City Council Members Slam NYPD's Traffic Accident Policy, Call for Investigative Taskforce
Some months after the City Council grilled the New York Police Department's policy on of traffic crashes -- and ongoing criticism of its handling of the Mathieu Lefevre case -- several members want to establish a taskforce to investigate the Department's accident policy, which has long come under fire as anti-pedestrian and anti-cyclist.
Council Members David Greenfield, Letitia James, Brad Lander, Stephen Levin, Peter Vallone, and James Vacca announced this morning that they want to create a 15-member group charged with analyzing the NYPD's definition of "serious injury," as officers do not investigate accidents unless they think the hurt party is dead or likely to die. Lander, Levin, and Council Member Jessica Lapin have also proposed a law that would require the NYPD to publish crash info online. Members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Dan Garodnick, and Robert Jackson also back the package of proposals.
Transportation Alternatives, which advocates for pedestrians and cyclists, has long called for this legislation and been especially vocal in its criticism of the NYPD since the Lefevre incident.
Levin also proposed several resolutions with safety specifics. If a vehicle causes a cyclist injury, he wants to the cops to get the motorists identifying and insurance info even if it doesn't meat the "dead or likely to die" criteria and investigate all accidents resulting in serious injury. Another resolution calls on the NYPD to train at least five cops per precinct to investigate these accidents.
It's unclear how much power the Council actually has to push NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly to reform accident investigation policy.
At a press conference on the steps of City Hall, these Council members -- flanked by advocates and several family members of fatal crash victims -- recognized that the NYPD does have limited resources, but lambasted Kelly for not making better use of them.
Why aren't reckless endangerment laws being used to prosecute dangerous motorists, they repeatedly asked.
"The crash investigation system of the NYPD is fundamentally flawed," Lander said.
Council Member David Greenfield, also present, called the system "perverse."
"You can mow people over, and nothing is going to happen to you," he said. "The reality is that this is the best funded police department in the world. They can make an easy executive decision" to direct more resources to accidents.
Jacob Stevens, widower of Clara Heyworth -- who was fatally struck by a drunk, speeding motorist -- said he hopes the Council's position will prompt the NYPD to adequately investigate accidents.
Stevens, as you might recall, is suing the City, as the NYPD waited four days after Heyworth's death before investigating the accident. He claims that investigators intentionally dragged their feet because she wasn't killed instantly. By the time they went to gather key evidence, he argues, it had already been destroyed, meaning the motorist got off the hook for Heyworth's death.
"I'm relieved to see some progress," he said. "What happened to me and what happened to my wife, Clara, shows how wrong these laws are."
Added Jumaane Williams: "You can't have the same type of report for a broken tail light as a broken neck."
During the question-and-answer session, another reporter asked whether the Council had the power to make these kind of demands on the NYPD.
We caught up with Levin, since he authored resolutions calling for very specific changes to police policy, and he told us this: "Here's an instance where the NYPD policies are out of line with state law. We will try any method that we have to get them to comply -- whether it means resolutions or whether it means bills."
A resolution, it was explained to us, would at the very least require Kelly to explain in a public hearing why he has chosen not to enact these safety policies.
Levin again pointed to stats -- accidents, he said, are not investigated adequately as the NYPD permits just 19 officers to check into them.
"That's absurd," he said. "That makes no sense. That's less than four guys per borough."
The Voice reached out to the NYPD to see whether it would consider any of the Council's recs. We'll update if we hear back.
Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.