The NYPD is required to investigate all traffic deaths and serious collisions. But family members of the victims complain they often can't convince authorities to hand over the results of those investigations. Now City Council members Brad Lander and Peter Koo are proposing a bill to change that.
Their bill, slated for introduction on Wednesday, would ensure that police post collision reports on a secure website that family members could access. Family members would also be notified when new evidence was added to a report.
Typically, fatal and serious collisions produce two reports. The first report is an initial finding by police who respond to the scene of a street crash. Mayoral spokesman Wiley Norvell said those preliminary reports "are supplied to individuals directly involved in the collision, registered owners of the vehicle, attorneys, as well as the insurance companies. This report can be supplied at the precinct concerned for a monetary charge of $10. After 30 days, individuals must request the report from the State Department of Motor Vehicles."
Then members of the NYPD's Collision Investigation Squad produce a second, more in-depth analysis. Family members and others must file a Freedom of Information Law request with the police to obtain those collision reports.
Several family members have told TN that when they've gotten their reports -- sometimes after more than a year of waiting -- they've been incomplete. For example, Hsi-Pei Liao said the report about his daughter Allison's death made reference to a video that was missing from the materials. (He filed a second FOIL request and eventually obtained it.) And he said the report featured photos of the collision scene that were too dark to decipher.
Lander said the issue "became painfully clear" to him when he tried to help Amy Cohen and Gary Eckstein secure information from the police about the traffic death of their son Sammy in October. "I assumed it would be relatively easy to get, but it's difficult. I don't know why," he said. Lander said he understood that the materials in a collision report could be painful for family members, "but, in so many cases, the information is important for them to come to terms with what happened, to see the truth and to understand the situation. And families clearly have a right to it."
Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose Vision Zero project seeks to eliminate street fatalities, has spoken in favor of information-sharing, but hasn't yet decided to change the current policy. At a press conference last week, he said, "We’re working with a lot of families who have lost loved ones, so we’ll certainly speak to them and figure out a good transparency methodology going forward."
But family members say they've told de Blasio what they want: easy access to reports that contain the details of how their loved ones died.
WNYC, as part of its "Mean Streets" project, is compiling an interactive list of all traffic deaths this year, which can be found here.