NYPD Defends Role in Investigating Traffic Deaths

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NYPD brass defended the department’s record investigating bike and pedestrian deaths in 2-1/2 hours of often heated testimony before the New York City Council on Wednesday.

A number of recent deaths — such as Brooklyn cyclist Mathieu LeFevre, who was hit by a truck last October in Brooklyn, and 12-year old Dashane Santana, who was struck by a minivan on the Lower East Side in January — have caused the council to question how vigorously the NYPD enforces laws in these kinds of cases.

“They are not paying enough attention to reckless drivers, and I think that’s clear from the testimony of all the victims who were here today,” Council member Peter Vallone said after the hearing.

The NYPD issued more than 1 million summonses to drivers for moving violations, as well as 10,415 criminal court summonses to truck operators in 2011, Cassidy said. He added that last year the department issued 13,743 moving violations to bicyclists and 34,813 criminal court summonses to bicyclists.

Recent legislation (known colloquially as Hayley and Diego’s Law) amended section 1146 of the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law to establish careless driving as a more serious offense. But according to Susan Petito, an attorney for the NYPD, the only officers who write 1146 violations are members of the NYPD’s Accident Investigation Squad.

AIS is only called out to investigate if the victim is either dead or has suffered a life-threatening injury.

The AIS, which covers the entire city, has 19 detectives, one lieutenant, and three sergeants.

“We have utilized the resources at our disposal…to drive accidents down in the city,” said John Cassidy, chief of the NYPD’s transportation department. “It seems the fact that accidents are down, injury accidents are down, injuries are down — those are done by utilizing the patrol force that we have. So it’s not that we are not doing anything out there — I think it’s quite the contrary. We are doing a lot with a lot less.”

Sources told WNYC that they were concerned police only investigate traffic crashes if there is a death or if a police officer witnesses the crime.

 “My granddaughter’s gone because it’s just that easy for dangerous drivers to end a life on our streets,” said, Teresa Pedroza, Santana’s grandmother.

Other city council members complained about what they perceived to be a the NYPD’s lack of transparency.

“Why is it so hard to get information from the police department?” asked Council member Jessica Lappin, who has worked to try to get the NYPD to make more data available to the public. “Why did Mathieu LeFevre’s family have to file a [Freedom Of Information] request about their son’s death? That’s literally adding insult to injury.”

From evidence released after Lefevre's parents filed a FOIL request, it appears that Lefevre was hit twice by a driver who kept driving and parked nearby. When identified later by police, the driver said he didn't know he hit anyone. No charges were filed.

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