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Posts from the Bill Bratton Category

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Bratton Resigns. Will James O’Neill Do Better on Street Safety?

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Mayor de Blasio announces the transition at NYPD from Bill Bratton (left) to James O’Neill (right).

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announced today that he will leave NYPD next month, after a little more than two and a half years as police chief under Mayor de Blasio. He will be succeeded by James O’Neill, a career officer who currently serves as chief of department, the senior uniformed position within NYPD.

On traffic safety, Bratton will leave the department substantially unchanged since he took over from Ray Kelly, although NYPD has made some improvements on the margins.

Enforcement of the most dangerous traffic violations — speeding and failure to yield — has increased in some precincts since 2014. But in many precincts, summonsing for violations like driving with tinted windows continues to outpace the enforcement of violations that actually put people’s lives in jeopardy.

An enduring image of Bratton’s tenure came early on, when officers on the Upper West Side bloodied 84-year-old Kang Wong, an immigrant who did not speak English, after he unwittingly walked away from a jaywalking stop. Instead of directing officers to simply cease issuing jaywalking tickets, Bratton issued a memo calling for “discretion” when stopping elderly or disabled pedestrians for walking against the signal.

The reaction crystallized Bratton’s failure to seriously grapple with how his police department can most effectively deter crashes that kill hundreds of New Yorkers each year and seriously injure thousands more. He seldom personally engaged with the de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero initiative and often skipped out on major traffic safety policy announcements.

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Bill Bratton Is in Denial About NYPD’s Deadly Drunk Driving Problem

Andrew Esquivel was struck and killed on a Brooklyn sidewalk by an off-duty NYPD officer accused of DWI and manslaughter. Drunk off-duty cops are known or alleged to have killed at least five people since 2009, and arrests are frequent, but Police Commissioner Bill Bratton says that’s “not a problem.”

Andrew Esquivel was struck and killed on a Brooklyn sidewalk by an off-duty NYPD officer accused of DWI and manslaughter. Drunk off-duty cops are known or alleged to have killed at least five people since 2009, and arrests are frequent, but Police Commissioner Bill Bratton says that’s “not a problem.” Bratton photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

In the aftermath of another civilian death at the hands of an allegedly intoxicated off-duty officer, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton says drunk driving cops are not a problem at NYPD.

Nicholas Batka, 28, drove onto the sidewalk at Bedford Avenue and North Eighth Street in Williamsburg at around 3:10 a.m. Saturday, striking Andrew Esquivel and three friends. Esquivel, a 21-year-old student, was killed. The other victims were all seriously injured.

Batka jumped into the passenger seat and claimed he wasn’t driving, according to reports, and bystanders had to surround his SUV to prevent him from fleeing. Court records said Batka “had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and the odor of alcohol on his breath,” the Times reported.

A transit cop who had been on the force less than two years, Batka was due back on the job at 7 a.m.

Batka was charged with assault, manslaughter, homicide, and driving while intoxicated. On Wednesday Bratton said that Batka had been fired. According to the Times, two other officers who were with Batka before the crash had their guns and badges taken as investigators look into whether they drove drunk that night as well.

Though Bratton said “drunken-driving episodes” involving NYPD officers occur around three times a month and that the department would take a “closer look,” he played down the issue.

“That is not a problem in the department,” Bratton said, “but we treat it very seriously.”

The death of Andrew Esquivel is not an isolated case. There is no known data set of off-duty police crashes, but here’s a sampling of mayhem caused by alleged or known drunk-driving NYPD personnel in recent years:

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3 Sources of Cluelessness Conspire to Blame Victims for “Distracted Walking”

For a policing icon who built his reputation on being data-driven, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton has a penchant for shooting from the hip on traffic safety.

At the Vision Zero conference yesterday, Bratton cited distracted walking as a reason pedestrian deaths in the U.S. are rising.

