88th Precinct Botches Traffic Fatality Stats As Families Demand Enforcement

Last night, dozens of protestors gathered in Fort Greene to remember the at least 14 New Yorkers under the age of 18 killed in traffic so far this year, including Fort Greene’s own Lucian Merryweather, 9, and demand more traffic enforcement from the police. Chanting “NYPD, make it safer on our streets” and “safe streets, slow down,” the march entered the 88th Precinct’s community council meeting for a question-and-answer session with the precinct’s commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Scott Henderson.

Marchers at last night's traffic safety protest in Fort Greene. Photo: Dmitry Gudkov
Marchers at last night’s traffic safety protest in Fort Greene. Photo: Dmitry Gudkov

“Five children have been killed on the streets of New York City in less than five weeks’ time since the end of September,” march organizer Hilda Cohen said. “The death of an innocent child is an unbearable tragedy, and each one is preventable.”

Automobile crashes are the leading cause of injury-related death for New York City children. Last night’s march comes a week after a similar march in Jackson Heights, where Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao spoke about their 3-year-old daughter Allison, killed by a turning driver who ran her over in the crosswalk as she walked with her grandmother. Tam and Liao came from Flushing to march in last night’s protest.

Amy Cohen and Gary Eckstein, whose son Sammy was killed by a driver on Prospect Park West, spoke at the march. “This past Saturday was supposed to have been his bar mitzvah,” Cohen said. “Too many children are dying on our streets.” Cohen called on the NYPD to increase its enforcement of speeding and failure to yield to pedestrians and urged the City Council to pass a bill to lower the speed limit to 20 mph in residential neighborhoods. She also urged Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio to choose transportation and police commissioners who will prioritize street safety.

“When you are on the street, your life is in someone else’s hands — everyone else’s hands. And most of these hands are on the steering wheel of a car,” said Esme Brauer, 11. “Drive safely. Follow the rules of the road. Please.”

After reading the names of New York City children killed by drivers so far this year, marchers then walked to the corner of Clermont and DeKalb Avenues, where Merryweather was killed on the sidewalk by a reckless driver, before continuing to the 88th Precinct’s community council meeting. At the meeting, Henderson expressed sadness over Merryweather’s death before defending the precinct’s traffic safety record.

A flier from the precinct referencing the crash that killed Merryweather was distributed at the meeting warning drivers not to speed, text, or drive drunk. Cohen later thanked Henderson for the education material targeting drivers, but at the beginning of the meeting, Henderson revealed his ignorance concerning traffic safety in his own precinct. Henderson said that before Merryweather’s death, there had not been a traffic fatality in the 88th Precinct since 2008. The audience began to murmur loudly and Henderson called the disruption “disrespectful.”

In the front row, immediately in front of Henderson, was Jacob Stevens, whose wife Clara Heyworth was killed by an alleged drunk driver in 2011 in the 88th Precinct. Charges against her killer were dropped after a botched NYPD investigation.

“We’ve heard community complaints about speeding,” Henderson said, particularly along Park and DeKalb Avenues. He said that so far this year, the precinct issued 810 summonses on Park and 250 summonses on DeKalb. Though Henderson was talking about speeding, it’s likely these numbers reflect the total number of moving violations on these avenues, since NYPD’s own public data shows that the precinct has only issued a total of 62 speeding tickets as of October 31 — that’s one every 20 days [PDF].

Henderson said he has put in a request for three additional officers to be trained to operate radar guns, and is confident the request will be approved.

Speakers at the meeting also asked Henderson to increase enforcement against drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians; so far this year, the precinct has issued only five tickets for this offense. Henderson replied that the precinct prefers to issue tickets for “failure to obey pavement markings” to drivers who do not give the right of way to walkers. It should be noted that this violation encompasses a number of other actions besides ignoring a pedestrian in the crosswalk; even still, so far this year the precinct has issued fewer than one of these tickets per day.

Near the end of the meeting, Cohen presented Henderson with maps showing traffic danger hotspots that residents have identified in the neighborhood. Henderson thanked her for the feedback. “I think it’s a great idea,” he said.

  • J

    It seems like Henderson was underprepared for this meeting. Keep coming back and he’ll get more and more prepared each time and things will start to change.

  • SteveVaccaro

    Yes, it is critical to maintain a regular presence at these meetings, month-in, month-out, no matter how much it may seem that they are unnecessarily prolonged by presentations having little or nothing to do with law enforcement. Livable streets activists have flipped community board transportation committees across the citiy through patient, respectful regular attendance along with consistent powerful messaging culminating in winning appointments to leadership positions. Let’s make 2014 the year when this same approach is taken with respect to the precinct community councils.

