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Koo Will Try Override After Bloomberg Vetoes NYPD Hit-and-Run Bill

As one of his last acts in office, Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed a bill that would have required NYPD to report to the City Council and the public on hit-and-run crashes. With lead sponsor Leroy Comrie also gone from City Hall, Council Member Peter Koo plans to marshal an effort to override the veto.

Intro 1055, passed by the council in December, would mandate that NYPD report quarterly on the total number of “critical injury” hit-and-run crashes, the number of crashes that resulted in arrest, and the number of crashes for which no arrest was made. The bill would require the department to provide the council with crash locations, and “a brief description of what steps were taken to investigate” each incident. Crash data, disaggregated by precinct, would be posted online.

The hit-and-run bill was born of frustration and grief caused by NYPD’s indifference toward crash victims and their loved ones — investigations that did not start for weeks after a fatal crash and, predictably, yielded no evidence; families left in the dark on what police were doing to bring a relative’s killer to justice. According to Transportation Alternatives, of 60 fatal hit-and-runs investigated in 2012, NYPD arrested just 15 drivers.

For all his DOT did to make streets safer for walking and biking, Bloomberg let NYPD’s deterrence of traffic violence stagnate under commissioner Ray Kelly. Bloomberg’s veto message [PDF], probably drafted with significant input from NYPD, called the language of the bill unworkably vague, and claimed that requiring NYPD to reveal hit-and-run data would compromise investigations while ”draining scarce resources from actual police functions.”

Intro 1055 was co-authored by Comrie, Koo, and Rosie Mendez. With Comrie termed out, Koo’s office says he has not given up on the bill. “Councilman Peter Koo will take the lead and work with the new speaker to override the mayor’s veto,” said Koo spokesperson Ian Chan. “He intends to enact this very important piece of legislation.”

Said TA general counsel Juan Martinez, in an emailed statement: “The NYPD must make the arrest of hit-and-run drivers a top priority, because to do otherwise gives criminal drivers permission to remain on the road, which puts us all at risk, and prolongs families’ pain. New York is better than that. We will be calling on the council’s next transportation and public safety chairs to work with the NYPD and determine whether the department is giving victims’ families and all New Yorkers the justice they deserve.”

Asked whether Koo would re-introduce the bill if an override fails, Chan said the council member is focused on seeing the bid through. “Working with the speaker, of course.”

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Council Passes Hit-and-Run Bill; Greenfield Tables Speed Limit Legislation

The City Council yesterday passed legislation requiring NYPD to post regular reports on the most serious hit-and-run crashes, while a bill to lower speed limits on certain streets has been set aside until next year.

The hit-and-run bill would mandate that NYPD report in writing quarterly on the total number of “critical injury” hit-and-run crashes, the number of crashes that resulted in arrest, and the number of crashes for which no arrest was made. NYPD would further be required to provide the council with crash locations, and “a brief description of what steps were taken to investigate” each incident. Crash data are to be disaggregated by precinct and posted online.

Critical injury status would be determined by emergency responders. FDNY EMS guidelines define a critically injured person as “a patient either receiving CPR, in respiratory arrest, or requiring and receiving life sustaining ventilator/circulatory support.”

If signed by Mayor Bloomberg, the bill would take effect in July 2015. The hit-and-run bill was authored by Council Members Leroy Comrie, Peter Koo, and Rosie Mendez.

“The sad and unfortunate case of Dante Dominguez — who was struck and killed by a hit and run driver last fall — along with the tragic deaths of many New Yorkers brings us together for today’s vote,” said Mendez, in a written statement. “This action is the very least that can be done to make sure that Dante’s untimely passing was not in vain and will, in fact, be the first step toward systemic change and additional measures led by the NYPD.”

“Furthermore,” said Mendez, “I hope the State Senate will adopt legislation to strengthen the investigative measures taken by the NYPD within the vicinity of any hit and run accident that results in a fatality or severe injury.”

Dante Dominguez was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Flushing in November 2012. Patrick Dominguez, the victim’s brother, told council members earlier this month that the NYPD investigation did not begin until a week after the crash. The driver was not caught.

NYPD currently investigates a tiny fraction of total pedestrian and cyclist injuries. According to Transportation Alternatives, of some 300 investigations conducted by the Collision Investigation Squad in 2012, around 60 involved hit-and-run drivers. Just 15 of those investigations resulted in arrest.

In other council news, a bill that would lower speed limits to 25 miles per hour on narrow one-way streets has been shelved. Sponsor David Greenfield issued the following statement Thursday:

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Council Transpo Committee Passes NYPD Hit-and-Run Transparency Bill

The City Council transportation committee passed a bill today that would require NYPD to issue quarterly reports on hit-and-run crashes and investigations.

