NYPD Work Slowdown Shows How Much Rank-and-File Care About Vision Zero

For at least two weeks, the number of summonses issued and arrests made by police officers across the city has dropped precipitously. For victimless offenses like drinking alcohol in public, the decline in ticketing may serve as an interesting natural experiment in whether “broken windows” policing is really effective. But for motor vehicle violations like speeding and failure-to-yield, the drop in enforcement is putting people’s lives at risk.

When's the last time you saw this? Photo: Mark Davis/Flickr
When’s the last time you saw this? Photo: Mark Davis/Flickr

While neither the mayor nor the police unions will yet call the drop in enforcement a work slowdown, the stats are clear. And it turns out that moving violations against dangerous drivers are falling more than other types of enforcement activity. The past couple weeks have shown — if it wasn’t already apparent — how little priority most rank-and-file officers give to street safety.

Traffic tickets are down 92 percent compared to a year ago, with some precincts failing to issue a single moving violation last week. In contrast, arrests over the same period declined by 56 percent.

It’s too early to know for sure what effect the slowdown is having on vehicular violence, but the signal the police are sending is clear: They really don’t care if you drive dangerously, so go ahead and do it.

This attitude isn’t just surfacing the last two weeks. NYPD’s police academy does not include traffic enforcement as part of its curriculum, and most officers seem uninterested in street safety. When an MTA bus driver was arrested last month for failure to yield after he killed an elderly pedestrian while turning through an East Flatbush crosswalk, the Post reported that officers told the bus driver “this is ridiculous, but we have orders and we have to follow them.”

The Right of Way Law, which officers grumbled about enforcing, is one of the most important Vision Zero laws passed last year. Despite a promise to train all of the department’s patrol officers to arrest drivers who violate the law, enforcement remains spotty, even in cases where all known evidence points to driver culpability.

Some NYPD brass recognize the disconnect. “My goal is to change the mindset of the individual officers who are on daily patrol in the precincts. They are the ones who are going to make a difference on [Vision Zero],” Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan told the City Council last February. “I cannot rely on a speciality unit to do this, to achieve this goal.”

One wrinkle in the work slowdown: Parking tickets are most often issued by Traffic Enforcement Agents, not patrol officers. Although they are a unit of the NYPD, TEAs are unarmed and represented by CWA Local 1182, the same union that represents sanitation workers, not by the unions for patrol officers, detectives, or captains. Nevertheless, TEAs are slowing down their work, too: The number of parking tickets last week dropped 93 percent compared to the year before.

As for speeding and failure to yield enforcement, despite some improvement in the past year, it’s obvious that traffic safety is no big deal to the department’s rank and file. For the last two weeks, it’s been just another bargaining chip in the feud with the mayor.

  • I’d like to make a comment that will appear at first to be just a usage peeve (which it to some degree is), but which carries some deeper meaning.

    In the sentence “…and most officers seem disinterested in street safety”, that should be “uninterested”. This is not a mere technicality, as these words mean two very different things.

    In fact, we want cops who are disinterested, meaning cops who don’t let their own interests affect their enforcement work.

    When cops announce to the press that “no criminality is suspected” in instances of vehicular violence, they are showing that they unfortunately are not at all disinterested; they are demonstrating that their interests align with the perpetrator/driver.

    And, of course, when they, as a means of defying the civilian authority to which they are theoretically subject, totally ignore the vast array of harm that illegally operated automobiles do, this shows that they put their interests above those of the community and of society at large.

    We clearly do not have a disinterested police force; we have an unaccoutable paramilitary organisation that is responsible, at its whim, for terror and for chaos.

    So I ask that you change “disinterested” to “uninterested” in that sentence.

  • Bolwerk

    De Blasio could have done a lot better if he took a stand against police excess early in his administration. He should have chastised them for police brutality early, before anyone died, and made clear that wasn’t going to be the norm going forward.

    Instead, one of his first interactions with the police was to defend them when they beat up an 80-something old man for jaywalking. It was a brief controversy, but it was probably enough to send a signal to the force that business at usual is fine. Until their batshit behavior escalated into Eric Garner’s execution, and now this.

  • millerstephen

    Thanks for your suggestion. While “disinterested” can be used as a synonym in this context, it’s not especially common because it creates the potential for dueling interpretations, as you point out. The sentence is more clearly understood when “uninterested” is substituted, as you suggest. I’ve updated the post.

