City Council Can’t Force NYPD to Adhere to State Law on Crash Investigations

The City Council has concluded it cannot require NYPD to fully investigate traffic crashes, despite indications that current department protocols may violate state law.

Investigations into the deaths of Stefanos Tsigrimanis and Clara Heyworth were compromised by the NYPD "likely to die" policy.

In March, Council Member Steve Levin sent a letter to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly questioning the practice of assigning the Accident Investigation Squad only in instances where someone is killed or is believed likely to die. Currently, crashes that result in injuries that are not considered fatal are handled by precinct cops who are not trained to conduct full-scale investigations. According to testimony presented at the February council hearing on NYPD traffic enforcement, held three months ago today, that policy is inconsistent with state traffic code.

Wrote Levin: “As [a full] investigation is only authorized to be carried out by AIS and as AIS limits itself to the investigations of those accidents in which one has either died or is deemed likely to die instead of all accidents that result in serious injury, I do not see how the NYPD can reasonably claim to be in compliance with Article 22, Section 603-A of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Rules.”

While requesting that Kelly initiate a change in the “likely to die” rule, Levin was also preparing legislation to amend the NYPD patrol handbook to conform to state law. However, according to a Levin spokesperson, “The bill will move forward as a resolution because it has been determined that the City Council does not have jurisdiction to amend the NYPD Patrolman’s handbook.”

Delayed AIS deployment in cases where injuries were initially not thought to be life-threatening has severely compromised fatal crash investigations. When a doctor told officers that cyclist Stefanos Tsigrimanis wasn’t in mortal danger after he was hit by a driver in Brooklyn, AIS did not return to the scene for 46 days. Because NYPD did not know that Brooklyn pedestrian Clara Heyworth had died after she was struck by an unlicensed driver who was believed to be drunk, AIS was not dispatched until at least three days after the crash.

“Council Member Levin does hope that the NYPD is responsive to the resolution and recognizes the need to more vigorously investigate accidents involving pedestrians, cyclists and motorists,” the spokesperson said.

Another nascent bill mandating that at least five officers per precinct be trained to conduct AIS-scale investigations will also take the form of a resolution, according to the spokesperson.

Other issues raised at the February hearing, both pertaining to public disclosure, will be addressed through legislation. One bill would require that the names and contact information of each precinct’s traffic safety officer be posted online.

The second bill would amend Jessica Lappin’s NYPD crash data law. Levin’s office says the bill would require that all traffic crash reports include a “detailed list” of moving violations issued at the scene, and that reports must indicate whether AIS, the patrol supervisor, the precinct detective squad or the highway unit were summoned. Reports would also show whether a breath test from a calibrated machine was administered at the scene and, if so, the results of the test.

In addition, the council would change the way NYPD reports crash data. Under the amended law, reports would include data calculated citywide, as well as by borough and precinct. The amendment would require that data reports be posted on the NYPD web site in an open data format, rather than PDF files (it’s possible this provision will be superseded by an upcoming vote on a separate bill). All monthly and annual reports would be posted on the NYPD web site for a period of five years.

At the hearing in February, NYPD attorney Susan Petito told Lappin that the department is concerned that data released on a spreadsheet could be manipulated “to make a point of some sort.”

  • AliciaH

    Just for information, Austin police respond to all crashes with open minds about what happened, perhaps NYPD could visit and leanr?

    http://www.kvue.com/news/Fatal-pedestrian-accident-in-Central-Austin-151497235.html

  • Anonymous

    This is all besides the point.

    The NYPD’s job is to serve and protect the people of New York. 

    The NYPD should not have to be coerced to do its job. 
    The NYPD should just do it. 

    The NYPD is not doing it. Ergo, the NYPD, institutionally, considers its job to be something other than serving and protecting the people of New York. 

    And I have to wonder what that job is.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The City Council has plenty of power.  It has the power to approve the budget.

    The NYPD had 565 officers per 100,000 residents in 2007, when the last Census of Governments was conducted.  The U.S. average was 207.  The number of officers has been going down.  The City Council could ask, as services are being cut to pay for rising debt and service costs, why it shouldn’t go down much more if people aren’t going to be protected anyway.

    Issues like two officer patrols in low crime areas could be brought up.  Of having camera enforcement of alternate side, and then re-assigning the brownies to cover parades and events rather than paying police overtime.  Questions could be addressed to management and the union alike.

    Except that NY Democrats represent producers of public services at the expense of consumers of public services, who aside from the 1 percent are generally worse off.

  • Anxiously Awaiting Bike Share

    To be fair to the City Council, this seems to be a judicial matter to be settled by a lawsuit of a victim’s family suing NYPD as it has to do with the interpretation of a law, not the law itself.

  • Guest

    Larry,
    I don’t think cutting the number of officers is the way to increase the number of officers on the AIS team.

    There were 45,504 “personal injury accidents” in 2010. With a 19-person AIS team working roughly 1,600 hours per year (regular time), that leaves roughly 90 minutes time to investigate each accident – a figure which includes paperwork, travel, etc.

  • Guest

    The meat of Article 22, Section 603-A of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Rules reads:
    “whenever a motor vehicle accident results in serious physical injury or
    death to a person … the police shall conduct an investigation of such
    accident”

    Knock yourself out over the LEGAL definition of “serious physical injury”

    read it all here: http://law.onecle.com/new-york/vehicle-traffic/VAT0603-A_603-A.html

  • The Truth

    However you might like to define “serious physical injury,” the text explicitly recognizes it as a condition separate from “death to a person.” 

    Since the NYPD exclusively investigates cases with an expectation of “death to a person,” there is no reading that could defend their position.

  • jooltman

    This is very disappointing.  I have a feeling that a City Council “resolution” holds about as much weight with the NYPD as the pleas from victims’ family members.  Those heartbreaking stories haven’t encouraged the NYPD to follow state law.  It’s a big fat shame.

  • matt

    funny how the nypd never complained about lacking man power to keep an eye on the occupy wall street crowd

  • KillMoto

    In my fantasy/dream, the city council can cut that part of the police budget that maintains their motor vehicle fleet – in half.  Get more cops on foot, on horses, on bikes, and you’ll get more cops stopping crazy drivers. 

    The dream goes on, wherein this same “serious physical injury” standard is applied to police officer disability retirement and workman’s compensation.  Amputee?  “Sorry, that’s not grave enough an injury for investigating vehicular harm, so it’s not a cause for medical leave.  Get back to work!”

  • The city government cannot compel it’s police department to follow the law? 

    People need to wake up. 

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