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4 Reforms Michael Ameri Must Make to NYPD Crash Investigations

The Daily News reported Wednesday that Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri, who made street safety a priority as commanding officer of Brooklyn’s 78th Precinct, was promoted to head up the NYPD Highway Patrol — putting him in charge of the Collision Investigation Squad.

Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri

NYPD Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri

As Streetsblog has reported in detail, NYPD crash investigation protocols are ripe for major reform. Compared to the number of serious crashes, the Collision Investigation Squad handles a relative handful of cases per year. CIS has a history of bungling investigations, which denies justice to victims. While CIS crash reports often do contain valuable information, NYPD won’t release them publicly. Even victims’ families have trouble obtaining crash reports from the department.

Given Ameri’s background, advocates are hopeful he will affect change citywide. ”Park Slope’s loss and the 78th Precinct’s loss is the city-at-large’s gain,” Eric McClure of the Park Slope Street Safety Partnership told the Daily News. “He’s the right guy for the job to help make the streets a lot safer.” Right of Way also released a statement lauding Ameri’s promotion and outlining its recommendations for CIS.

There’s a lot Ameri can do at the Highway Patrol to help achieve Mayor de Blasio’s goals under Vision Zero. Below are four much-needed crash investigation reforms.

Make crash reports accessible. The results of NYPD crash investigations are kept hidden, even from victims’ loved ones. Wresting critical information from the department through freedom of information requests is prohibitively time-consuming. This is a burden to victims’ families, and more broadly, compromises efforts to make streets safer. “The Collision Investigation Squad’s meticulous reconstructions of driver actions leading to traffic crashes are a treasure trove of information that can improve traffic safety,” said Charles Komanoff, Right Of Way organizer and longtime street safety advocate, in today’s statement. “Yet none of it ever reaches the public, elected officials, advocates or health professionals.”

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20 Speed Cams Issued Almost as Many Tickets in June as NYPD Has All Year

Traffic enforcement cameras are far outpacing NYPD in ticketing drivers who speed, run red lights, and encroach on bus lanes — pointing to the need for more automated enforcement to make streets safer.

A report from the city’s Independent Budget Office finds that FY 14 revenue from camera-generated tickets in those three categories was $41 million, compared to $14 million from summonses issued by NYPD, based on preliminary data. “The proportion of revenue generated by cameras rose from 38 percent in 1999 to 75 percent in 2014,” the report says.

While tabloid coverage focused on the revenue angle, the takeaway should be that we can now see how much NYC needs automated enforcement to reduce dangerous driving.

According to the Post, speed cameras issued 48,517 tickets in June, the first month when 20 cameras were operational. In one month those 20 cameras nearly eclipsed the 54,854 speeding tickets issued by NYPD through the first six months of the year.

From mid-January to mid-May, when just five speed cams were working, they issued more than 41,000 tickets, according to the city’s open data portal. Through the end of June, NYPD issued a combined 83,066 summonses for speeding, red light-running (26,749), and driving in a bus lane (1,463).

Though NYPD has stepped up enforcement somewhat this year, these numbers really give a sense of how rampant law-breaking is on city streets — particularly when you consider Albany restrictions that limit speed camera operation to school zones during school hours, and only allow tickets when a driver exceeds the speed limit by 11 miles per hour or more. That means in one month 20 cameras covering just a fraction of the city for part of the day caught nearly 50,000 motorists traveling well in excess of the posted speed.

As speed cameras become more prevalent, it might make sense for cops to focus on other dangerous violations, like failure to yield, which don’t involve stopping drivers traveling at high speeds.

NYC is a long way from complete speed cam coverage, of course, and even Albany’s recent authorization of 140 cameras won’t cover most of the city’s 6,000 miles of streets. But it’s clear that a handful of cameras are already doing a lot more enforcement than NYPD. Those 140 speed cameras are going to make a difference, even if we need a lot more to get to zero traffic deaths.

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New 78th Precinct Council Leader Has a Passion for Safe Streets

Last month, Wayne Bailey was elected to head the community council for NYPD’s 78th Precinct, which covers Park Slope, Prospect Park, and parts of adjacent neighborhoods. Bailey is a veteran neighborhood advocate and a long-time volunteer with Transportation Alternatives who has been involved with the precinct community council for years.