  • JoshNY

    I’m hesitant to agree with this, in light of how the Garner non-indictment demonstrates that people who are likely to get away with things in the absence of video evidence get away with things with video evidence too.

  • JoshNY

    And because you can’t flash your badge at a speed camera to avoid a ticket.

  • Michael H

    So are accidents up? No, you can’t find that information because its not released yet. The data that is released by how the NYPD responds to calls for that kind of crime has also gone down… are people just not driving as reckless now either? I love how this “news” story doesn’t cite anything. https://data.ny.gov/Transportation/Motor-Vehicle-Crashes-Case-Information-Beginning-2/e8ky-4vqe

    so again, where is your opinion based here?

    Vision zero isn’t a bad idea, the way its enforced is a bad idea. Just like policing is a good idea, the way the people in charge want the police to carry it out is is a bad idea.

  • Michael H

    @nycbikecommuter:disqusit seems you miss the point. They ARE doing their job. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/01/05/nyregion/how-much-new-york-police-arrests-and-tickets-have-declined.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0

    What they aren’t doing is enforcing tactics that cause community pressure and giving out unnecessary tickets and arrests etc. So you live in NYC?

  • Michael H

    no, its not derelict of duty its showing the mayor other things are important, so… you should be fired because you don’t meet your quota?

  • Michael H

    exactly… so TEAs don’t actually impact safety on the road. congrats you can come to a logical conclusion. If only we could have others start asking questions and start thinking about situations in such a manner…

  • Ian Turner

    What other things are the TEAs doing that are more important?

  • Michael H

    actual crime maybe? Notice that even though they aren’t police officers, they are standing in solidarity with their comrades on the cause because their unions are ALSO in negotiation with the mayor and union heads. You might not like that, but that’s the game we are playing these days. Simple and straight forward.

  • walks bikes drives

    The TEAs are committing actual crimes?

    I think you meant to imply they could be fighting actual crimes. They can’t. They don’t have arrest powers, even when on the job. They have the authority to write tickets. Their job is to write tickets. Failure to write tickets is a failure to do your job. I am a teacher. If, in solidarity with the police, I refused to teach a lesson, I am not doing my job and should be disciplined for that. However, I am teaching, and I am not in solidarity with the police unions. I am in solidarity with the mayor on this issue.

  • Anxiously Awaiting Bikeshare

    yet another reason pedestrian/bike-friendly infrastructure is better than laws. Make it physically impossible to speed with chicanes, narrower lanes, pedestrian islands, permanent bollards, and the like. car free zones enforced by barriers rather than people.

    Then fire 50% of cops and let the remaining 50% do real police work.

  • Joe R.

    I wholeheartedly agree but it’s not the “quick fix” so many here seem to think we can get just by putting lower numbers on a sign, and having a few speed cameras. It’s actually a very American idea to think we can solve complex problems in the span of a 30 minute sitcom but reality has a way of getting in the way of that. Effective, permanent solutions require a long time. Fortunately in this case all the difficult R&D has already been done and tested elsewhere. All we need is the political will to pay for its implementation. I think we could do it citiwide in less than 5 years if we put our mind to it. All the things you mentioned, plus others like roundabouts, would work great here. Moreover, the money we save from a smaller police force might be enough to pay for all of this.

  • walks bikes drives

    Is the driver in the vehicle while it is double parked? It is therefore not parked if the driver is in the vehicle and can therefore not receive a ticket unless it is in a no standing zone, of which I wouldn’t expect the vehicle to be double parked in the first place. Most of the time I see TEAs pass a double parked car is for this reason. Sometimes we forget that there is a legal differentiation between parking, standing, and stopping. Three legally different actions.

    For point of reference, bike lanes are no stopping zones, which is the most restrictive of all of them.

  • walks bikes drives

    Hmmm, you are basing your comments on a single anecdote? Interesting, you must be Republican 🙂

  • walks bikes drives

    Articles say they are. I have seen specific mention in the NYT about bicycling on the sidewalk.

  • Wyrdless

    Bike lanes are awesome

    Why would you want a chicanes in NYC? it isn’t the burbs
    Narrower lanes are not safer for trucks.

  • walks bikes drives

    No harm is done – that time. In order for harm to be done, there need to be concurrent factors, such as a pedestrian in the crosswalk at the time. Or another vehicle just across the intersection stopped for the taxi dropping off a passenger. When these factors add up, harm can then result. Eliminate the behavior, then we eliminate the cause of many incidents that could have been avoided, but also only happened because the other factors lined up. I’d rather prevent people from getting killed or maimed in crosswalks than react to them afterwards with penalties to the driver.

    When I was younger, living in suburbia, I drove at over the speed limit. I can’t remember the number of times i had heard my parents curse at another driver from behind the wheel and say “at least go the speed limit.” I hated the idea of automated enforcement when I heard about it’s use in London because I worried I would get tickets because I sped when I drove. But as I have gotten older, and arguably wiser, I realize what we need is a change in mentality and there should be automated enforcement, and it should be extremely wide spread, so there is an expectation that if you do it, anywhere, you WILL get ticketed. We just need politicians with the balls to do it. Once the mindset is changed, the push back on automation will disappear. The reason we are having such an issue with Nassau and Suffolk for examples, has to do in great deal with the school zone aspect which is completely arbitrary and some of the arguments have merits. Such as, how is a driver supposed to know when the school speed cameras are in effect. It should be simplified and they should be in effect 24/7.

  • Joe R.

    I get your point but the key here is what is the likelihood of any given action to cause harm? If it is fairly high, like shooting a gun on a crowded sidewalk, then obviously it’s something we should penalize even if no harm occurs. In this case, if we define speeding as driving above the design speed of the road, then the answer is also yes. The issue here is that today’s legislated speed limits often have little to do with the maximum safe speed. As such, you’re penalizing people for actions which have a near zero probability of harm. I believe that was the issue with the school cameras. The speed limit on the section of road where they were placed was arbitrarily set at far less than the design speed of the road. Either the limit should have been higher, or the design speed of the road where the cameras were placed should have been lowered to match the speed limit.

    In the final analysis it all comes down to natural law, which means a government can only punish when actual harm has occurred, or perhaps in certain cases when an action has a high probability of causing actual harm. Any government will lose credibility when it punishes people for engaging in harmless actions, or actions which have a very low probability of causing harm. For example, take NYC’s sidewalk cycling prohibition as a perfect example. There is an extremely low probability of hurting, let alone killing, anyone by cycling on the sidewalk. As such, the practice should be allowed, except perhaps in places where pedestrian levels would really make doing so either unsafe, or very unpleasant for people on foot. It’s not much different here. We take streets which might have a design speed of 40 to 55 mph, even if this wasn’t intentional, then post them at 25 or 30 mph. Remember design speed implies that even driving at that speed, you can reasonably avoid the obstacles you mentioned because you have several wide lanes to maneuver, plus great lines of sight to see things a few blocks in advance. In short, the probability of causing harm is very low on these streets at the speeds people drive on them now. As such, you’re effectively penalizing the wrong people.

    All the above doesn’t imply that NYC streets are safe. They aren’t. But they’re not unsafe primarily because of the speeds people drive on them at. Rather, they’re unsafe because of poor driving practices which include failure to yield, distracted driving, aggressive driving with constant lane changes, etc. Those are things with a high probability of causing harm. They’re the things we should automate enforcement for if possible. I might also include speed enforcement, but only at speeds above the design speed of a road. If we want to reduce speeds below what they are now, then we must redesign the road prior to enforcing a lower speed limit.

    What it comes down to in the end is people here are looking for a quick fix when there is none. This is understandable given human nature but it’s not a realistic approach. If you lower speed limits without redesigning, then all you do is decrease respect for ALL traffic laws, not just speed limits. This in turn might actually make things worse, not better. In fact, I’ve read a fair amount of evidence which shows today’s awful driving habits have their roots in the legislated speed limits which began with the national 55 mph speed limit in the 1970s. People could obviously safely drive much faster than 55 mph on roads with design speeds of 70 or 80 mph, so the new limit first fostered disrespect for speed limits. This then trickled down to disrespect for other traffic laws, even those which need to be obeyed for safety. This happened even after the 55 mph limit was repealed once the idea of legislating speed limits became politically popular. We can see this in NYC especially. When rules make sense, you usually don’t need much enforcement. When rules need a lot of enforcement to be obeyed, perhaps the real problem are the rules themselves. Things like speed limits and traffic controls are purely the prevue of traffic engineers. Politicians and community boards have no business whatsoever getting involved, other than perhaps to give general mandates, such as Vision Zero, which might help guide traffic engineers to prioritize other users besides automobiles.

