Bill Bratton Will Be the Police Chief Tasked With Implementing Vision Zero

Photo: Transportation Alternatives

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has selected Bill Bratton to serve as New York City’s next police commissioner. Bratton occupied the same post from 1994 to 1996 under the Giuliani administration and is credited with pioneering data-driven policing techniques. After Bratton left, one of the innovations his deputies introduced was TrafficStat, a system that tracked crash data, held precinct commanders accountable for street safety performance, and brought different agencies together to address problems.

De Blasio pledged during his campaign to adopt a “Vision Zero” strategy for street safety — setting out to eliminate traffic deaths in New York City. In 12 years of Ray Kelly’s leadership, NYPD street safety policy stagnated and regressed. Bratton will have to make some major changes to realize the Vision Zero goal.

TrafficStat meetings, once open to the public, have become closed-door sessions. Despite advances in information technology, NYPD has fought against making basic information available about where crashes are happening and what causes them. As firearm violence has declined, traffic deaths now outnumber murders by guns, but relatively few resources are devoted to enforcement on surface streets and crash investigations. When police do look into fatal or injurious crashes, the investigations are cursory and shielded from public view. Simply put, Ray Kelly’s NYPD did not take traffic violence seriously.

In remarks at today’s press conference announcing his appointment, Bratton acknowledged that traffic violence poses as grave a risk to New Yorkers as other types of crime. “This year, the number of people who will die on our streets will almost equal the number of people murdered,” he said. “This will require an expanding commitment. The mayor has committed to that going forward.”

At a forum organized by Transportation Alternatives last month, Bratton said “more can be done” in the “critical area” of traffic enforcement. While he said jaywalking enforcement was a useful tactic when he ran LAPD, he also said that “one of the great things about this city is that it is so much a walking city.”

Advocates are optimistic that Bratton will make the prevention of traffic deaths and injuries a higher priority than his predecessor. TA Executive Director Paul Steely White sent this statement:

To achieve his Vision Zero goal, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio is smart to appoint Bill Bratton to lead the NYPD. Traffic deaths and serious injuries are epidemic in New York City, and the police department has a significant role to play in eliminating them. More New Yorkers are killed in traffic than murdered by guns. At a recent panel discussion presented by T.A. and NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, Bill Bratton demonstrated that he understands the urgent need to use data-driven traffic enforcement across the city to target reckless and deadly drivers and save lives.

For years now, NYC has been a national leader in re-engineering streets for greater safety, while Ray Kelly’s NYPD has lagged behind. Soon, it’s going to be Bill Bratton’s police department.