Originally, Intro 1055 would have had NYPD report to the council every two years on hit-and-runs resulting in serious injury or death. The language of the bill was tightened after sponsor Leroy Comrie and other committee members heard testimony from transportation experts and family members of victims earlier this month.

In its current iteration, the bill would mandate that the department report in writing every three months on the total number of “critical injury” hit-and-run crashes, the number of crashes that resulted in arrest, and the number of crashes for which no arrest was made. ”Additionally,” the bill reads, “the department shall provide to the speaker of the council in writing a brief description of what steps were taken to investigate each such incident, noting the cross streets of the incident.”

The bill defines critical injury as “any injury determined to be critical by the emergency medical service personnel responding to any such incident.”

The bill passed with an unanimous 11-0 vote, with no abstentions. It is expected to be voted on by the full council tomorrow, at the last stated meeting of the year. The law would not take effect until July of 2015.

NYPD did not show up for the December 4 hearing. Streetsblog has a message in with the public information office asking if the department has a position on the bill.

Said bill co-sponsor Peter Koo: “Today’s piece of legislation will increase transparency and accountability, ensuring NYPD is using all the tools at its disposal to investigate hit-and-run accidents.”

“This is not the first time the council has heard testimony from families of individuals who feel they have not received enough information,” said James Vacca, who was chairing his last transportation committee meeting of the current term.

Of his chairmanship, Vacca said, ”This has been a wonderful experience. Transportation affects everyone.”

It is not known if Vacca will continue to occupy the transportation post or move to a different committee chairmanship. ”I want to continue doing something here,” he said, “and we’ll see what that is.”

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Vaccaro: NYPD Coerces Injured Hit-and-Run Victims to Not Pursue Charges

The City Council transportation committee met today to gather testimony on NYPD hit-and-run crash investigations, but NYPD didn’t send anyone to the hearing. The committee also took up a bill that would codify updates to DOT’s innovative Street Design Manual.

Family members of hit-and-run victim Dante Dominguez, with Council Members Rosie Mendez and Leroy Comrie. Photo: ##http://www.qchron.com/editions/queenswide/flushing-hit-and-run-inspires-council-bill/article_232113e3-a3d4-5ca0-97dd-f26b871953ca.html##Queens Chronicle##

Family members of hit-and-run victim Dante Dominguez, with City Council Members Rosie Mendez and Leroy Comrie. The driver who killed Dominguez was not caught. His brother says NYPD did not start its investigation until a week after the crash. Photo: Queens Chronicle

Intro 1055 would require NYPD to report to the council every two years on hit-and-run crashes that result in serious injury or death, including the number of crashes per precinct, and to provide “a brief description of what steps were taken to investigate each such incident.” Bill sponsor Leroy Comrie said today that hit-and-run fatalities have increased by 31 percent since 2010, with 47 deaths in 2012.

“The families want to know if NYPD has thoroughly pursued all avenues of evidence in actively finding the perpetrators that claimed their loved ones,” said Comrie. “They deserve to know the status of their investigation and what they can realistically expect to happen. And the public needs to know that these crimes are not simply swept under the rug, but actively pursued.”

Comrie also wants NYPD to collect video evidence within a five block radius of hit-and-run crashes, though this would take the form of a resolution, rather than a law, since the council believes it can not force the department to change the way it handles crash investigations.

During testimony, Juan Martinez, general counsel for Transportation Alternatives, said hit-and-run collisions are “perhaps the most callous criminal act that a driver can commit.” Of some 300 investigations by the Collision Investigation Squad in 2012, Martinez said, around 60 involved hit-and-run drivers. Of those, only 15 resulted in an arrest.

Martinez said more oversight would lead to better enforcement. “Government can’t manage what it can’t measure,” he said.

Attorney Steve Vaccaro joined Martinez in suggesting changes to the hit-and-run bill. Martinez recommended crash data be shared with the public as well as the council, and Vaccaro said reports should come once or twice a year, instead of every other year. Said Vaccaro: ”I think this data is going to show there’s a big problem here.”

Vaccaro testified that, based on his firm’s experience with clients and other crash victims who seek guidance over the phone, New York City police officers often refuse to take a report on a hit-and-run unless an injured victim agrees to be transported to a hospital by ambulance. This can be a deterrent for victims who have no health insurance, or who are not aware of coverage available to them through the Motor Vehicle Accident Indemnification Corporation, which offers compensation for crashes caused by uninsured drivers. Many times, Vaccaro said, victims are traumatized to the extent that they don’t realize they need medical care until hours after a crash.