  • Michael H

    im sorry. Yes i meant helping prevent actual crimes sorry. It is a polarizing issue and we all have our sides its fine. I take more of the side of the people and not the municipality. Just my thing. They aren’t failing to write tickets either, they are practicing discernment in writing tickets. Their job is supposed to be when necessary not just write tickets to get the city money. I am a driver as well and have been to traffic court and been given many frivolous tickets so I guess I’m a little bitter from that as well. BTW. TEAs are also crossing guards etc. and pretty much anything that has to do with traffic.

  • Michael H

    im sorry my entire comment was sarcasm. I didn’t write that as a disclaimer but it was. TEAs also are crossing guards and direct traffic in special events etc. I know their real job.

    Why must you assign a label to me? Does that help you with your handling of my comments? Is your mind not large enough to accommodate a perspective other than your own?

  • walks bikes drives

    I am bitter about many a parking ticket as well. I also think alternate side parking is a crock. But that is besides the point.

    But you are incorrect about TEAs being crossing guards. Crossing guards are a totally separate title under a totally different contract, just like school safety agents. However, I think you might be saying that they direct traffic as well. This is true, and not. There are different levels of traffic agent. The city has been very clear in years past, and I remember big fall out from this ten years ago after the blackout, that there are different levels of traffic agents and most are not trained as, and therefore unable to act as, traffic directors. The TEAs that are responsible for ticket writing are solely responsible for ticket writing. If they are going to wrote 93% fewer tickets, then we can lower the staffing levels by 93%.

  • Michael H

    Thank you. you just actually stated my point in your own way. We as citizens are that unaware of whats the job on city officials. They are under a separate contract yes, I know they are different unions. We CAN lower their staffing levels, in fact we should be looking at lowering the staffing level of the NYPD itself. This is showing that the NYPD is turning into a tool of city hall to collect and extort money out of the citizens. We are at the tipping point, we have passed the point where they are just doing their job. We have entered into a place where the NYPD and other civil servants even are starting to intimidate and push the quality of life for our people into an uncomfortable place with the pressure they put on the department to write tickets, make arrests, etc.

  • walks bikes drives

    Being unaware of the particular job of city officials is not the fault of the city. If you have reason to know the job responsibility of any person, public or private, you will. If you want to know the responsibilities of any particular public sector title, you can find that out fairly easily. The same cannot be said for the private sector, but the public generally does not have such need.

    I completely disagree that NYPD is there to extort money. First off, the TEAs were brought under NYPD only recently. Historically, they were DOT. Secondly, if you don’t have enforcement, rules will not be followed. It is that simple. So we need ticketing people to ensure that vehicles are registered, and that people are parking where they are supposed to, and not where they are not. Alternate side is a farce, and it is for monetary purposes only. But the rest of the parking laws are legit and most people on this blog will argue they should be more stringent and additional costs associated, which to some extent I agree.

    The quality of life argument is questionable. For example, arrests for public urination. Yes, it drives down the quality of life for the guy arrested. But I really don’t want to see a guy whipping out and peeing in public. That affects my quality if life. And then the area is going to snekk afterwards, which further affects my quality of life. So yeah, I say arrest his ass. If he did the best he could to get out of the public eye, like going into the bushes somewhere, that’s different.

  • Joe R.

    I think Michael is referring more to stuff like tickets for being in the park after dark, slow rolling through red lights, jaywalking, maybe having a beer while sitting on a park bench, riding on an empty sidewalk, etc. While all technically illegal, it serves no valid safety or other purpose to give tickets for stuff like this but it undermines public support for the police. It really is all about extorting money and reaching ticket quotas in these cases. It wouldn’t even surprise if many on the force don’t want to give out these types of tickets, but have little choice due to the quotas imposed on them by their superiors.

    Public urination is a gray area. Due to the lack of public restrooms in NYC, it’s sometimes understandable. I would let it pass if done discreetly, like in the bushes or an alley.

    Secondly, if you don’t have enforcement, rules will not be followed.