U.S. pedestrian deaths were indeed up last year, perhaps by as much as 10 percent. But how does Bratton know that an uptick in distracted walking — texting, earbudding and the like — played a part in the nationwide rise? How about in New York City? Has Bratton heeded the entreaties of street safety advocates and instructed the NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad to data-mine its traffic death forensics to ferret out primary causes like drivers’ aggressive turning, speeding, texting, and curb-jumping, vis-à-vis screen-absorbed pedestrians walking into buses?

Unlikely. A better guess is that Bratton’s source was an AP story that ran earlier this week. Here’s the lede (emphasis added):

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Bratton on NYC’s Vision Zero Goal: “It Will Probably Remain Elusive”

If New York City hopes to achieve Vision Zero, it probably won’t happen on Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s watch.

Bratton kicked off the Vision Zero Cities conference, happening today and tomorrow at NYU, with a big helping of complacency.

“You’re not going to get to zero,” Bratton said at a morning question and answer session with former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson. Though it’s a nice goal to aspire to, said Bratton, “the reality [is] it will probably remain elusive.”

Something else New York won’t be doing while Bratton heads NYPD is increasing the number of crash investigators. Abramson, who was hit by a truck driver in a 2007 crash that police did not investigate, noted that drivers caused 3,500 serious injuries last year, and that the Collision Investigation Squad worked only about 10 percent of those cases. She twice asked Bratton if he intended to beef up CIS.

“We have many priorities,” said Bratton, who cited terrorism, “traditional crime,” and a lack of available officers as obstacles to boosting CIS personnel. Instead, Bratton said, existing CIS staff is handling more crashes, not just those where victims die or are deemed “likely to die.”

Bratton said the Highway Division will get 100 additional officers, but they won’t be assigned to CIS.

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Bill Bratton Has the Perfect Response to a “Bike-Yield” Law for NYC

Yesterday Council Member Antonio Reynoso introduced a resolution calling for state traffic laws that recognize the differences between bikes and cars. The idea is that people on bikes should be able to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs, proceeding after they check for crossing pedestrians and motor vehicles and the coast is clear.

Well, the Post got the perfect response from Police Commissioner Bill Bratton:

“The city is going to great pains put bicycle lanes in, and to exclude the bicyclists from the traffic rules that everybody else, pedestrians and vehicles are supposed to follow, I would not be supportive of that under any circumstances.”

Impeccable logic here. Can you believe these ingrates, the bicyclists? It doesn’t matter if you’re walking, biking, or driving a 55-foot tractor-trailer — we all have to follow the same rules.

When I know I’m going to be walking, I never forget my front and rear lights before I leave my apartment. Out on the sidewalk, I always come to a full stop at stop signs, and I use hand signals whenever I turn or change lanes. I know not everyone is as scrupulous as I am, but if we excluded pedestrians from the traffic rules that everybody else, bicycles and vehicles are supposed to follow, the social order would collapse and there would be riots in the streets.

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NYPD Isn’t Enforcing Mayor de Blasio’s Key Vision Zero Law

Within months of taking office, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law several bills intended to add teeth to his Vision Zero street safety initiative. In the year since taking effect, however, the most important of those laws was barely used by NYPD.

“If

If Mayor de Blasio is serious about Vision Zero, he will direct Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to apply the Right of Way Law as it was intended. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

The Right of Way Law, also known as Section 19-190, made it a misdemeanor for motorists to harm people walking and biking with the right of way. It took effect last August.

The Right of Way Law was supposed to bring an end to the common scenario of reckless New York City motorists hurting and killing people without consequence. The key to the law is that ordinary precinct cops can apply it, not just the small number of specialists in the NYPD Collision Investigation Squad. NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said all 35,000 uniformed officers would be trained to enforce the Right of Way Law, but the department has applied it only a handful of times in the 14 months since it was enacted.

According to data provided by the mayor’s office, from August through December of 2014 NYPD made 15 arrests for Section 19-190 violations, resulting from 21 investigations. In addition, police made one arrest for reckless driving and issued one summons for careless driving.

So far this year, NYPD has arrested 20 drivers under the Right of Way Law, after 41 investigations. Police also issued seven careless driving summonses resulting from those investigations. Twelve investigations are ongoing, the mayor’s office said. In addition, 11 other drivers have been charged under a Right of Way Law provision that applies to failure-to-yield cases that don’t involve injury (more on that later).

The scale of enforcement remains far below the scale of damage caused by motorists who fail to yield.

From September 2014 through September 2015, drivers injured 11,109 people walking in NYC, and killed 140, according to DOT data. Since failure to yield is the primary factor in 27 percent of serious pedestrian injuries and deaths, according to DOT’s 2010 Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan [PDF], it’s all but certain that the vast majority of drivers who violate the Right of Way Law are not charged by NYPD.

Nor is NYPD increasing enforcement. Police averaged three Right of Way charges per month last year, compared to an average of two cases a month in 2015. This suggests that Right of Way investigations remain the province of the Collision Investigation Squad and are not being pursued by precinct cops.

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NYPD Conspicuously Absent From City Council Vision Zero Hearing

How seriously does Police Commissioner Bill Bratton take Vision Zero? The City Council transportation committee held a hearing today to gauge the city’s progress in reducing traffic injuries and deaths, and NYPD didn’t send a single person to provide testimony or answer questions.

Hard to imagine NYPD skipping a council hearing on shootings or terrorism, but it seems traffic violence is not a priority for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. Photo: Clarence Eckerson

Hard to imagine NYPD skipping a council hearing on shootings or terrorism, but it seems traffic violence is not a priority for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.
Photo: Clarence Eckerson

In NYPD’s absence, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg — as she often does — had to field council member queries pertaining to police traffic enforcement. Transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez wondered if NYPD is making progress in keeping dangerous violations down, and how often police are ticketing motorists for blocking bike lanes. James Vacca wanted to know if speeding ticket counts increased after the new 25 miles per hour speed limit took effect last year. Not surprisingly, Trottenberg didn’t have responses, and deferred to NYPD.

DOT does manage the city’s traffic enforcement cameras, which are making streets safer, Trottenberg said, but they could be doing more if not for arbitrary restrictions imposed by state lawmakers.

Trottenberg said violations are down 60 percent at fixed speed camera locations. Red light camera citations have dropped 71 percent since that program started in 1994, Trottenberg said. In 2014, when less than half of the city’s speed cameras were operational, cameras ticketed almost four times as many speeding drivers as NYPD.

Yet in addition to limiting the number of cameras the city is allowed to use — 140 speed cameras and 150 red light cameras — Albany limits when and where speed cameras may operate. Albany allows cameras do be turned on during school hours only. Trottenberg said location restrictions mean that in some cases, DOT is not permitted to place a speed camera on the most dangerous street that kids actually cross to get to a school. Also thanks to Albany, drivers have to be speeding by 11 miles per hour or more to get a speed camera ticket.

Council members asked Trottenberg if expanding the speed camera program was on the de Blasio administration’s Albany agenda for next year, but she didn’t give a definitive answer.

Trottenberg also said DOT has completed 26 street safety projects since the agency released its Vision Zero borough action plans, including the ongoing revamp of Queens Boulevard and 300 leading pedestrian intervals. But since DOT puts all Vision Zero projects in the same basket — from major changes to Queens Boulevard to tweaking a single intersection — a single number doesn’t convey much information.

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Bill Bratton Rolls Back Internal NYPD Parking Reform

On Monday the Times published an in-depth piece on how Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is aiming to boost NYPD morale, in part by giving officers more latitude to skirt departmental rules. The Times said such infractions might include “misplacing a memo book or being late for court.”

According to the story, Bratton is also lightening up on illegal parking.

[O]n day-to-day internal disciplinary issues, Mr. Bratton is seeking to alter departmental culture: He disbanded a so-called tow-away squad that had been giving tickets to and towing department cars on official business but parked improperly.

Former mayor Michael Bloomberg instituted a number of reforms intended to cut down on illegal parking by city employees. In 2008, City Hall reduced the number of city-issued parking placards. At the same time NYPD cracked down on police parking scofflaws, both those on “official business” and those using their placards as a lifelong entitlement for their personal vehicles.

When Ray Kelly was police commissioner, cops criticized the Internal Affairs Bureau tow unit, saying it interfered with police work. It’s unknown how many tickets and tows the squad was responsible for, but a 2010 Daily News story pegged Internal Affairs’ daily quota at four tows and 20 summonses.

Cops and other government employees who ignore parking rules clog streets, hurt businesses, and block sidewalks and bike lanes. The problem is particularly acute in Lower Manhattan, where space is especially scarce. In 2006, Transportation Alternatives found that just 12 percent of cars with placards in the southern section of Chinatown were parked legally [PDF]. That same year a survey conducted for an NYPD environmental impact statement counted more than 1,100 illegally parked cars with placards near One Police Plaza [PDF].

How much has NYPD been enforcing police placard abuse, and to what extent did the tow squad contribute to that? We’ve asked NYPD for data and are waiting for a response.

Without the numbers, it’s not clear how dissolving the tow unit will affect NYPD’s internal efforts to curb placard abuse. But once the city starts backsliding, the placard enforcement gains of the past seven years could easily slip away.

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Bratton: Times Square Plazas Will Stay

The de Blasio administration has finally put to rest the idea of yanking out the Times Square pedestrian plazas. Was that so hard?

Erik Engquist at Crain’s reports that Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said City Hall will see through the $55 million capital construction project to cast the plazas in concrete, which has been in progress for a few years already. The city will “finish the construction as designed with some additional improvements,” Bratton told a breakfast gathering of the big business-affiliated Association for a Better New York in Midtown this morning.

Mayor de Blasio’s Times Square task force is supposed to issue its recommendations about desnudas, aggressive Elmos, and other pressing problems on October 1. It looks like those recommendations will be strongly influenced by the ideas put forward last week by a coalition led by the Times Square Alliance — new rules about where commercial activity like posing for pictures with tourists for tips is allowed, plus an NYPD unit trained in the nuances of Times Square law and order.

Last week Bratton said he first raised the prospect of tearing out the plazas to “smoke out” who’s on the side of keeping them. When the smoke cleared, Bratton was pretty much by himself, a police commissioner whose ideas are at odds with how most New Yorkers want to manage their streets and public spaces.

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Times Square Coalition: Keep the Plazas, Regulate Naked People

Image: Times Square Alliance

Image: Times Square Alliance

The Times Square Alliance and a coalition of electeds has a plan to address complaints about Times Square without destroying the hugely successful pedestrian plazas.

The centerpiece of the proposal is to legally redefine the Broadway plazas as a public space with three regulated zones: “civic” zones for public seating areas and programmed events; “flow” zones for pedestrian throughput; and “designated activity” zones for costumed characters, desnudas, and other people hustling for cash.

A second component of the proposal is a study to evaluate vehicular and pedestrian conflicts, safety issues on 42nd Street, and the effect of tour bus traffic. And a third aspect is the creation of a new NYPD Times Square unit, comprised of officers specially trained “on the nuanced forms of intimidation by solicitors [and] the complex legal issues related to enforcement,” which would direct all civil citations to Midtown Community Court, rather than 100 Centre Street. In addition to Times Square, the coalition wants to establish rules intended to keep 42nd Street sidewalks from getting obstructed during peak hours.

The proposal has the backing of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, local City Council members Dan Garodnick and Corey Johnson, Community Board 5, and a number of business and real estate interests, including Rudin Management Company and the Durst Organization. It will be presented to Mayor de Blasio’s Times Square task force, which was scheduled to hold its first meeting today.

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