Last month, the Upper East Side’s 19th Precinct devoted two full pages to traffic safety in its inaugural monthly newsletter. In an echo of Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who claimed at the initial Vision Zero press conference that 73 percent of crashes injuring pedestrians are the victim’s fault, it featured an eyebrow-raising statistic that blames four of the five Upper East Side pedestrian fatalities in 2013 on the dead victims. But that’s a misleading way to characterize the cause of most pedestrian deaths, and given NYPD’s track record of rushing to blame victims in its crash investigations, it may not even be an accurate depiction of these five Upper East Side deaths.
In a section written by Capt. Oliver Pufolkes [PDF], the precinct’s January newsletter (brought to our attention by a commenter, emphasis added) reads:
Using our data-driven performance management system (Traffic Stat) there are lessons we have gleaned from looking at data for the past calendar year (2013). Last year 59% of pedestrians that were involved in traffic collisions were 61 years of age or older, and 59% of the contributing factor was either driver inattention or drivers’ failure to yield right of way to pedestrians — typically during a turn. Pedestrian error accounted for 10% of those collisions. A thorough investigation by our Department’s Highway Collision Scene Unit revealed that 80% of the pedestrian fatalities (4 out of 5) that occurred last year were due to pedestrian error.
The precinct clarified that each statistic the piece references covers only the pedestrian crashes and fatalities in the precinct, which lies east of Central Park between 59th and 96th Streets.
There’s something curious about these statistics: 10 percent of all Upper East Side pedestrian collisions were caused by pedestrian error, but in the five cases where the victim died, “pedestrian error” jumped to 80 percent. While this is a small sample, it seems that Upper East Side pedestrians who did not survive collisions and could not tell their side of the story were far more likely to be blamed for causing the crash than pedestrians who survived.
The precinct’s stats echo a claim Bratton made last month at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero announcement. Speaking about pedestrian crashes citywide, the police commissioner said that “pedestrian error contributed to 73 percent of collisions, and 66 percent are directly related to the actions of pedestrians.” NYPD never offered an explanation for this claim, but the 19th Precinct did cite a source for its numbers: the “Highway Collision Scene Unit.” Presumably this is a reference to the Collision Investigation Squad, the unit within NYPD’s Highway Division responsible for investigations of traffic fatalities and critical injuries.
In most cases, CIS investigations involve victims who don’t live to tell police their account. The motorists who do the killing, however, can tell their story, and CIS crash reports often rely heavily on what drivers and their passengers tell investigators. As Streetsblog’s Brad Aaron explained last month: