NYPD Can’t Answer Questions About Traffic Crime

speed_gun_1.jpgThere’s a speeding epidemic on New York City streets, but does NYPD know how big the problem is? Photo: TA.

The Times recently launched a couple of new blogs devoted to neighborhood coverage, and today the Fort Greene/Clinton Hill outlet posted an interesting Q&A with officers at the 88th Precinct. Here’s a revealing answer from Captain Vanessa Kight about traffic enforcement:

Q: Can you please let us know what the 88th is doing to keep the streets safe from criminal drivers? We regularly see drivers flying through our streets (perhaps especially along Washington Park, right along the park, where there is no stop light for two blocks). Running red lights is also common. I live on Clinton between Myrtle/Willoughby and it seems that that block is a continual double-park fest. I’ve lived here since 2000 and cannot recall ever seeing a police officer issuing a traffic violation — I don’t doubt that it happens from time to time, but clearly it doesn’t happen enough to deter dangerous behavior from drivers.

A: We’ve never heard that we don’t give enough summonses. I do have a summons officer and will send him over to Clinton and Willoughby if that’s an issue. But so far this year, we’ve already issued 1,200 violations in the precinct for hazardous driving, including running red lights, speeding, talking on a cell phone and backing up unsafely. That’s in addition to many summonses for less hazardous moving violations. We’ve also issued 2,400 parking violations so far this year.

Citing the number of summonses handed out is typical of how NYPD measures traffic enforcement, and it doesn’t come close to telling the whole story. Consider that nearly 40 percent of New York City motorists were clocked speeding in Transportation Alternatives’ report Terminal Velocity [PDF]. Or that drivers burn through red lights in the city more than a million times every day, according to a 2001 study conducted by the city comptroller [PDF]. It stands to reason that those 1,200 citations issued in the 88th comprise only a very small fraction of all hazardous driving violations committed in the precinct this year.

The questioner on The Local gets at the crux of the problem by asking whether the precinct’s enforcement actually deters dangerous driving. The answer doesn’t address this at all, and in fairness to Captain Kight, hard information on deterrence isn’t available because NYPD doesn’t measure compliance with traffic laws. If the city is serious about preventing the hundreds of deaths and tens of thousands of injuries incurred every year by motor vehicles, getting a handle on the prevalence of driver malfeasance is a necessary step.

After the jump, an "exchange" with 88th Precinct commanding officer Anthony Tasso about police cars hogging the public right-of-way.

Q: My neighbors and I would really appreciate it if this question could be addressed in a public forum: Why are police permitted to park their personal vehicles at an angle in front of the precinct on Classon Avenue, simultaneously blocking the sidewalk and obstructing an entire lane of traffic? Classon is a major thoroughfare to the BQE and the bridges, but your angle-parking creates a bottleneck at Lafayette, causing considerable delays (as well as sometimes forcing pedestrians to step into the street and walk in the busy traffic).

As you begin your new job, you would do well to consider the message being sent to the community through the rear ends of your cars. You seem to be telling us A) we don’t live here, B) the rules you have to follow don’t apply to us, and C) we don’t really care if that inconveniences you.

A: No reply.

  • That “No reply” from Captain Tasso kills me. I live in that neighborhood, but I think “no reply” is departmentwide indifference of the NYPD to the people that they serve. Angled parking on avenues such as Classon or DeKalb puts people in very real danger. It is criminal, and there is no excuse for it.

  • The 2nd issue is city-wide. What is an effective way to convey how seeing cars parked on the sidewalk near stations has a negative impact on how the community sees the police? I’m certain that the police will say that “there is no place else to park” but there are places to park… it just means walking a block or two. And the the police have free metrocards, they should take advantage of them.

    With police stations barricaded by pontoons of cars parked on sidewalks and on traffic islands approaching the station on foot often become like walking through a maze. It makes the police seem walled of and hostile to the neighborhood.

  • The angle parking is often even worse than the second questioner describes, and it happens at at least two other precincts (and therefore probably more).

    One half of the parked car is up on the sidewalk, reducing by half the ped space; the other half sticks out onto the street.

    Where I’ve seen it, there are even parking stripes painted that way–half on the sidewalk, half on the road.

    And even better, attached to the bottom of the parking advisory signs (which are irrelevant on that stretch of road), are additions to the sign that say “POLICE VEHICLES ONLY,” and on their edge is a “Department of Transportation” imprint.

    In Manhattan, see W. 55th Street between 8th and 9th Aves., closer to 8th, outside Midtown North.

  • Of course they’ve “never heard that we don’t give enough summonses”. They only listen to drivers, and the local media who cheer them on, complaining that they issue “too many”.

  • J-Uptown

    The police parking on sidewalks is a far worse than problem than has been described so far. In Washington Heights, they just park entirely on the sidewalk, perpendicular to the road, all four wheels on the sidewalk so that it ceases to be a sidewalk. It makes me furious every time I walk by. What absolutely kills me, is that the 19th precinct on the Upper East Side does not create this same type of problem. In fact, you don’t see any cars on the sidewalk. Any argument that police must park on sidewalks is bogus, the police know it, and they refuse to address it. Have a look:

    Washington Heights (30th precinct):
    http://tinyurl.com/cm4ogc

    Upper East Side (19th precinct):
    http://tinyurl.com/cekyet

  • Following part of Susan’s second comment: this is another reason that NYPD should drop the (largely unused) free metrocard benefit, and replace it with something better: MTA and NYPD should partner so that *every MTA entry point can be opened, without limit, by any police badge, which would contain an RFID (or “smart-tag”).* It should be truly “unlimited,” with no limitations at all, e.g. no “18 minute rule” like unlimited metrocards.

    It would be a better perk for than free metrocards in a lot of ways. For starters, as I understand it, cops always have to have them on their person, so there’d be no fuss with metrocards that many cops normally don’t care about. That would make it even easier for car-commuting cops to choose transit instead of their car at the drop of a hat. That would probably make it more effective than free metrocards at getting an individual cop not to drive to work on any given day. And they could use it any time, on or off duty. So they could swipe (or tap) their whole family through for free travel to Coney Island or Central Park. Also after the initial setup, it would probably cost a lot less money than the operation of the free metrocard benefit. And on and on.

  • J:Lai

    ddartley, that would be awesome – we would see cops selling 1/2 price swipes to supplement their income!

    I think that each precinct should have to pay mkt rate for any parking space it wants to allocate to police who work there, so if it’s really that important they would have to cut something else in their budget.

    Parking on sidewalk should definitely be illegal.

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