Vacca & Vallone: NYPD must do more to enforce traffic laws and investigate crashes

On Wednesday February 15, 2012,  the joint hearing of New York City Council’s Transportation Committee and Public Safety Committee was a defining moment in our long fight for traffic justice and safety.  In front of a packed room, with overflow attendance in another room, NYPD described how the traffic enforcement and crash analysis works – or rather does not. Most of the testimonies came from the families of recent victims of traffic crashes. The council members heard horrifying stories of suffering, non communication,  disregard, botched investigations,  and aggravated pain by a process that as Ms Lefevre, one of the victims’ mother put it  ” was neither courteous, nor professional or respectful” . Chair Vacca and Vallone had harsh words for the NYPD and all council members expressed their displeasure with one aspect or another of the process: Click Here if the video below is not visible. You can read CHEKPEDS testimony Here 

NYPD described how their resources ,  the Traffic team at each precinct, the Highway Patrol  and the Accident Investigation Squad (AIS) perform the tasks.

According to NYPD’s  description, each precinct has a traffic safety team, which develops a strategy for the traffic in their precinct, to ensure motorists and pedestrian safety adn to ensure the efficient flow of traffic. The team does public education and coordinates with DOT .  They flag dangerous intersections at weekly traffic stats meetings and execute a weekly street survey to evaluate obstacle to cars on the streets. They also fill out accident reports.

When asked to see a specific strategic plan, the officers seemed confounded . Martin Treat has spent long hours asking for traffic information at the precinct  with very little to show for. This traffic unit is in name only as those responsibilities are assigned to officers with already a full plate.  

Read Gothamist: This is why drivers are getting away with murder

The five Highway Patrols (one per borough) do what the name implies: patrolling highways; not arterials where speeding is the most dangerous, not residential streets where failure to yield to pedestrians is so prevalent and under ticketed.  So this unit of 211 officers (reduced by 46% over the last 10 years )insures vehicular safety for vehicle occupants only .  Unfortunately 71% of traffic fatalities are pedestrians and bicyclists.

NYPD needs to more resources and to redeploy its resources based on concentration of crashes with fatalities or serious injuries and contributing factors to the crashes to provide safety for all users, not just cars. This directive must come from the Mayor and the Commissioner.

Read the Atlantic Cities: We need “Broken Windows” for traffic crimes

The Accident Investigative Squad is centralized with 26 officers ( no cut in resources). Their role is to investigate the circumstances of the crash and give summonses to the party at fault. In particular it is their responsibility to apply VLT 1146, which includes stiffer penalties for drivers who kill or injure a pedestrian or bicyclists while driving illegally or carelessly.  In 2011 there were 304 investigations and only 47 citations under VLT 1146. The policies that prevent more citations are (1) Only the AIS officers can give those citations, (2) the AIS is dispatched to a crash site only if there is a fatality or if the victim will probably die (3) NYPD argues that the judges will dismiss the citation if the agent was not present at the time of the crash. Chair Vallone sounded so right when he said “It is not the role of NYPD to defend the driver, let his lawyer do it”

The council will propose amendment to State Law VLT 1146 to explicitly not require the presence of an officer during the crash. Read More. It also appears that according to State Law 603, the IAS should be covering all serious injuries or the traffic patrol officer should be trained to give these citations. 

When it came to discuss release of information and communication with the elected, the public and the families, all council members had strong words of disapproval of the policy of opacity the NYPD adopts in these tragic cases. Questioned on why the current information is not published in Excel, the NYPD claimed to be concerned with tampering with the data.  When asked how soon a family could be update on the outcome of a case, NYPD responded could be up to 6 months, as their policy is to not communicate as along as the investigation is open. council members also complained of their lack of participation in borough level meetings to discuss accidents-prone streets.

New laws will be needed to make NYPD information more accessible, to report separately statistics on citations under VLT 1146, and to dictate a protocol for communication with elected and families in cases of crashes. It is not clear that NYPD policy comports with existing disclosure laws.  

You can see here CHEKPEDS testimony , as well as various press accounts of the hearings below
Nothing to Fear but the Driver lack of Fear  
Numbers tell the tale of Ray Kelly’s squandered street safety resources..
NYPD lax crash Investigations may violate state law ..
NYPD defends role in investigating traffic deaths 

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