Waiting for Raymond: When Will NYPD Address Its Traffic Safety Failures?

It should be good news that, on Ray Kelly’s orders, NYPD is going to start tracking bike-ped crashes. There’s a scarcity of information on the subject, and while the best available data indicates that the number of pedestrian injuries involving cyclists is dropping, the quality could be much better. Collecting information on these crashes with the same methods NYPD uses for motor vehicle crashes is a step up.

Photo: Newsday

But here’s the thing that’s got to be nagging anyone who pays attention to NYPD street safety policies, such as they are. It’s very rare for Ray Kelly to turn his attention to traffic violence. At the moment, the department’s approach to traffic safety is in the public eye, thanks to a courageous group of victims’ families and a recent City Council hearing that exposed the inadequacy of the NYPD traffic enforcement and crash investigations. So right now would be a good time for the commissioner to, say, order a review of how the department handles traffic injuries and deaths.

While the department is ready to shift its protocol to get a better handle on the 500 or so injuries New York City pedestrians sustain in collisions with cyclists each year, we’re still waiting for Ray Kelly to even acknowledge that police can do more to prevent the 75,000 or so injuries and 270 deaths caused annually by NYC motor vehicle crashes [PDF].

Here’s a brief run-down of the department’s traffic safety failures that have recently come to light, which Kelly has yet to address:

  • Police officers trained to look into traffic crashes only take cases where the victim dies or is deemed likely to die. The department does not assign trained investigators to the thousands of non-fatal traffic crashes in the city each year, nor could NYPD tell the City Council how many non-fatal traffic injuries result in charges for the driver.
  • When the Accident Investigation Squad does take a case, they routinely fail to collect or report evidence that might incriminate the driver, as in the case of Rasha Shamoon. Investigators often accept the driver’s account of events and blame victims even when the driver’s word doesn’t square with other evidence, as in the cases of Shamoon, Mathieu Lefevre, and Stefanos Tsigrimanis. And NYPD has dropped the ball and botched the case when charges are filed and the evidence seems ironclad, as with the alleged drunk driver who killed Clara Heyworth.
  • As a matter of protocol, NYPD won’t charge motorists with reckless endangerment or failure to exercise due care unless an officer personally witnesses dangerous driving behavior, according to testimony from Susan Petito, a senior attorney at the department.

How much longer do New Yorkers have to wait to read in the morning paper that Ray Kelly is taking action to stop preventable traffic injuries and deaths?