NYPD: Ticketing Cyclists After a Driver Kills a Cyclist Is “Strategy,” Not “Targeting Victims”

There's no data to back up NYPD's typical enforcement response to fatal crashes.

No matter the circumstances of a cyclist fatality, this is how the local precinct responds. Photo: Rob Foran
No matter the circumstances of a cyclist fatality, this is how the local precinct responds. Photo: Rob Foran

NYPD and City Hall have produced no evidence that ticketing bike riders after a motorist kills a cyclist makes streets safer, and 835 people have signed a petition to put an end to the practice. Yet that hasn’t stopped police from targeting potential victims in the aftermath of a fatal crash.

In July, NYPD didn’t even ticket the Action Carting driver who killed cyclist Neftaly Ramirez on Franklin Street in Greenpoint and left the scene. But according to DNAinfo, the 94th Precinct ticketed nine people on bikes on Franklin in the 72 hours after the crash. Cops cited three truck drivers during that time period, DNAinfo reported.

“It’s a strategy,” said Assistant Chief Jeffrey Maddrey, head of Brooklyn North Patrol, who described officers posting up near the location of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities to talk to people about traffic safety. They then issue tickets to people they see running red lights.

“We don’t target victims. We target people who commit violations,” he said.

The assumption among NYPD brass seems to be that they’re protecting cyclists from themselves. But it’s preposterous to think people walking and biking will fear a ticket more than being battered by a motor vehicle.

Maddrey says NYPD doesn’t “target victims,” but how else would you describe a system that primarily penalizes the people at risk of harm?

Here’s the NYPD “strategy” in action. When a tour bus driver killed cyclist Dan Hanegby in Chelsea last June, NYPD blamed Hanegby and the 10th Precinct ticketed people on bikes. Five days later, a tour bus driver killed cyclist Michael Mamoukakis, also in the 10th Precinct.

Contrary to NYPD claims that Hanegby was riding erratically, video obtained by his family showed he was sideswiped as the bus driver attempted to pass from behind. NYPD’s account and media coverage of the Mamoukakis crash suggested he, too, had the right of way, though no charges were filed against the driver (a Streetsblog query to District Attorney Cy Vance’s office concerning the crash went unanswered).

The bus operators who killed Hanegby and Mamoukakis were both driving on streets that are supposed to be off-limits to buses. NYPD could have enforced proper bus routes after Hanegby was killed. Police chose to ticket cyclists, and days later another bus driver ended Mamoukakis’s life a few blocks away.

If NYPD and City Hall have any proof that ticketing people on bikes makes them safer, they haven’t shared it.

Last year, Transportation Alternatives asked NYPD for data on summonses issued to cyclists and drivers after a crash, and for evidence that the policy helps prevent crashes. NYPD produced nothing. In July, after Ramirez was killed, Streetsblog asked City Hall for evidence that NYPD’s post-fatality bike ticket blitzes improve safety. We received no response.

In the absence of any data showing that NYPD’s strategy is making a difference, it’s fair to say the department is systematically blaming victims.

  • Vooch

    it’s a windshield culture which no amount of teeth gnashing will change.

    Change the culture to produce results

  • AMH

    We need a mayor who will rein in the NYPD.

  • Joe R.

    Sometimes some things are just so monumentally stupid you have to stand back and marvel at the convoluted thought process which could have come up with such an idea. This is certainly one of those things. Basically, as near as I can follow, it runs something like this:

    Cyclist dies at the hands of motorist. There is a tacit assumption said cyclist somehow caused their own demise, even in the face of heavy evidence against it. Then there is also the tacit assumption that traffic laws and traffic controls somehow keep cyclists safe, again despite heavy evidence to the contrary. Finally, we have the assumption cyclists don’t know what’s best for them. Rather, legislators in ivory towers who make traffic laws do. Therefore, ticketing cyclists for violating traffic laws, many of which make zero sense when applied to them, magically helps to keep them safe.

    Anyone who rides a bike can punch a bunch of holes anywhere in this train of reasoning. What’s amazing is how this ends up being the official policy of an arm of government. Even more amazing is the dearth of elected officials questioning it.

    DOT can easily do an end run around both the legislators who refuse to pass sane cycling laws and the overzealous NYPD. Just start putting up bike traffic signals which either flash yellow or red when motor traffic gets a red light. In most instances flashing yellow (yield) is sufficient for safety. In a few places with poor lines of sight, flashing red (stop and proceed if clear) makes more sense. Do something similar at stop signs, perhaps put an additional sign which says yield for bikes.

  • JarekFA

    Huge truck fails to check blind spot in tight midtown side streets. Like uhhhh, why not crack down on unsafe turns by trucks? Like, WTF. I really don’t get how the collective brains at 1PP have effectively melted or something.

    Joe R., at least you didn’t have my summer vacation. I go to NL at least once a year (frequently twice) to visit family and every year, it’s just . . . . man . . . you see up close how total bullshit all the anti-bike arguments are. Just amazing. You see old people on bikes. You see full families. You see every sort of errand. Amazingly to me, in total volume, I see more “Bakfiets” (cargo bikes) in Brooklyn then I see in NL, since you don’t even need a “tricked out” bike per se to handle big errands. A basket and a rack. It’s just nuts man.

    Day lighting of intersections etc . . . it’s really just a matter of viewing the government’s role in people’s lives and our DoT and NYPD very much believe that the streets are for cars and everyone else is trespassing.

  • Joe R.

    Good thing I don’t go to the NL regularly or I’d find the current situation even more depressing. It’s like the thinking at the top is we have to have cars, everybody else is second fiddle even if people die regularly. I really hope what exists in the NL today will exist in NYC while I’m still young enough to ride a bike but I’m getting less hopeful as time goes on. I will say this, however. If I ever get disgusting enough to leave NYC I’m obviously not moving to another place in the US. “Bike and pedestrian friendly” will be pretty high up on my list wherever I end up.

  • William Lawson

    It’s at times like this that the terrifying thought occurs to you that the people who are entrusted with the power to enforce the law, and the people whose professional responsibility it is to protect your life from criminals, are so hopelessly unintelligent that in many cases we’d actually be safer without them. It annoys me when I encounter people this deficient in reason behind the counter at Duane Reade, let alone in the police department. It’s a pity the taxpayers of New York cannot take out a class action lawsuit against the NYPD based on their refusal to do the job we pay them to do. I want my money back.

  • JarekFA

    This is why I think it’s imperative that we actually have regular patrols on bicycle. Not just for empathizing with vulnerable street users, but because effectively, you can get to places a lot quicker in the densely built up areas on bicycle. In other words, where ever you have an Interceptor, you should have a cop on bike. Plus yah, it’d go a long way towards changing the culture. I’m the way I am now because I mostly see the world from a bicycle. The things you previously missed become obvious.

    https://twitter.com/JarekFA/status/905848469411307520

  • Vooch

    old people can NOT ride bikes – it’s impossible.

  • simon

    If I saw an increase in the amount of tickets in the same geographic area towards unlawful driving, i’d be OK with this. But that doesn’t happen.

    EVERY TIME i feel like i am on Franklin Street there is an 18 wheeler making illegal turns and barreling down the street. No police action.

  • 134 signatures more and we meet our goal….press the NYC Council to provide oversight through legislation or otherwise to stop the NYPD from ticketing cyclists in response to cyclist deaths by reckless drivers….

    https://campaigns.transalt.org/petition/stop-ticketing-cyclists-when-reckless-drivers-kill

  • jr195

    “They get to break the law, so why can’t we?????” is essentially what this article is saying, which is whiny and childish. It conveniently omits the fact that these bicyclists are, in fact, being ticketed for breaking the law. Crazy backward priorities by the NYPD: yes. Car-centric laws that shouldn’t apply to cyclists: probably. Unfair: no. If you really want to stick it to the cops, don’t give them a reason to pull you over.

    I agree with the sentiments here, but I think it’s important to look outside the Streetsblog bubble a little: The vast majority of New Yorkers don’t bike regularly, so they, and many cops, see bicyclists as entitled lawbreakers. They see bikers constantly running red lights, riding against traffic, and barreling through crosswalks full of people. Regardless of how dangerous this behavior actually is, including in relation to car drivers, people don’t like seeing other people allowed to flaunt laws that we are all supposed to follow. So they complain. Yes, drivers break laws and kill and hurt people all the time without consequence. But that does not justify even more law breaking.

    So if bicyclists want to be taken seriously, and not just as a tiny special interest looking for special treatment, we need to stop at red lights when people are watching, and not harass pedestrians. If you think bicyclists should be exempt from these rules, write your representatives and see how that goes.

  • Call it what it is: hatred of bicyclists by law enforcement.

  • Joe R.

    This is just as much about criminal misallocation of resources as it is about victim-blaming. Suppose you have a city where rapes and murders are out of control. Now suppose in the same city we assign a significant number of police to give parking tickets. Sure, these police are enforcing the law, but this enforcement comes at the expense of more police enforcing other laws which will on average prevent more people from death or injury. It’s much the same here. If we were to assign police resources in proportion to the public danger which cyclists represent relative to all other sources of danger, my guess is one out of 1000 police would be assigned to ticketing cyclists. And those police would focus mainly on dangerous cyclists, not technical infractions.

    The vast majority of New Yorkers don’t bike regularly, so they, and many cops, see bicyclists as entitled lawbreakers.

