Bill Bratton Will Be the Police Chief Tasked With Implementing Vision Zero

Photo: Transportation Alternatives

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has selected Bill Bratton to serve as New York City’s next police commissioner. Bratton occupied the same post from 1994 to 1996 under the Giuliani administration and is credited with pioneering data-driven policing techniques. After Bratton left, one of the innovations his deputies introduced was TrafficStat, a system that tracked crash data, held precinct commanders accountable for street safety performance, and brought different agencies together to address problems.

De Blasio pledged during his campaign to adopt a “Vision Zero” strategy for street safety — setting out to eliminate traffic deaths in New York City. In 12 years of Ray Kelly’s leadership, NYPD street safety policy stagnated and regressed. Bratton will have to make some major changes to realize the Vision Zero goal.

TrafficStat meetings, once open to the public, have become closed-door sessions. Despite advances in information technology, NYPD has fought against making basic information available about where crashes are happening and what causes them. As firearm violence has declined, traffic deaths now outnumber murders by guns, but relatively few resources are devoted to enforcement on surface streets and crash investigations. When police do look into fatal or injurious crashes, the investigations are cursory and shielded from public view. Simply put, Ray Kelly’s NYPD did not take traffic violence seriously.

In remarks at today’s press conference announcing his appointment, Bratton acknowledged that traffic violence poses as grave a risk to New Yorkers as other types of crime. “This year, the number of people who will die on our streets will almost equal the number of people murdered,” he said. “This will require an expanding commitment. The mayor has committed to that going forward.”

At a forum organized by Transportation Alternatives last month, Bratton said “more can be done” in the “critical area” of traffic enforcement. While he said jaywalking enforcement was a useful tactic when he ran LAPD, he also said that “one of the great things about this city is that it is so much a walking city.”

Advocates are optimistic that Bratton will make the prevention of traffic deaths and injuries a higher priority than his predecessor. TA Executive Director Paul Steely White sent this statement:

To achieve his Vision Zero goal, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio is smart to appoint Bill Bratton to lead the NYPD. Traffic deaths and serious injuries are epidemic in New York City, and the police department has a significant role to play in eliminating them. More New Yorkers are killed in traffic than murdered by guns. At a recent panel discussion presented by T.A. and NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, Bill Bratton demonstrated that he understands the urgent need to use data-driven traffic enforcement across the city to target reckless and deadly drivers and save lives.

For years now, NYC has been a national leader in re-engineering streets for greater safety, while Ray Kelly’s NYPD has lagged behind. Soon, it’s going to be Bill Bratton’s police department.

  • HamTech87

    While I’m hopeful about Bratton, it would be nice if he stopped using the word “accident”.

  • Eric McClure

    StreetsPAC is optimistic, as well: http://www.streetspac.org/bratton_appointment

  • Bolwerk

    Oh, I get it, Vision Zero is for civil rights, not traffic. The major reason he appointed Bratton was to placate the authoritarian political gadflies that think New Yorkers won’t behave themselves without a strongman mayor and police commissioner who can ignore the constitution.

  • Komanoff

    Good post, but a caveat and a proposed correction. In 1994, under Bratton, the NYPD abruptly terminated its policy under Mayors Koch and Dinkins of providing monthly numbers of crashes, injuries and fatalities for each crash “pair” (drivers killing peds, drivers killing cyclists, cyclists killing peds). We need that blackout reversed, and so much more. And, it won’t be Bill Bratton’s police department; it’s de Blasio’s.

  • ddartley

    Okay. “Tasked with” implementing Vision Zero? BY whom? In my opinion, THAT is THE question. WHO is going to task Bratton with implementing Vision Zero? Yes, yes, I know that theoretically, it’s supposed to be the guy who just got elected mayor. And yes, I know that the mayor-elect was the StreetsPAC endorsee, AND that this mayor-elect is at least as responsible as anyone for the most recent increase in use of the phrase “Vision Zero.” But I’m wary of the fact that he’s also the guy with the most power to cheapen the phrase and divest it of most of its import and meaning. I can become, but am not yet, convinced that DiBlasio has tasked Bratton with anything specific concerning traffic violence. I think we can conclude that Bratton has been tasked by anyone with implementing Vision Zero only when we see proof that he has. That proof can come in the form of public statements, stronger than the quote above, direct from him and/or DiBlasio, or in the form of a sudden severe drop in traffic injuries (which we all know NYPD could effect in mere hours, if they wanted to), or in something else immediate. We should not assume that DiBlasio has ever uttered the phrase “Vision Zero” to Bill Bratton. I’d say that it is currently still up to us, the public, to continue to pressure DiBlasio and Bratton both to make sure that Bratton gets it.