    In general the purpose of rules is to weed out deviant behavior. A good acid test of a rule is how much enforcement is needed before it’s widely obeyed. If it’s a good rule which makes sense to most of the public, then you will need very little enforcement as the behavior in question will either be something most of the public doesn’t engage in anyway, or something which they easily see the merits of not doing for safety or other reasons. For example, even without any enforcement whatsoever, you wouldn’t see drivers barreling through red lights. You might see them do what cyclists do-slow down or stop, look, then proceed if clear, but they wouldn’t go through them at speed out of pure self-interest.

    On the flip side, lousy rules require constant, saturation enforcement for compliance. Many otherwise totally law-abiding people end up getting caught in this enforcement. The minute the enforcement ends, people start breaking the rule again because it’s against something many people do and have done for years without many negative consequences. Jaywalking/jaybiking are great examples. Sad to say, quite a few laws on the books fall into this category. Some perhaps served some valid purpose at one time, like closing parks to keep out drug dealers, but times have changed. The reasons for the rule no longer exist, therefore it should be repealed, or at least not enforced.

  • Michael H

    that was my point exactly. its not about having no laws, its about the tipping point where the amount and the reach of the laws and what it takes to enforce them start to become an issue for the people being protected. Period.

  • ohcalmdown

    Bike lanes are frequently blocked by taxis, buses, trucks, and… Wait for it… NYPD patrol vehicles.

  • Anxiously Awaiting Bikeshare

    Permanent bollards would fix this. Look at downtown Bordeaux, France which has bollards surrounding a car-free downtown area that is served by light rail. With electronic gates for entry from emergency vehicles and delivery truck entry during certain hours. The whole thing is automated. Give Sanitation a key to lower the bollards when they do snow removal or street sweeping and everything is good to go.

    I am aware it isn’t a politically easy solution but fighting with the police force isn’t exactly easy either.

  • Tyler

    So… Michael, after all of that, my comment stands! The Traffic Enforcement Agents are exhibiting dereliction of their duty. Period. They should be fired. Yes. Because they are not filling their quotas. THAT IS THEIR ONLY JOB. 93% fewer parking tickets means the Traffic Enforcement Agents are doing 93% less work, but still collecting full pay.

    This is actually quite clear cut. This has nothing to do with any of the complicated (childish?) political struggles of the patrol officers, etc. etc. The TEAs are employed to write tickets. They are not writing tickets. They should not be employed.

  • Tyler

    Umm… no, they are not crossing guards. From the NYPD Careers page: Traffic Enforcement Agents perform work of
    varying degrees of difficulty in traffic enforcement areas. When
    required, an agent issues summonses to illegally parked vehicles,
    directs traffic at an intersection, testifies at administrative hearing
    offices and court, prepares required reports, and may operate a motor
    vehicle.

    So…. TEAs issue parking tickets and direct traffic.

    That’s it. Has there been a 93% increase in directing traffic in intersections?!

  • walks bikes drives

    We have already addressed the crossing guard inaccuracy in posts above. Interesting, you are allowed sarcasm but others are not? You immediately go offensive and start saying my mind is not large enough blah blah blah. And there my comment was followed by a smiley face to excentuate the sarcasm. And for the record, I was poking fun at Republicans, not you. Unless you do happen to be a Republican, which would explain your sensitivity to being called out on it.

  • TOM

    NYPD only enforce traffic/biking and pedestrian laws when they need to make their bosses bullcrap traffic/arrest quotas. Highest priority is cars then bikes then finally if they really have nothing better jaywalking. Right now they are on slowdown and they should stay on slowdown forever. The city is a much better place when there are none or few bullcrap tickets and or arrest. Also since the slowdown there has been no real increase in accidents. Also there is no need to arrest for every minor infraction.

  • qrt145

    Maybe we don’t need that much patrolling. You may have gotten used to seeing police presence every 5 minutes in NYC, but I’ve lived in and visited cities where days can pass by without me seeing a single police officer. Yes, I know, New York is not X. But still, it helps to stop and think about the status quo from time to time.

  • PJF

    Why the anger with the slow down. If the cops arrest or issue citations (especially to minorities) everyone gets upset. If the cops don’t issue citations or make arrests everyone gets upset. They can’t win so this slow down shouldn’t cause anyone any issues. Also what does anyone care what the PBA says about the mayor. You all hate the cops so what do you care what they say about you or de Blasio

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