If you want to know how many cars were stolen in your neighborhood on any given week, the NYPD is happy to tell you. You don’t even need to make a phone call, as "CompStat" data — which also includes figures on murders, rapes, robberies, and burglaries — is posted online and updated regularly, precinct by precinct.
If, however, you want to know how many people were hit by cars or where the most dangerous intersections are in your neighborhood, CompStat won’t help you. Those numbers aren’t there. And if you’re looking for details of an incident in which someone was hurt or killed by a driver, your quest is likely to be frustratingly difficult, if not impossible. Even if you’re a member of a New York City Community Board.
Ian Dutton knows this story well. After Hope Miller, 28, an aspiring actress from Queens, was killed on Houston Street on September 25, Dutton — who serves on CB 2’s Traffic and Transportation Committee and lives a block from where Miller died — began making calls. According to media reports, the driver of the truck that killed Miller, 48-year-old Roger Smiley of Brooklyn, was charged with leaving the scene, operating a vehicle while impaired by drugs, and resisting arrest. He was not, however, charged with killing Miller. Dutton wanted to know why.
He started with Rita Lee, a senior advisor in Council Member Alan Gerson’s office, who gave him a few phone numbers. Some of them didn’t work anymore. When he got through to the office of New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau (left), Dutton says most the people he talked to were "outwardly dismissive." Claiming no record of an incident involving a Roger Smiley or Hope Miller, DA office personnel instructed Dutton to get an arrest number from the police.
Since the site of the crash is near the boundary separating the two, Dutton was then bounced between NYPD Precincts 1 and 6. It took ten phone calls to find someone willing to offer any help — an officer at the 6th Precinct who told Dutton that, when a driver kills a pedestrian, a charge of homicide is brought if drugs or alcohol are involved. If the driver is sober, the offense merits a traffic ticket.
"That sounded ridiculous," Dutton says, "but it sounded like it was the modus operandi."
Dutton was finally able to get Smiley’s arrest number, but when he called the DA’s office back he was told the number didn’t exist. He was also asked repeatedly who he was and why he was calling.
Dutton then returned to Lee and asked if she could get any information on the case. Lee learned that two charges, DWI and negligent homicide, may be issued against Smiley. But Lee said those charges were pending and could take years to be filed. This was over a month ago.
At this point, says Dutton, "I couldn’t tell you what’s going on."
Though his efforts got him little more than what proved to be a useless arrest number, Dutton doesn’t think he was stonewalled due to the nature of the case. Rather, he believes Manhattan DA staffers simply didn’t want to risk catching flak for talking to an outsider. And he doesn’t think questioning city authorities about pedestrian injuries and deaths is a waste of time, regardless of the result.
"It’s important that both the police and prosecutors know that people care about this," Dutton says. "It’s tearing up communities."