Wayne Bailey

Wayne Bailey

As Streetsblog readers know, under the direction of Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri, the 78th Precinct has emerged as a model for NYPD in the Vision Zero era. And as Bailey points out, Ameri was taking steps to address local street safety issues before Mayor de Blasio took office.

We asked Bailey via email about his new position, his plans for the council, and how the public can get involved to help make Brooklyn streets safer.

You were elected to the chair position, correct? How does that work?

Correction — no chair. The bylaws’ required positions are president, vice president, recording secretary, treasurer and sergeant-at-arms. [They] serve for two years and then stand for election, and then can only serve one additional two year term. To be eligible to vote you must attend four meetings, reside in the precinct or have a business interest. I was elected president at the June general meeting. [Editor's note: Joanna Oltman Smith, another name familiar to Streetsblog readers, was elected council vice president.]

I read that you’ve been active on the precinct council for a number of years. What motivated you to seek the [presidency]?

The community council is a conduit for communication to the precinct and from the precinct; I already am very involved in the community. I am a CB 8 board member at-large, member of the Dean Street Block Association between Sixth and Vanderbilt, and deeply involved in mitigating the quality of life construction impacts from the Atlantic Yards project. Volunteering for over six years at TA, member of the CB 8 transportation committee, [and] working with the 78th and residents on all forms of today’s traffic issues, I felt that I was highly qualified to articulate and support the mayor’s Vision Zero platform and help implement that plan! The NYPD is accountable to address myriad issues, not just street safety, with the resources under their command, so it is imperative that we prioritize street safety issues that make us safest first.

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WNBC Shames City for Letting Employees Hog Parking With Bogus Placards

The next time you’re in a part of town where a lot of city employees work, take a look at the dashboards of cars occupying curbside parking spots. In neighborhoods across the city, you’ll see bogus placards that parking cheats use to evade meters and other regulations. In a two-part series, WNBC’s Tom Llamas traveled to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and St. George on Staten Island to document the problem. He found that while officials at the top know the abuse is wrong, NYPD parking enforcement regularly turns a blind eye on the street.

Many city employees see free on-street storage of their private cars as a perk of the job. “Because we work for the city, why should we pay?” Tara Jones, a children’s services employee on Staten Island, told WNBC. “Do policemen pay for meters? Do firemen pay for meters? No.”

Most other placard abusers Llamas interviewed on the street remained nameless and either lied on camera about paying or were shamed into feeding the meter, perhaps because they knew what they were doing is wrong. After all, free street parking isn’t an entitlement, it’s a land grab that’s hurting local businesses and residents.

“Merchants here cannot find parking for themselves, for their customers, and it really hurts them as small business owners,” said Josef Szende, executive director of the Atlantic Avenue Business Improvement District. A FedEx driver double-parked on Atlantic told Llamas that “it’s impossible” to find a legal space to make deliveries in the area.

“It’s disheartening because it’s so blatant. Everyone in the community knows they can’t park here,” said Robert Honor, who owns a wine shop in St. George, where parking abuse is a long-standing problem. Only 10 of the 89 parked cars inspected by WNBC displayed meter receipts, and those without proof of payment went without tickets.

While surveys of retail districts around the city show that most customers don’t arrive in private cars, placard abuse leads customers who do drive to clog up streets as they search for an open spot. And that can foil the city’s attempts to reform curbside parking prices.

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A Woman Dies, So East Harlem’s Top Cop Taunts Street Safety Advocates

Commanding

Thomas Harnisch, commanding officer of the 25th Precinct, reacted to a woman’s death on the subway tracks at Union Square by antagonizing Transportation Alternatives and advocate Keegan Stephan of Right of Way on his personal Twitter account.

After a woman was killed by a subway train in Union Square yesterday, Captain Thomas C. Harnisch, commanding officer of the 25th Precinct, took to Twitter to harangue street safety advocates. His comments, since deleted, claim advocates “seize on a tragedy and assign culpability having no facts… to further your agenda.”

Harnisch, whose officers were busted last year writing bogus tickets to cyclists for using a bike path, used his personal account to send Transportation Alternatives and street safety advocate Keegan Stephan a link to a news story about a woman who fell onto the subway tracks and was killed by an oncoming train on Saturday. “Let me guess, driver’s fault right?” he said.

