ID Theft Gets More Resources From Cy Vance Than Traffic Crime [Updated]

If you’ve suffered a life-altering injury, or even lost a loved one, at the hands of a negligent New York City driver, there usually isn’t much the authorities can do for you. To hear NYPD tell it, the department barely has the resources to investigate traffic deaths, let alone the thousands of pedestrian and cyclist injuries that occur every year. District attorneys are so flummoxed by weak traffic laws that they can’t muster the wherewithal to push for new ones. And while some on the City Council would like to help, their influence is limited.

Chris Quinn has no opinion on traffic crash investigation reform, but identity theft gets the serious face, along with a state-of-the-art crime lab. Photo: Dana Rubinstein/Capital NY

On the other hand, if someone buys a plane ticket or an egg biscuit in your name, and the offense takes place within the jurisdiction of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, you’ll find the latest in crime-fighting techniques and technology at your disposal.

On Tuesday, Vance announced plans for a new facility that will, according to the Times, “centralize efforts to target crimes and criminals involving the use of technology.” The lab will be funded with a $4.2 million appropriation from the City Council. Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who hasn’t decided if uninvestigated road casualties are a problem, was on hand for the occasion.

New York City law enforcers should be on the cutting edge, and few would argue in favor of ignoring computer-based criminal activity. But for perspective’s sake, there are 25 or so assistant district attorneys assigned to the vehicular crimes unit part-time, according to Vance’s office, in addition to a full-time bureau chief. By contrast, reports Capital New York:

Right now, Manhattan has ten assistant district attorneys working full-time on international and large-scale cyber-crime cases, as well as more than 70 assistant D.A.s dealing with the more than 200 identity theft cases that come in per month via street arrests.

Meanwhile, according to NYPD, 1,957 Manhattan pedestrians and cyclists were injured in the first six months of 2012 — an average of 326 a month — and 20 were killed. Without knowing what constitutes a “part-time” assignment at the DA’s office, let’s call it half-time. That would equate to 13.5 ADAs assigned to vehicular crimes, including the full-time bureau chief. Plugging in the 1,977 injuries and fatality crashes (330 per month), that breaks down to a workload of 24.4 incidents per prosecutor per month.

An aside: Extrapolating from the latest data available (October to December 2011), cyclist and pedestrian injuries that did not involve motor vehicles would account for around 3 percent of the total, so removing them from our calculations would have little effect on the bottom line.

The Times reported that there are 200 to 300 identity theft cases in Manhattan per month, so let’s say 300. We don’t know if the 70 ADAs working on identity theft are full-time or part-time, but if we conservatively apply the same half-time factor, we have 35 attorneys working on those 300 cases a month. That’s 8.6 incidents per prosecutor per month.

So according to our back-of-envelope analysis, District Attorney Vance appears to be allocating almost three times the resources to each case of non-violent ID theft as he is assigning to maimings and killings in Manhattan traffic.

“We’re in a battle that is going to be a long-term battle,” Vance said Tuesday. “And it is a battle that is going to require us to continue to devote more resources, new resources, new training, but there is no option.”

If only.

Update: In response to this post, we received a statement from Erin Duggan, communications director for Vance’s office: “Nearly all manner of crimes that come into the Manhattan DA’s Office today have a cyber element. The ADAs who are trained in cyber work on a broad range of cases, from murders to sex trafficking to rapes to white collar crime. Additionally, if a vehicular case includes cell phone evidence or other cyber data, that, too, would be processed by the cyber lab.”

  • Matt

    “we don’t have the resources” means “we’re not interested”

  • Ben Kintisch

    I think Cy Vance needs to hear from all of us that it’s just not okay to let vehicular violence slide because the DA prioritizes other things. In my mind, protecting the lives and safety of NYC pedestrians and cyclists has to be more important than prosecuting financial crimes.

  • Mark Walker

    I’m uncomfortable with this juxtaposition. ID theft is really a scourge. If you want to discuss a zero-sum game, try low-level drug offenses, especially marijuana offenses. Jailing nonviolent offenders and blighting their lives is an indefensible waste of resources.

  • Ian Turner

    @m_walker:disqus : Identity theft is tough, but it’s hard to argue that having your identity stolen — no matter how completely — is worse than being killed or seriously injured.

  • Anonymous

    @m_walker:disqus You’re right of course re the War on Weed. And if Vance had announced a multi-million-dollar lab to separate seeds from stems, we’d be all over him for prioritizing pot busts over street safety. But he didn’t — his big bold crime-stopping priority is an anti-ID theft lab. Streetsblog is right both substantively and strategically to call that to task.

  • Rhubarbpie

    What the district attorney needs to do is walk outside his apartment door on West End Avenue and observe, as I do, the speeding and other dangerous driving on the avenue that goes by his building. Then he should walk over to Broadway and see even more examples. Crack down on ID theft all you want, but make sure you’re pushing hard to penalize dangerous drivers in our town. 

  • Eric McClure

    Ok, Erin Duggan, I’m calling your bluff. How many times since DA Vance was sworn into office has the Manhattan DA’s office sought “cell phone evidence or other cyber data” in a crash investigation?

  • Andrew

    @m_walker:disqus I agree. No question that death is is far worse than identity theft and that the DA should be taking traffic crime far more seriously. But that doesn’t change the fact that identity theft (which means a lot more than “someone buys a plane ticket or an egg biscuit in your name”) has become a big problem.

    There’s no reason that the DA can’t work on both.

  • Anonymous

    Resources for law enforcement should be allocated first to crimes against life or person, then to crimes against property (such as identity theft), and finally (if at all) to crimes against morality or society (like the “quality of life” crimes, et al.)

  • Andrew

    I disagree. Crimes that don’t cost lives can’t be ignored only because we haven’t fully eradicated those that do.

    All else being equal, crimes against life should have priority, and I certainly agree that the DA (along with many other parties, most notably the NYPD) have not been giving traffic crime anywhere near the attention and resources that they deserve. But shrugging off everything else entirely only makes us look foolish.

  • Anonymous

    to clarify, this hierarchy applies to crimes of equal or similar severity. A misdemeanor assault can not necessarily take precedence over a felony case of embezzlement, for example. Our legal code is already divided into various classes and sub-classes of criminal activity.

    Otherwise, you could indeed construct a foolish scenario.

  • Brad Aaron

    If I am ever a victim of identity theft, I will be grateful to have my complaint investigated and prosecuted.

    If I or someone I care about gets hurt or killed in Manhattan traffic, I will in all likelihood be SOL.

    @EricMcClure:disqus We have passed your question along.

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