Ray Kelly on Traffic Crime: “I Don’t Know What You’re Talking About”

speeding_graph.jpgState DMV data show that crashes caused by speeding are up, while enforcement of speeding violations is down. Graphic: Transportation Alternatives.

Transportation Alternatives’ recent report, Executive Order [PDF], contains so much information about the state of traffic enforcement in New York, it’s impossible to summarize in one post. So in the weeks ahead, Streetsblog will be taking a closer look at what’s in the report and what the implications are for law enforcement.

We’ll begin by noting that, so far, Mayor Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly don’t appear concerned by the systemic lack of enforcement documented in Executive Order. NY1 reported their reactions:

"We have a safety record in the city that is the envy of other big cities," said Bloomberg.

"I
don’t know what they’re talking about. In 2007 and 2008 we issued 1.2
million moving violation summonses. As the mayor said, we’re at the
lowest number of vehicle fatalities," said Kelly.

Has anyone ever heard Ray Kelly brag about the number of arrests for murder, rape, and assault? No. NYPD grades its performance on violent crime by tracking how much the actual crime rates have changed. Anyone with an internet connection can look up the stats for their precinct.

When it comes to deadly driving, Kelly has no data to cite. Rattling off the number of summonses proves nothing. It’s like saying, "We arrested a million perps last year, the streets are safer."

It’s true that traffic deaths have declined in recent years, but if Bloomberg and Kelly want to save more lives and make New York as safe as possible, they should take a good long look at Executive Order. Their replies indicate that they don’t yet grasp, or care to acknowledge, the fundamental problems it identifies.

To start with, no one really knows why traffic deaths are down or whether traffic enforcement has played a role. What we do know is that the most deadly crashes — those caused by speeding — are on the rise.

According to state DMV statistics (available here), crashes in Manhattan due to "unsafe speed" rose from 471 in 2005 to 589 in 2007. Which is just one glaring example of why citing the number of summonses issued, as Commissioner Kelly did, fails to address the underlying question of whether traffic enforcement has actually made streets safer. Consider the following numbers from Executive Order — this is citywide data from 2007:

  • 195,579 summonses were issued for cell phone use
  • Cell phones were the cause of 78 crashes and one death
  • 75,599 summonses were issued for speeding
  • Speeding was the cause of 3,080 crashes and 62 deaths
  • Speeding caused over 39 times as many crashes as cell phone use
  • Less than half the number of summonses issued for cell phones were issued for speeding

So, sure, NYPD is handing out lots of summonses, but not to deter the most dangerous behavior on the streets. For an agency that has built its reputation on metrics and accountability — think CompStat — the mismatch between enforcement practice and actual risk is remarkable.

  • Grinner

    I know that this is slightly tangential, and very much only seeing trees, not the forest, but wasn’t there a big mobile phone ticketting blitz in 2007? I’d not be the least bit surprised if half of the mobile phone summonses were issued in one month — sort of like the riding without a bell tickets that are only issued two weeks each year, unless the cyclist is lying crumbled on the side of the road, waiting for an ambulance.

    Less tangentially, i wonder how many of those 1.2 million moving violation summonses were issued in the spirit of keeping traffic moving, rather than in the interest of public safety. For example, i wonder what percentage of them were “spillback” tickets issued in a “blocking the box” blitz.

  • Anon

    The problem is where and how for NYPD to enforce speeds. It would be hard for a cop car to hide on a city street, waiting for speeders, like they do on the highway. And we don’t want them chasing speeders to pull them over, do we?

    So real the answer may be lots and lots of speed cameras, which requires Albany legislation.

  • Pursuant

    Why isn’t the data for 2007 on the graph?

  • JK

    T.A.’s Speeder City, 1993, and Speeder City 2 1997 found that roughly one in five speeding tickets were given on city streets versus highways. In 1993 it was 35 speeding tickets a day on streets, in ’97 only 44. That number is so low that effectively there is no speeding enforcement on city streets. Maybe TA can do some follow-up on “Exec Order” and update these numbers. Odds are they haven’t changed, per Anon above. However, Exec Order doesnt differentiate between speeding tickets on streets and highways, which means it significantly overstates the chance of getting a speeding ticket on a city street.(!It’s even less than once in 35 years!) Another thing to consider is that since pedestrians and cyclists are struck on city streets, not highways, the continued absence of speed enforcement probably hasn’t had an effect on changes in ped/bike injury rates. Exec Order cites an increase in speed related crashes, but those are all crashes, not bike/ped crashes. The silver lining here is that any real police speed enforcement on city streets would probably have a big effect on pedestrians and cycling injuries and deaths.

  • Uhhhh….

    Does anyone have the raw numbers for how many total summonses were issued during the study time? It might be in the report but I’m too lazy to look.

    This way you could say, “Duh, Commish Kelly! Yeah you wrote 1.2 million in 2007 but (maybe) you wrote 1.5 in 2001!”

  • This explains a lot. I always thought Kelly and Bloomberg were at least well intentioned on these issues. Guess I was wrong. Here’s an issue for the Democrats running for mayor.

  • Ken

    Anyone who wants a ground-level view of the NYPD’s traffic enforcement priorities should spend a few hours in traffic court, as I have recently been forced to do. Based on my small sample, the number one threat to public safety on our streets appears to be driving without a seatbelt, distantly followed by operating a cell phone while driving. Out of about 25 cases, there was one for failure to come to a complete stop at a stop sign, one for failure to yield. No speeding, no red light running, no U-turning, no weaving recklessly in traffic. And the alleged perps? Nearly all were people of color, and if they were white, they were nearly always young. Not one Navigator-driving white “professional” in the bunch. (Except, of course, the middle aged white guy charged with failure to use a bike lane when one is provided.) Just a collection of unlucky working class men and women who looked like they could ill afford a $40 ticket plus the state’s $85 surcharge.

  • Larry Littlefield

    My first thought looking at that chart is that summonses went down as tax revenue went up. Which means that as tax revenues go down, summonses may be expected to go up again.

    My second was that once the public employee unions got their big 2000 pension enhancement, and then paid for the part of it not funded by higher taxes with lower pay for new hires, the police cut back on the amount of work they were willing to do. The winners moved to Florida, the losers engaged in a permanent slowdown strike. Expect a lot more of that.

  • terry

    Perhaps this has a lot to do with the decline in ticket numbers
    NYPD staffing
    2001 39,761
    2002 37,988
    2003 36,700
    2004 36,021
    2005 36,141
    2006 36,141
    2007 35,907
    2008 35,945
    2009 35,925

  • Jinx

    Is it me or is this graph terrible? Its not plotted on any sort of scale is it?

  • J. Mork

    There are two sets of x-axis labels. Speeding tickets (in red) are on the left and fatalities, in blue, are on the right.

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