Stephan replied, “A woman is dead and you are using this as an opportunity to criticize our attempts to save lives?”

Minutes later, Harnisch replied using the 25th Precinct’s official account: “Isn’t that what you do? Seize on a tragedy and assign culpability having no facts? To further your agenda?” The tweet was later deleted, but Stephan posted a screen capture.

This tweet about traffic safety advocates from Captain Thomas C. Harnisch, commanding officer of East Harlem's 25th Precinct, was deleted yesterday after Harnisch first tweeted from his personal account.

This tweet about traffic safety advocates from Captain Thomas C. Harnisch, commanding officer of East Harlem’s 25th Precinct, was deleted yesterday. Image via Keegan Stephan/Twitter

NYPD’s public information office has not replied to questions about Harnisch’s comments.

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NYPD Lied About 2009 Chase That Killed Brooklyn Pedestrian Violetta Krzyzak

The aftermath of the police chase that killed Violetta Krzyzak, which NYPD said didn’t happen. Photo: Graham T. Beck

Aftermath of the police chase that killed Violetta Krzyzak, which NYPD said didn’t happen. Photo: Graham T. Beck

Court documents indicate police were driving in pursuit of a man when he struck and killed a Greenpoint pedestrian five years ago, contrary to NYPD denials and confirming statements from witnesses who told Streetsblog the crash occurred during a high-speed chase.

Jose Maldonado was driving a stolen minivan when he passed an unmarked police car near the intersection of Graham Avenue and Jackson Street on the afternoon of April 27, 2009, according to a recent ruling from the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court. As Officer Steven Truglio approached the van on foot, Maldonado drove off. Police sped after Maldonado as he ran red lights and went against traffic on one-way streets.

“It is undisputed that defendant consistently drove well above the 30 miles per hour speed limit and violated numerous traffic rules as he attempted to evade capture by the police,” court documents say. “The police followed with lights and sirens activated as defendant drove towards Manhattan Avenue, a major thoroughfare and commercial hub.”

Maldonado drove north on Manhattan Avenue, swerving head-on toward southbound traffic as he passed other drivers. He “did not even apply his brakes” as a pedestrian dove out of his path at Milton Street, and continued running lights and driving in the wrong lane as he approached Manhattan Avenue at India Street, where he hit Violetta Krzyzak.

Her body flew into the air upon impact and landed over 165 feet, or almost one block, away from the point of collision. A witness who saw the moment of impact estimated that defendant was driving at 70 m.p.h., while another bystander thought his speed was closer to 80 m.p.h.

Maldonado “did not brake” after striking Krzyzak. He crashed into parked vehicles five blocks away, at Manhattan Avenue and Dupont Street, and was finally tackled by witnesses when he tried to flee on foot.

Krzyzak, 37, died at the scene. She was married and had a 20-year-old daughter, according to the Greenpoint Gazette.

Graham T. Beck, who came upon the scene the after the crash, wrote a series of stories for Streetsblog with quotes from multiple witnesses who saw the white minivan being chased by police. But weeks later at a community council meeting, Deputy Inspector Dennis Fulton, then the commanding officer of the 94th Precinct, said there was no pursuit.

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How to Stop NYPD From Blocking Bike Lanes

Ninth Avenue, Midtown South Precinct. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/miller_stephen/status/486552074276986881/photo/1##Stephen Miller##

Ninth Avenue, Midtown South Precinct. Photo: Stephen Miller

We’re seeing a lot of photos this week of police parked in bike lanes. Fortunately, there is something cyclists can do about it in addition to submitting documentation to Cops in Bike Lanes.

Blocking a lane is not merely a sign of disrespect on the the part of NYPD. It’s illegal, and it poses a risk to people on bikes who are forced into auto traffic (and are sometimes ticketed for their trouble).

DNAinfo reported this week that NYPD plans to open Twitter accounts for all precincts. This will make it easier to complain directly (and publicly) to NYPD about police in bike lanes.

If you can make the time, you can also speak face to face with commanding officers via precinct community councils. Every precinct has a community council, and meeting info is posted on each precinct’s web page. NYPD has a precinct locator if you’re not sure which jurisdiction applies. NYPD may often come across as a big blue wall, but local officers do respond when people show up to speak with them.

