How to Hold NYPD Accountable for Abuse of Traffic Violence Victims

It isn’t often that stories of traffic justice denied make the pages of New York Times, but the case of Mathieu Lefevre got the attention of Jim Dwyer, whose article in today’s paper highlights NYPD ineptitude and provides further details of the inhumane treatment suffered by the Lefevre family at the hands of the 90th Precinct.

Deputy Inspector Michael M. Kemper is in charge of Brooklyn's 90th Precinct, where Mathieu Lefevre was killed by a hit-and-run driver.

Having flown in from Canada after learning of their son’s death, Mathieu’s parents Erika and Alain went to the city morgue to view his remains. There, they were told by a detective to go to the station house for a copy of the crash report and to pick up Mathieu’s belongings. Here’s what happened next:

The 90th Precinct station house proved to be a House of No, as Ms. Lefevre described it: the family was told at the desk that there was no detective available to speak with them, that Mr. Lefevre’s property was not there and that no report on the accident was available.

So they waited.

“After some time elapsed, I called the detective at the morgue, who had given us her phone number in case we ran into problems,” Ms. Lefevre said. Eventually, a detective in the 90th Precinct explained that the person handling the investigation of their son’s death would not be back for several days. “The detective we saw said he had no access to the information, that they do not share files,” Ms. Lefevre said.

After four hours, she said, they left.

It took a week for the Lefevres to claim Mathieu’s effects — though according to the Times they were at the station house all along — and almost two weeks to obtain a copy of the crash report, which conflicted with NYPD statements to the media and has generated more questions than answers.

The most enraging aspect of NYPD’s mishandling of the Lefevre case is that there is nothing unusual about it. We can’t say it any better than Streetsblog commenter Media Maven, who writes: “The way the NYPD is treating the Lefevres is standard operating procedure. This isn’t a particularly bad case. It’s entirely normal. Virtually all ped and cyclist fatalities are treated as ‘accidents’ and blamed on the victim. The drivers who did the killing are rarely investigated or brought to justice. Getting information about the circumstances of the killing out of the NYPD is almost impossible unless you can afford a lawyer who is really willing and able to go after it.” Witness, for example, the detective who handed the Lefevres an attorney’s business card, knowing the swamp they were about to wade into.

Neither Ray Kelly nor Michael Bloomberg has shown any interest in improving the NYPD’s record of tactless bungling when it comes to traffic fatalities, but there is a way for ordinary citizens to demand change from the ground up. Every month, each precinct holds a community council meeting. I’ve been to a few of these, and it’s a tremendous opportunity to talk directly to the cops who are responsible for your neighborhood (as well as local electeds, who are often on hand). It might be easy for a faceless spokesperson to dismiss a tragic death with a callous remark like “That’s why they call it an accident,” but in my experience the police take very seriously the concerns of those who make time to come out on a weeknight and address them face to face.

The commanding officer of the 90th Precinct is Deputy Inspector Michael M. Kemper. The 90th Precinct community council meets on the second Wednesday of each month at 30 Montrose Avenue, Community Room, at 7:30 p.m. Streetsblog has confirmed that the next meeting will take place as scheduled, one week from today, on December 14.

  • Joe R.

    It’s easy for the NYPD to relate to “accidents” which are a result of poor driving practices when they’re among the worst offenders in that regard.  Just last night while crossing the street I was buzzed by a police car going through a red light.  No sirens on.  I did see the car when it as about half a block down, but assumed it would at least slow down enough to give me a wide berth, not pass about a foot behind at maybe 20 mph as it was going through the light.

  • Anonymous

    I dearly appreciate Jim Dwyer’s NYT column today, Brad’s report on it, the advocacy that helped bring about Dwyer’s column, and above all the Lefevre family’s tenacity and determination. (I’ve been at both Police Plaza rallies and have heard Matthew’s family speak bravely and eloquently.)

    But I’m concerned about the assertion I’ve heard at those rallies, and which Dwyer gave voice to, that “More people are killed in traffic accidents than by guns in New York City.”

    I’ve checked the latest official data, “Summary of Vital Statistics, The City of New York,” covering 2009 (http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/vs/2009sum.pdf). Table 2.1, “Deaths by Selected Underlying Cause,” reports 389 deaths from “injury by firearms” and 291 deaths from “motor vehicle accidents.”

    Even if the motor vehicle figure is under-reported, it appears that, in 2009 at any rate, the number of people killed by guns in NYC exceeded by a wide margin the number killed in traffic crashes.

    None of this makes the individual or aggregate deaths involving motor vehicles less horrific, or the neglect and callousness of the NYPD any less egregious. Pressuring the Bloomberg administration to get its police force to be pro-active in crash prevention and accountable in crash investigation and follow-up is a huge imperative.

  • Anonymous

    I dearly appreciate Jim Dwyer’s NYT column today, Brad’s report on it, the advocacy that helped bring about Dwyer’s column, and above all the Lefevre family’s tenacity and determination. (I’ve been at both Police Plaza rallies and have heard Matthew’s family speak bravely and eloquently.)

    But I’m concerned about the assertion I’ve heard at those rallies, and which Dwyer gave voice to, that “More people are killed in traffic accidents than by guns in New York City.”

    I’ve checked the latest official data, “Summary of Vital Statistics, The City of New York,” covering 2009 (http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/vs/2009sum.pdf). Table 2.1, “Deaths by Selected Underlying Cause,” reports 389 deaths from “injury by firearms” and 291 deaths from “motor vehicle accidents.”

    Even if the motor vehicle figure is under-reported, it appears that, in 2009 at any rate, the number of people killed by guns in NYC exceeded by a wide margin the number killed in traffic crashes.

    None of this makes the individual or aggregate deaths involving motor vehicles less horrific, or the neglect and callousness of the NYPD any less egregious. Pressuring the Bloomberg administration to get its police force to be pro-active in crash prevention and accountable in crash investigation and follow-up is a huge imperative.

  • Anonymous

    I dearly appreciate Jim Dwyer’s NYT column today, Brad’s report on it, the advocacy that helped bring about Dwyer’s column, and above all the Lefevre family’s tenacity and determination. (I’ve been at both Police Plaza rallies and have heard Matthew’s family speak bravely and eloquently.)

    But I’m concerned about the assertion I’ve heard at those rallies, and which Dwyer gave voice to, that “More people are killed in traffic accidents than by guns in New York City.”

    I’ve checked the latest official data, “Summary of Vital Statistics, The City of New York,” covering 2009 (http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/vs/2009sum.pdf). Table 2.1, “Deaths by Selected Underlying Cause,” reports 389 deaths from “injury by firearms” and 291 deaths from “motor vehicle accidents.”

    Even if the motor vehicle figure is under-reported, it appears that, in 2009 at any rate, the number of people killed by guns in NYC exceeded by a wide margin the number killed in traffic crashes.

    None of this makes the individual or aggregate deaths involving motor vehicles less horrific, or the neglect and callousness of the NYPD any less egregious. Pressuring the Bloomberg administration to get its police force to be pro-active in crash prevention and accountable in crash investigation and follow-up is a huge imperative.

  • Glenn

    NYC needs a standardized system of dealing with anyone who dies of unnatural causes. Obviously the NYPD is not up for this task in a respectful way.

  • Glenn

    NYC needs a standardized system of dealing with anyone who dies of unnatural causes. Obviously the NYPD is not up for this task in a respectful way.

  • Glenn

    NYC needs a standardized system of dealing with anyone who dies of unnatural causes. Obviously the NYPD is not up for this task in a respectful way.

  • moocow

    Charlie, it’s interesting that the NYPD nor the Mayor’s office refuted those numbers.  If traffic deaths out number gun killings, that doesn’t seem to bother the NYPD enough to look at the statistics. 

  • moocow

    Charlie, it’s interesting that the NYPD nor the Mayor’s office refuted those numbers.  If traffic deaths out number gun killings, that doesn’t seem to bother the NYPD enough to look at the statistics. 

  • Glenn

    Using the charts (see charts 2.18 and 2.20) you link http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/vs/2009sum.pdf to Charlie, I get 313 for all Deaths by motorvehicles (80 MV occupant, 184 Peds, 19 cyclists, 30 Motorcycle users) versus 308 for HOMICIDAL firearm discharge. I think the 389 includes suicidal use of firearms (and “legal intervention” claimed 10 lives by firearm). Interestingly only 1 death was from accidental firearm discharge and zero homicides or suicides resulted from motor vehicles.

    So I think on that data you could at a minimum say that the number of homicidal gun deaths is about the same number of people as traffic related deaths.

    There definitely exists a grey area between proven homicidal intent and completely accidental, where something like negligence or depraved indifference to life comes into play.

  • Anonymous

    @Komanoff:disqus One variation of the guns-vs-vehicles factoid that I’ve seen before was that more people are killed by traffic crashes than *murdered* using guns. This excludes suicides, which are a large fraction of gun deaths. Maybe that could account for the difference.

    It gets tricky because some traffic deaths are suicides too, and of course there are firearm deaths that are accidental. What exactly to include in a soundbite like this is a matter of judgement.

  • Charlie, moocow: please add my name to the list of those who are troubled by Transportation Alternatives’ false claim that more people are killed by traffic accidents than guns in New York. I just went through the last 10 years of New York City vital statistics reports from the link in Charlie’s post, and there have been 4,423 deaths by firearms in that period (2000-2009) and only 3,593 deaths by motor vehicle.
    The sad thing is that for the US as a whole, this assertion is true. For a very nice graph, see the following link to a large PDF: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/misc/injury2007.pdf. Figure 6 on page 29 compares numbers of deaths per 100,000 from MV crashes, firearms, falls, poisoning, and suffocation.Perhaps someone from TA can write to Streetsblog with more details of where their assertions come from. Traffic is lethal enough without having to tell lies about it.

