilian employees of the Police Department, the word “hero” rarely falls upon their ears, though other four-letter words often do. But this week, these civil servants achieved a level of respect: Under a state law that took effect Tuesday, drivers will face felony charges if they assault an agent.