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Off-Duty NYPD Officer Seriously Injures Child in Jackson Heights Crosswalk

The crosswalk where Chunli Mendoza, age 5, and her mother were injured by an off-duty NYPD officer on Tuesday. Photo: Stephen Miller

The crosswalk where Chunli Mendoza, age 5, and her mother were injured by an off-duty NYPD officer on Tuesday. Photo: Stephen Miller

Just after 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, 5-year-old Chunli Mendoza was walking to P.S. 228 with her mother. They were midway across Northern Boulevard at 92nd Street, just a block away from the school, when they were struck by an off-duty NYPD officer. Chunli was seriously injured and remains at Elmhurst Hospital after undergoing surgery on her leg. Her mother, hospitalized for a foot fracture, was released on Thursday.

NYPD says the mother and daughter were struck by an off-duty officer driving a white pickup truck. The driver has not been charged and no summonses were issued. ”We hope the girl makes a full recovery,” an anonymous police official told DNAinfo. “Unfortunately it was a tragic traffic accident.”

Witnesses offered their version of events to reporters yesterday at a rally held by Make Queens Safer at the intersection.

Maria Jose Penaherrera, 37, has a daughter in the first grade at PS 228. She was driving to school that morning and was three cars back from the intersection when the crash occurred. While she did not see a white pickup truck, she does remember a black sedan making a U-turn in the intersection before traffic inched forward and she could see a girl down in the street.

“I knew it was a girl from PS 228 because of the uniform,” she said.

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Which Precincts Are Making Progress on Vision Zero in Queens?

Click to enlarge

The advocates at Make Queens Safer have put together this handy visualization of NYPD enforcement trends in Queens using data scraped from PDFs the department posts online. You can see the big increase in failure-to-yield summonses, a smaller but significant bump up in speeding tickets last month, and a mild uptick in red light tickets. Pedestrian and cyclist injuries are back down to 2012 levels after an increase in 2013.

The precinct-level breakdown is especially interesting. The 104th, 110th, 111th, and 113th precincts are among the borough’s leaders in increasing summonses for failure-to-yield, speeding, or red light running, and all four are also seeing significant drops in pedestrian and cyclist injuries. (There are 17 precincts in Queens.) As Make Queens Safer notes, every precinct is starting from a different baseline, so a precinct that started out with a relatively high level of enforcement may not show up on the list of leaders here. But this is intriguing data and a closer look could reveal more about the link between increased enforcement and better safety outcomes.

Click to enlarge

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De Blasio Signs Traffic Safety Bills, Says 25 MPH Will Go Into Effect This Fall

Mayor de Blasio signs 11 traffic safety bills this morning at PS 152 in Queens, surrounded by families of traffic violence victims. Photo: Stephen Miller

Mayor de Blasio signed 11 traffic safety bills earlier today at PS 152 in Queens, surrounded by families of traffic violence victims. Photo: Stephen Miller

Earlier today, Mayor Bill de Blasio returned to the schoolyard where he launched his administration’s Vision Zero campaign in January, just feet from where 9-year-old Noshat Nahian was killed last December while walking to PS 152 with his sister. A little more than six months after announcing his intent to eliminate traffic fatalities within 10 years, the mayor signed bills that suspend the licenses of dangerous taxi drivers, require the installation of 20 mph Slow Zones, and make it a misdemeanor to strike a pedestrian or cyclist with the right of way, among other changes.

While today’s press conference struck a celebratory note, the mayor made clear that Vision Zero is a continuing effort. “The vision is to end traffic fatalities in this city. It’s not easy. Nobody said it was easy,” de Blasio said. “When you think about Vision Zero and all its components, fundamentally it comes down to reducing speeding, reducing reckless driving.”

“A special thanks to all the family members of all the individuals who have turned their pain into action and who have had a huge impact in this city and in this state,” he said. “[They] have been fantastic advocates, particularly in Albany.”

With Families for Safe Streets members in Albany last week, the State Senate and Assembly passed legislation to lower the default speed limit in New York City to 25 mph. De Blasio said that the new limit will likely go into effect this fall after Governor Cuomo signs the bill and the City Council passes its own speed limit legislation.

The package of bills that the mayor signed today focuses on TLC, DOT, and NYPD.

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