  • The next meeting of the 88th Precinct’s Community Council is on Tuesday, January 21st. Location TBA.

    Put it on your calendar.

  • jooltman

    Every time the Chairperson or Commanding Officer of the 78th Precinct accuses a Community Council attendee of being “disrespectful” it means truth is being spoken. Dissent protects democracy. Delivered in a respectful manner, there’s nothing inherently disrespectful about demanding the NYPD protect us.

    Next 78th Precinct meeting is 11/26 at 7:30 pm, 65 Sixth Avenue.

  • Jimbo853okg

    I sure hope so but I wouldn’t count on it. Having gone to at least 10 community council meetings since moving to the 88th Precinct, I must admit that Henderson rubs me the wrong way. He is always defensive and thin-skinned. Last night he was scarily ill-informed about his precinct’s traffic stats. Henderson knew what would go down at this meeting and so did his staff. I’m glad he was embarrassed. He should be.

    Henderson was also a bit arrogant in reminding us how important he is because Commissioner Kelly and Columbia U. “picked” him for a special project, so he had to travel back from upstate especially for this meeting. And then Henderson threw in how he sat in traffic for 2 hours. Um, coming to these meetings is not doing us a special favor, it’s your JOB!

    Still, I keep wondering if that mistake came about because the NYPD has been lying about TrafficSTAT for so long that they don’t
    know the truth. Maybe they didn’t know to include Clara Heyworth’s death, or perhaps it was removed. Either thought disturbs me.

    It’s too early to say if deeds will match words but I was impressed by what Ken Thompson had to say. And as always, Tish James is great. I really hope she is able to take the issue of safe streets and turn it into a real calling card for demonstrating what the Public Advocate’s office can be.

    As for her replacement in the Council, Laurie Cumbo, the less said the better.

  • Jimbo853okg

    Are you referring to the 78th Precinct or the 88th? I certainly find that to be true at 88th Precinct meetings. I’m pretty easy-going, but the minute I put the hard questions to C.O. Henderson, John Harrison is all over me like a Black Dog security employee.

  • BornAgainBicyclist

    The special project is, I think, a management training institute. It’s early in the program — IIRC it’s one week a month, runs for 8 or 9 months — so maybe by the time he finishes he’ll have learned how to work better with the community he’s been appointed to serve.

  • jooltman

    Same story at the 78th, sadly. It’s all about “working together” and any criticism is taken personally. Our chair actually shut down and censored further discussion of speeding last month. So counter-productive.

  • Jimbo853okg

    I hope so. Or as a cynical Hemingway antihero would say, “pretty to think so.”

  • jessie doyle

    Your words –Jimbo853okg– are spot on. D.I. Scott H. was inappropriately prickly. He was more keen to take the attendees’ commentary as a negative reflection on himself than to actually hear what was being said. To make matters worse, he completely and utterly got the stats about automobile deaths wrong. I know of 3 people (2 of them I am directly connected to) that have been killed in the last 3 years: Aileen McKay-Dalton, a mother of 3 small children, and Lucian Merryweather… as well as Clara Heyworth. For Dep. Inspect. Henderson to announce there have been no deaths since 2008 –in front of Clara’s husband– is brutally wrong. As a novice in this mix, I was horrified by his ignorance and demeanor. Honestly he sounded as if he couldn’t string two sentences together… it was appalling. Council Elect Cumbo made herself look really bad by wrongly defending Henderson. Particularly since no one was attacking him personally. Additionally, Cumbo really ran with the “regulars” versus newcomers polemic, which served to further foster unnecessary divisions amongst us. So what if I’m new to the ‘hood, so what if others have been here for 40 years… surely it’s time to be united. Thompson had good interesting things to say and Tish James was her usual bright, wise, thoughtful, clear, awesome clever self.

  • Jimbo853okg

    Jessie – Thank you, yes, it seems we had the same experience on Tues. night.

    This is the 4th or 5th 88th Precinct community meeting I’ve attended since Henderson took over and if nothing else, he’s been consistent. When we were first moving here 3 years ago, Anthony Tasso was the 88th Precinct C.O. and he was human, articulate, engaging and strong. But the NYPD shifts these assignments every few years. I hope Henderson’s replacement will be stronger.

    Cumbo is a standard-issue politician who lacks the gifts and commitment of a Tish James. She will say whatever the situation warrants — although I don’t get the impression she has much of an interest in safer streets. And those “new people” vs. “veteran” comments seemed almost borderline offensive.

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