A report laying out Mayor Bill de Blasio’s traffic safety strategy, including a section on policing, is due in less than two weeks. In the meantime, precinct commanders have taken wildly different approaches to the issue, some more successfully than others. As a department-wide traffic safety policy comes into focus, TrafficStat, NYPD’s traffic analysis initiative, is likely to take center stage. Streetsblog spoke with retired Deputy Chief James McShane, who played a central role in the introduction of TrafficStat in the late 1990s.
“It was created because then, like now, there was a spike in fatalities,” McShane said, adding that because records were managed differently in different agencies the city had trouble producing a consistent data set. “That began a dialogue, and a dialogue in the media about how many people were being killed.”
CompStat, which was developed under Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s command beginning in 1994, was already improving accountability and communication within the department as it tackled violent crime and property crime. Some in the department, led by Chief Michael Scagnelli, thought a similarly rigorous model could have an impact on traffic fatalities. ”A determination was made,” McShane said. ”Let’s try and take the CompStat model and see if we can apply the philosophy to traffic management.”
Launched in 1998, TrafficStat developed criteria for identifying crash-prone locations, assigning points based on the severity of injuries and fatalities. Crash investigators came to TrafficStat meetings to explain the contributing factors behind crashes to top brass at the NYPD and DOT. “It became a real-time look at traffic conditions,” McShane said, saying the meetings uncovered a number of factors behind crash-prone locations, from driver recklessness to faulty road design.
Unlike CompStat, TrafficStat involves more than just the police department. “The real innovation is that we brought DOT to the table,” he said. “It became a collaboration.” According to the city, DOT staff including borough commissioners “regularly participate” in weekly TrafficStat meetings, where McShane said they would discuss potential street design changes with police before implementation.
“The meetings are very intense, but it’s critical that everyone realize how serious the department is taking this issue,” Deputy Chief Henry Cronin, commanding officer of the traffic division, told the Daily News in 1998. In the first half of that year, the NYPD issued 32 percent more moving violations than the same period in 1997, before TrafficStat was introduced.