Shockingly, in some instances Vaccaro said NYPD officers threaten not to include a perpetrator’s license plate number in a report, if it is known to police, unless an injured victim agrees to not pursue a criminal case. “Hit-and-run is a criminal offense that needs to be treated as one,” said Vaccaro. “Someone should not be forced to choose between insurance and compensation for their injuries and seeing the driver who injured them and then drove off from the scene brought to justice.”

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Leroy Comrie Bill Would Force NYPD to Report to Council on Hit-and-Runs

Queens City Council Member Leroy Comrie is set to introduce a bill that may have an impact on how NYPD approaches hit-and-run crashes, which kill dozens of NYC pedestrians and cyclists a year.

Leroy Comrie. Photo: Observer

A statement from Comrie’s office says the bill would require NYPD to report to the council annually on “hit and run incidents that result in a fatality or severe injury with a description of all actions that were taken to determine who was responsible.” Comrie also plans to introduce a resolution “calling for the NYPD to include the mandatory collection of video surveillance from cameras within the vicinity of a hit-and-run accident that results in a fatality or severe injury.”

At least 37 pedestrians and cyclists have been killed by hit-and-run drivers in NYC since January 2012, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog. The vast majority of drivers involved in those crashes were not immediately caught or identified.

loophole in state law gives motorists who have been drinking an incentive to flee the scene of a crash, and many hit-and-run cases are closed when a driver says he or she did not see the victim.

Even when a perpetrator is identified and arrested, state laws make it difficult to bring a hit-and-run driver to justice. A felony charge of leaving the scene of an incident resulting in death requires prosecutors to prove that a motorist knew or had reason to know injury had been caused — a burden that can be insurmountable.

We’ve asked Comrie’s staff how the bill and resolution will define “severe injury.” The new NYPD protocol, announced earlier this year, is intended to trigger investigations of incidents involving critical injury, a standard that excludes many crashes.

Technically, Comrie’s bill won’t make it easier to prosecute hit-and-runs. And the council has said it can’t compel NYPD to change the way it conducts crash investigations, though the department’s procedures are said to be in violation of state law. But by requiring NYPD to account for the way it handles hit-and-run crashes, it’s possible those investigations will improve. If nothing else, Comrie’s bill, if adopted, may draw attention to hit-and-run crashes and their many victims.

Comrie voted in favor of the proposed NYC speed camera demonstration program, now stalled in the state legislature, and is a supporter of red light cameras. He is scheduled to announce the hit-and-run bill and resolution this afternoon in Cambria Heights, at an intersection where a motorist was killed in a high-speed crash in 2012.

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Leroy Comrie Weighs in on New Jamaica Bus Lanes

Jamaica rep Leroy Comrie. Photo: NY Observer

With thousands of bus riders per hour traveling each direction on Archer Avenue, DOT’s proposed bus improvements for Downtown Jamaica are some of the most important street redesigns on the table right now. But previous bus improvements in this part of Queens have been politically vulnerable — a proposed Select Bus Service route along Merrick Boulevard was scuttled after local merchants fought against it in 2007. So, for one perspective on the political prospects of the project, we checked in with Council Member Leroy Comrie, who represents Jamaica and hosted an open house on DOT’s proposal Tuesday night.

While Comrie told the Daily News that he’s not pleased with the part of the proposal that calls for converting segments of Jamaica Avenue to one-way traffic flow, in a phone call with Streetsblog he seemed willing to support the expanded bus lanes if merchant deliveries can be integrated into the plan.

The council member said that Tuesday’s open house was a success. The “free-flow discussion, more like a charrette” showed that DOT was open to suggestions, he said. Comrie himself has some recommendations for DOT, though so far he’s only made them informally. One question, he said, is “whether or not the bus lanes would be impacting during the non-rush hours that would prohibitively affect the businesses from getting deliveries.”

Comrie distinguished those concerns from the merchant fears of losing curbside parking that torpedoed the Merrick Boulevard SBS. On that route, he said, “most of the businesses, their prime time for customers was during the morning and evening rush.” Comrie is more concerned with off-peak delivery access as opposed to peak hour customer parking. Comrie said he hadn’t heard much from local businesses about the proposed bus lane changes yet.

Comrie also urged DOT to make sure that both public and private transit (dollar vans) were able to speedily access Jamaica. “What are we going to do to try and work the van traffic through and give them some dedicated space also, since they are here and people will use them?” he asked.