NYPD Defends Role in Investigating Traffic Deaths

Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - 06:12 PM

NYPD officials at a City Council oversight hearing (photo by Kate Hinds)

In two and a half hours of sometimes heated testimony, NYPD brass defended the department's record investigating bike and pedestrian deaths before the New York City Council.

"We have utilized the resources at our drive accidents down in the city," said John Cassidy, chief of the NYPD's transportation department.

"There doesn't seem to be any discussion of that at the Council hearing at all," he said. "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."

A number of recent deaths -- like 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.

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

Added Erika LeFevre, mother of Mathieu LeFevre: "The only person the NYPD showed courtesy, professionalism and respect towards was the driver who ran over my son," she said, referencing the slogan painted on the side of patrol cars.

"What actually happens when a pedestrian is struck and killed by a car?" City Council member Jimmy Vacca -- who chairs the transportation committee  -- asked at the opening of the oversight hearing. "Anecdotal evidence suggests that unless the driver is drunk or distracted, in the overwhelming majority of cases involving fatalities or serious injury, there are no charges filed at all."

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

But this didn't satisfy the council members.  Council member Peter Vallone asked the police brass:  "Are any of you aware, personally, of any reckless endangerment charges brought as a result of one of these traffic injuries?"  After a pause, Cassidy responded: "No, sir."

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. The 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.

"Even with those (1146) summonses that are written," Petito said, "they are invariably dismissed by traffic court, because traffic court judges believe that it's inadequate because it wasn't personally observed."

"It's really unacceptable," said Council Member Brad Lander, who wanted to know why more patrol officers couldn't be authorized to write 1146 violations.

The council wasn't the only frustrated party in the room. "You know, we're well aware of the catastrophic nature of what we are discussing. We realize these are not just numbers on a piece of paper," said Cassidy at one point.

Other city council members complained about what they perceived to be a the NYPD's lack of transparency. At one point Vacca wanted to know how many drivers were charged for criminally bad driving. "Unfortunately, reckless endangerment is not segregated for record keeping purposes in our arrest database," said Petito. "So we can't give you a specific number of reckless endangerment charges connected with speeding ... connected with a vehicle. Unfortunately that data's not available."

"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 FOIL request about their son's death? That's literally adding insult to injury."

Lappin called the NYPD's approach to releasing data "irritating" and "infuriating." "While putting up a PDF may comply with the law, it doesn't comply with our goal. It's information we're entitled to."

After the hearing, Peter Vallone said the council is committed to giving the NYPD the tools they need to go after bad drivers. "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."



Comments [4]

Anne Libby

I used to be on our local precinct community council. In 2004, Ernesto Torres, a man who worked in my building, died in an early morning hit and run (cabbies chased the driver down and held him for the police) not only were no charges filed, I learned that his death didn't show up in CompStat. Instead, we were told that traffic stats showed up in "TrafficStat," which wasn't on anyone's radar.

During my tenure on the council, we were not able to get those TrafficStat numbers reported to the community. And we were told that it's rare for drivers in traffic deaths to face prosecution.

Ernesto left a family, including a newborn daughter. I think about him frequently, and especially when we hear about new traffic deaths. When Dashane Santana died on Delancey Street last month, her family didn't have enough money to bury her. And I understand that the driver was not charged. How does this make sense?

Feb. 23 2012 08:04 AM
Al Cinamon

Bravo, Steve F. I wish I knew his last name so I could congratulate him directly. But, he is right on with everything he said. Calling it an "accident" is a big problem, as if it's unavoidable. They are avoidable. They are crashes that are caused by the way people drive, by the things they do and don't do.
Does anyone really believe that when a motorist runs a red light or a stop sign and hits someone, that it was an accident that was unavoidable?
And then you'll hear the argument that, "I was doing the speed limit." Well, doing the speed limit when it is not warranted is also against the law.
The trouble is that too many motorists don't even know the law or don't care about the law, which is why I refer to them as "movers" not "drivers."

Feb. 18 2012 03:42 PM
Steve F

"Accidents" are down according to the NYPD.
That's one of basic the problems with the police attitude, these injuries and deaths are not "accidents". They are "crashes" that have explicit preventable and correctable causes. If the cops keep on thinking it's all an unavoidable tragic accident, then nothing will ever get better.

Reported accidents may be down, but part of that is because the cops on the street and in the precinct houses refuse to write up injury crashes and even mis-report fatality crashes. Too often, cyclists and pedestrians try to report a crash and the cops refuse to take the report. Excuses like "we did not witness the crash" or "there was no obvious injury or damage" and they blow off the incident. Sure the reported crashes go down, if you don't want to report them.

Ray Kelly does not treat "potential terrorist activity" as an "Accident". He takes it seriously, maybe too seriously, and has his cops follow up every lead.
Report a person might have a gun, and the cops are out in force, stopping and frisking and writing a record of everyone in the neighborhood. A gun is real serious business to the NYPD.
But come to the police and try to report a menacing driver, one who has even said he will run you down, and the police don't have any time or interest in following up at all. Worse, they say they have no legal authority to follow up on death threats by drivers.
Please explain the difference between threatened by a man with a gun that shoots 1/2 inch wide bullets and a man driving a two ton 6 foot wide car. He has a better chance of hitting me with the car. Which is the bigger menace to our lives?

This is something that Ray Kelly and Mike Bloomberg are failing to understand.

Feb. 16 2012 12:03 PM

Image if there was a rise in rapes, murders, bank robberies, child abductions, or just about any other crime. The NYPD couldn't really say, "We have utilized the resources at our disposal."

As for accidents and injuries being down, that's due to a combination of factors, the most significant of which are new DOT street designs such as bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, curb bulb outs, and more. NYPD can't take credit for this on their own.

Besides, much of the problems people have with NYPD stem from what they are doing AFTER someone is injured and killed by a driver, not before.

Feb. 16 2012 11:15 AM

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