How Many Are Hurt and Killed in NYPD-Involved Crashes? Don’t Ask NYPD.
Gothamist has been following the case of Ryo Oyamada, the Japanese student who was struck and killed by an NYPD officer near his Queensbridge home in the early hours of February 21. The department claims the cruiser was moving at 35 to 39 mph on 40th Avenue, with lights on, as officers responded to a call, and that Oyamada stepped in front of the cruiser mid-block. But multiple witnesses say there were no lights or sirens, and that the officer was driving at 70 mph when Oyamada, 24, was hit near 10th Street.
Contrary to the official NYPD version of events, Oyamada’s father says police initially told the family that, to avoid alerting their suspect, officers did not have lights or sirens activated. Video taken after the crash shows locals confronting NYPD about police speeding through the neighborhood.
Like the family of Mathieu Lefevre, the Oyamadas say they have been treated poorly by police. NYPD has refused to allow the family access to information about the crash, including video that, according to an officer who met with community members, shows the cruiser’s lights were on.
Oyamada is at least the second pedestrian killed by an NYPD cruiser strike in the last year. In April 2012, officers reportedly ran down Tamon Robinson, who they suspected was stealing paving stones, in Canarsie.
In its monthly crash data reports, NYPD lists the number of collisions involving ambulances, fire trucks, buses, taxis, and non-municipal vehicles, categorized by type. Conspicuous by its absence is a line item for NYPD vehicle crashes.
NYPD-involved crashes resulting in property damage, or civilian injuries and deaths, are not uncommon, whether it’s a cyclist knocked to the ground or pedestrians hospitalized or killed when a police vehicle jumps the curb. Then there are police chases, acknowledged and alleged, during which suspects have crashed vehicles into bystanders.
A spate of such crashes in 2009 and 2010 left three pedestrians, a cyclist, and two vehicle occupants dead. Mary Celine Graham was killed when a robbery suspect attempting to evade police collided with another vehicle and slammed into a group of pedestrians in Harlem. Karen Schmeer was fatally struck by men suspected of taking over-the-counter allergy medicine from a CVS pharmacy on the Upper West Side. Restaurant worker and father of three Pablo Pasarán was run over in Long Island City by a suspect after an alleged drug buy. According to witnesses, a suspected car thief was fleeing police when he hit and killed 38-year-old Greenpoint mother Violetta Kryzak. A video camera captured an apparent Staten Island chase that led to the death of a couple with young sons.
A query to the NYPD public information office for crash figures has not been returned. We’ve looked elsewhere for this data, and the closest thing we’ve found is the annual comptroller’s report on claims against the city.
NYPD leads all departments in claims and payouts, and police crashes are enough of a concern that, in the FY 2011 report [PDF], Comptroller John Liu’s office recommended “on-going training regarding police vehicle chases that balance both law enforcement goals and liability concerns.” The report notes that the fifth largest settlement paid by the city in FY 2011 resulted from a crash in which a passenger in a vehicle being chased by police suffered a brain injury.
There were an all-time high 8,882 claims against NYPD in FY 2011, with a total payout of $185.6 million. Those numbers include allegations of police misconduct, civil rights violations, and other claims, in addition to property damage and personal injuries. We’ve asked Liu’s office for a breakdown of claims involving NYPD vehicle crashes, because the annual report does not itemize them.
Even if we know the number of claims resulting from police crashes — we’ll post the data if we get it — it would not provide a complete picture of reckless driving on the part of police. Along with crucial details on traffic crashes and investigations, NYPD keeps this information out of sight.