  • Anonymous

    @b0b5a0cf4ee09ff380fd46de4055393f:disqus I agree that suicides and killing by police should be deducted from the firearm total to produce 308 firearm homicides. Good catch. I disagree that the DOH report shows 184 ped fatalities among 313 deaths by m.v.’s, since it appears that the 184 figure is made up of 162 from collision with m.v., 19 from collision with “railway transportation” (what was *that*?) and 3 from “other collision” (ditto … I know of one collision with bike …). I agree that the respective totals in 2009 were very close.
    @qrt145:disqus Same points, thanks.
    @jrab:disqus I wouldn’t characterize TA’s assertion as a “lie.” “Exaggeration” is more like it. I trust we agree that the NYPD’s mis-allocation of resources is hideous.

  • Juan from TA

    From 2000-2009, more New Yorkers have been killed by traffic than have been murdered by guns. 3,647 people have lost their lives to crashes, and 3,558 have been murdered by guns. 

    That stat, as it’s presented in our Vision Zero Report that came out earlier this year, http://transalt.org/files/newsroom/reports/2011/Vision_Zero.pdf (p.14) is drawn from the same DOH tables that have been cited elsewhere in the thread. 2009 was the last year we had available data when we printed Vision Zero. 

    I find this stat to be very significant because it really makes you wonder about the attention that newspapers, our elected leaders, the police, and everyone else allocate to gun homicides, compared to the silence from those same groups on deaths caused by crashes. 

    It’s also useful as a wake-up call – when you tell an ordinary person, i.e., my mother, that crashes kills as many people as murderers with guns do, you give people a reference point that they understand. They’ve seen rallies against gun violence, they’ve read front page stories about it, the Police Departments has a lot of resources devoted to eliminating gun violence, there are after-school programs devoted to it… they “get” gun violence. And after they here a stat that puts crash deaths in that perspective, they understand the toll of crashes a bit better, too. 

     

  • Anonymous

    It’s kind of a miracle that Dwyer covered the Lefevre case at all.  Dwyer is usually bent on being as negative as possible about safe streets issues, but it seems he was able to make the cognitive leap that so many in the NYPD are unable to:  How would it feel if the victim was your son/daughter/mother/father/husband/wife?

  • Anonymous

    @a35d9ee9d4dcdcf1d74a01368a5b0551:disqus I agree wholeheartedly with your 3rd and 4th grafs, and with the theme in TA’s “Vision Zero” report that traffic-crash deaths and gun murders are on the same scale. That framing is valid and valuable.

    But I find dubious the claim in that report (and your comment) that crash deaths actually *exceeded* gun murders during 2000-2009. We’ve already seen that gun murders were slightly ahead in 2009. I’ve just looked at 2000, and I see 440 firearm homicides (Table 16, “Assault (Homicide) and Legal Intervention,” with 448 of the former and 8 of the latter, netting 440), and 368 m.v. fatalities (Table 21, or Table 14 if you sum the four components there). That’s 72 more gun murders than traffic deaths in 2000.

    Sure, I’ve left out 2001-2008, but I’d be surprised if m.v. fatalities in those 8 years reversed the tendency shown in 2000 and 2009 by enough to put them in front.

  • Anonymous

    It would be more accurate to say that the number of gun homicides and traffic deaths are “comparable”, but that doesn’t sound as dramatic. The truth is that the numbers are similar enough that the difference might not even be statistically significant (the “winner” could change from one year to the next).

    Doing the tests of statistical significance is left as an exercise to the reader.

  • this has nothing to do with ineptitude.

  • Juan from TA, since for the US overall deaths in crashes far exceed deaths by firearm, the fact that deaths by firearm are more numerous in New York City than motor vehicle crashes would tend to indicate that firearms are a big problem particular to New York City and that several hundred lives could be saved a year if the scourge of gun trafficking was eliminated and firearms deaths brought down to relative nationwide levels. 

    That seems to be the policy of the mayor and police department.

  • Anonymous

    @jrab:disqus It makes no sense to compare national traffic death rates with New York City traffic death rates, because the distribution of crash types is very different. Nationally, most victims are vehicle occupants crashing in highways at high speeds (in many cases in single-vehicle crashes). Citywide, most victims are pedestrians (or cylists). Perhaps because city traffic is not fast enough to kill vehicle occupants at the national rate, or perhaps because there are not as many exposed pedestrians in the rest of the country.

    I suppose a similar argument can be made about the comparison of national gun deaths with city gun deaths, but I won’t get into that.

    I’m not sure if the gun death rate in NYC is above the national average, but I’m sure that the traffic death rate is well below the national average. Nationally, more than 1 in 10,000 people die in traffic (roughly 40 thousand in 300 million); in NYC, the rate is less than half of that (roughly 300 in 8 million)

  • Jpetro

    Hell, all. I’ve included a link below to a table that includes all of the data that I used to make the following conclusion in our report “Vision Zero”: “Traffic crashes represent a threat to public safety on the same scale as gun violence. In fact, there are more traffic fatalities in the city than the number of firearm-related homicides.”

    Here is a link to the table: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?hl=en_US&hl=en_US&key=0AmckaU2IiByMdDRzR285V09YVXFmVDk5REpRdVdPaEE&output=html

    Thanks

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