NYPD Admits Error in Pedestrian Death, Says Chases Off-Limits

schmeer.jpgKaren Schmeer. Image: New York Times

The NYPD is no longer denying its involvement — or error — in the January 29 car chase that ended with the death of Karen Schmeer on the Upper West Side. At a meeting of the 24th Precinct’s community council, Deputy Inspector Kathleen O’Reilly laid out the police’s official line: that an officer improperly started a chase and that his supervisor, according to policy, called it off.

In response to a number of questions from concerned citizens at the meeting, Inspector O’Reilly clarified some of the details that have been missing so far. The chase began on the southbound side of Broadway, she said, while Schmeer was eventually killed on the northbound side (a fact that correlates with an account posted by a Streetsblog commenter). A call had gone out over the police radio with a description of a car fleeing the scene of a burglary. The offense was actually shoplifting; the original call was in error.

O’Reilly said that when an officer handing out traffic summonses on Broadway saw that car go by, he gave in to "the absolutely natural instinct to follow." O’Reilly did not deny that the officer began a vehicle pursuit.

According to O’Reilly, that pursuit never should have occurred. The NYPD Patrol Guide states, "Department policy requires that a vehicle pursuit be terminated whenever the risks to uniformed members of the service and the public outweigh the danger to the community if [the] suspect is not immediately apprehended."

O’Reilly gave her interpretation of the rule: "You’d have to have someone — probably a cop — shot right in front of you to pursue in Manhattan." Even then, she added, a pursuit probably isn’t worth the danger it causes. "We’ve got ballistics. We’ve got evidence," she said. "We’ll track them down."

O’Reilly also claimed that the chase was called off by the officer’s supervisor once he realized what was happening. "Being trained, the sergeant realized the harm and called off the pursuit," she said. The harm was already done, however. Karen Schmeer is the only victim of a homicide in the 24th precinct this year, according to CompStat data [PDF].

There’s still a lot that we don’t know about Schmeer’s death. Another Streetsblog commenter says she saw the police pursue the shoplifters until Schmeer was hit. If true, it sits uneasily with O’Reilly’s claim that the chase was called off. No witnesses came forward at the meeting to offer accounts of the crash. O’Reilly also did not indicate whether the officer who began the pursuit was reprimanded for violating precinct policy.

What we do know is that a top officer in a police department which had previously denied that its pursuit contributed to Karen Schmeer’s death, and denied involvement in other high-speed chases, has now admitted that an officer began a chase on the Upper West Side, violating protocol and putting citizens in danger.

  • Giffen

    Will the officer be charged?

  • Angry Pete

    You are kidding, right?

  • Kaja
  • kornrow

    The times said the first report was for a robbery. Wouldn’t you want the police to catch two robbers? Or would you rather they continue to walk around the nieghborhood?

  • Uh yes, Kornrow, I would rather that a couple of shoplifters be allowed to walk around the neighborhood with the pantyhose they lifted from CVS than to see an innocent woman killed.

  • flp

    so, will the nypd consider re-investigating the equally wrong and terrible death of violetta kryzak, or do they admit error only when under the scrutiny of more powerful voters and taxpayers?

  • Glenn

    Thanks for following this important story. Glad that the NYPD admitted that they made mistakes. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery!

  • Exactly, Glenn! One day at a time, Flp.

  • ElKim

    Am I the only one disturbed by the plastering Karen Schmeer’s face on several streetsblog posts? Of the numerous pedestrian deaths that Streetsblogs has covered, it seems only the one in which the victim is a pretty white woman is generating anything more than a single post on streetsblog. And of course, each post leads with a close-up of her face. It all feels so… manipulative.

  • Kornrow sounds like a NYPD troll. I should know:

    http://www.newyorkshitty.com/?p=2952

  • com1

    Miss. Heather, so everyone who does not agree with you is a troll? There was certainly nothing offense about kornrow comment and even if he was a member of the NYPD, which I doubt, he’s not allow to have his own opinion?

  • Ben

    O’Reilly isn’t doing a good job. I met her at a community meeting back in October and she said some pretty stupid things.

    I talked about how the NYPD have been mistreating kids in the Public Schools and how it makes more work for the teachers. She responded with “there are some bad apples in the schools, and we try to deal with the bad apples by making these kids paint over graffiti.”

    The way I see it, O’Reilly doesn’t give a damn. She has absolutely no concern over this neighborhood, and why would she? She doesn’t live here, and she doesn’t have kids in our schools. She’s got to go.

    The NYPD has gotten unbelievably lazy, and Raymond Kelly has made no effort to get minorities to trust law enforcement.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Yes, ElKim, I’m pretty sure that you are the only reader having a bizarro politically correct response to the victim’s photo. Is this photo-montage equal-opportunity enough for you?

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2009/12/28/in-memoriam/

    Or should Streetsblog just not post victim’s photos when they happen to be white and look “pretty” to you?

    What a silly f’ing politically correct diversion. Let’s focus on the NYPD’s outrageous behavior in this incident and how we’re going to get local polticians to hold the cops accountable and prevent this kind of thing from happening again.

    And, kornrow, the NY Times’ first story reported that this fatal car chase was the result of a shop-lifting incident at a Rite Aid. The answer to your question is: No. I don’t want the NYPD initiating car chases in my neighborhood over shop-lifted Chapstick and deodorant.

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