  • Jonathan R

    Can you explain how exactly how police are supposed to suddenly severely reduce the number of traffic injuries? Perhaps they could clap all drivers in jail.

  • ocschwar

    I think you mean “New York City’s.”

  • JK

    NYPD’s TrafficStat started in April 1998, two years after Bratton left. Though, it was started by senior members of Bratton’s mgmt team, who were very familiar with the CompStat. It was open by invitation, and Transportation Alternatives staff attended a number of sessions circa 98-2004. TrafficStat was a technology marvel 15 years ago — crashes were mapped by mode, contributing cause of crash and other factors using fresh data. With modern tech and data analytics — and openness to the public — it could be the tool at the center of Vision Zero. Most importantly, TrafficStat was a process to make precinct commmanders accountable for traffic deaths and injuries in their command. There was a real sense that chiefs Scagnelli and McShane, who ran it during its heyday, were personally committed to changing PD culture and getting cops to think of traffic crimes as crimes. http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/news/cops-tackle-road-perils-computer-helping-identify-hot-spots-article-1.820528

  • Thanks for the correction. Post updated.

  • ddartley

    I was starting to answer you with very feasible examples, but it’s not a good use of time. Suffice it to say there are tons of ideas of things they could do right now that they’re not doing that would probably cause the number of crashes to decrease this very week, this very month. Just look at this one picture of this silly thing they did, and it’ll probably instantly give you too multiple ideas about things they could do to prevent motorists from driving dangerously:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/dirtycrumbs/6948112814/

  • Larry Littlefield

    If reading my blog had anything to do with DeBlasio hiring Bratton, his main motivation may be saving a few bucks. Because that’s what I think will be job one. We can’t afford to pay for all the cops about to retire, and their replacements. But compared with other places, we have a hell of a lot of cops.

    http://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/stop-and-frisk/

    It isn’t always about money, except when you are broke. And this country is broke.

  • Joe R.

    There is only one way to reduce traffic casualties enough to approach the concept behind Vision Zero-namely to dramatically reduce traffic volumes. Anything else is like trying to drill a hole in water. Aggressive, dangerous driving is a direct result of congestion and unpredictable travel times. People do all kinds of stupid things to gain one car length in the hopes that it might save them a significant amount of time. If traffic flowed freely and travel times were predictable within a few minutes this kind of crazy driving just wouldn’t exist. in the end speed humps, speed cameras, red light cameras, traffic signals, and so forth are just bandaids needed because we’ve failed to garner political support to dramatically reduce motor vehicle volumes in NYC. Sure, one or two of these things might prevent a handful of fatalities per year, but approaching zero is only possible if we reduce motor traffic levels to about 10% of what they are now. That in turn will require congestion pricing, elimination of free curbside parking, perhaps even bans on private passenger cars/taxis in large swaths of the city.

  • Keegan Stephan

    The key to achieving Vision Zero does not rest in the agenda and political will with which he takes office, but if he listens to us (the safer streets community) after he takes office, or blatantly ignores us as Ray Kelly has. Hopefully his admission at the TA/Rudin event that @Komanoff:disqus was right when Charles corrected his gaffe that traffic violence was not a crime is an indication that he will listen to us, because you can count on us speaking up…

  • Guest

    I still feel he is morally unfit for duty, given his record of abusing his former position and lack of integrity:
    http://nypost.com/2012/04/02/fishy-commishy/

    If he can’t be bothered to exercise a modicum of lawful behavior in respecting traffic laws, I have very little confidence in his ability or desire to bring a more honest and productive culture to the NYPD rank and file.

  • Guest

    He might say the right stuff when it’s popular and convenient.

    But what really matters is how he actually acts.

  • Bolwerk

    Meh. The entire police force has special privileges that we mere citizens don’t have. They can carry guns, park where they want, run lights, lie in court, punch judges, frisk innocent people, etc.. They are practically guaranteed employment, and even egregious offenses often result in a paid vacation while it’s investigated. To top it off, they get a secure retirement.

    There is an accountability problem, but Bratton is probably still preferable to Ray Kelly when it comes to that.

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