    Using this line of reasoning, we should go after jaywalkers even more than cyclists. Just about everyone in NYC jaywalks.

    So if bicyclists want to be taken seriously, and not just as a tiny special interest looking for special treatment, we need to stop at red lights when people are watching, and not harass pedestrians.

    Just stop when police are around. It annoys me no end how easy quite a few cyclists make it for the police to ticket them. If you see police, wait out the full cycle. Maybe if most cyclists did this, these silly dragnets would end. The police could truthfully tell those who complain about cyclists breaking laws that they had patrols, but just didn’t see much of that.

  • Brad Aaron

    I don’t ride a bike. Am I still in the bubble?

  • 8FH

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is no evidence cyclists break traffic rules at a higher rate than other road users. When it has been studied, differences in rule-breaking are statistically insignificant. The only reason people notice cyclists breaking rules more, is that they’re more likely to take note of it since cyclists are “other” to many people.

    I see plenty of cyclists running red lights or going the wrong way in bike lanes. And plenty of pedestrians jaywalking, and plenty of drivers parking dangerously, failing to yield in turns, speeding, or running stop signs or red lights.

  • jr195

    It’s important to consider how much “us” vs. “them” is in play here.

    Jaywalkers aren’t “them” because everyone walks. So nobody resents victimless jaywalking.

    Running red lights in front of pedestrians and drivers, however harmless, pushes bicyclists further into the “them” category.

    Sadly, drivers aren’t “them” to cops, they’re “us.”

  • Simon Phearson

    “They get to break the law, so why can’t we?????” is essentially what this article is saying,…

    No, this isn’t “essentially” what the article is saying. It’s saying that, every time a cyclist is killed in traffic, the NYPD responds by selectively enforcing the law in a way that does not improve street safety. The result is more tickets for cyclists, but not more street safety.

    Why can’t you grasp this? Why does this issue have to be framed as a “fairness” issue – like some are claiming to an entitlement no one else has – and not the issue it quite clearly was described as – whether this improves street safety or not? Why would you rather talk about “special treatment” and compliance with the law, instead of whether what the NYPD does saves lives or not?

    Whether cyclists want or deserve “special treatment” is an entirely separate question. The question is: how do we prevent cyclists and pedestrians from getting killed by drivers? The answer is not, “Crack down on cyclists safely running red lights.” The answer is, “Crack down on scofflaw driving behavior that puts cyclists and pedestrians at risk.” To respond in the way that you have is simply to shift the goalposts and attempt to preserve a status quo of death and injury. Or you’re just an idiot. Your choice, really.

  • Most of the people who were killed by drivers were obeying the law when they were killed.

  • walks bikes drives

    I agree with JR in a lot of ways, as I agree with you as well. The “strategy” of the ticket blitz on cyclists after a cyclist is killed is asinine. It is obviously useless and should stop immediately and enforcement should be focused where it will prevent further instances. But what JR is saying here is that the way to get this is to change public perception. Everytime we make the valid argument about the fact that the NYPD behavior must stop, the way it comes off is as excusing the law breaking behavior. We need to focus the message. We need to step up and say that law breaking cyclist behavior is wrong and it is OK for police to enforce the rules, BUT we need the targeted NYPD behavior to focus enforcement on the issues that will make a difference. The non-cyclist public doesn’t hear that first part, so they take us as whiney and entitled. We need to fix the presentation of the message.

  • Simon Phearson

    I don’t see how the presentation of the message is improved by admitting there’s nothing wrong with what the NYPD is doing.

    All we’ve been saying – all that we’ve ever said – is that the NYPD needs to focus on the behavior that’s killing cyclists and pedestrians. That’s not what targeted cyclist enforcement does. The fact that a bunch of morons chooses to re-interpret this assertion as being about breaking the law with impunity is not within our control.

  • walks bikes drives

    He isn’t saying that the blitz portion isn’t wrong. He is saying that the perception from “outsiders” is that we are not arguing against the blitz but instead are saying that the cyclist behavior isn’t wrong. The perception change is admitting that the cyclist behavior is wrong, but the allocation of police resources needs to be geared towards lethal behavior. The general public just always thinks we are making excuses for the cyclists when we Argus against the blitz. The message is not clear.

  • Simon Phearson

    And what I’m saying is that, to an “outsider,” making clear that the underlying cyclist behavior is “wrong” just confuses the point. “Oh, so we agree that it’s not wrong to crack down on cyclists? Great, so I’ll move on…” Any story on the misallocation of police resources is going to run up against the same “outsider” anti-bike bias, no matter how clear you are that the cyclist behavior is “wrong.”

    No, we should demand better reading comprehension. This is a story about the misallocation of police resources. Nothing in this story seeks to excuse scofflaw cycling.

  • jr195

    The fact that you call it “misallocation” shows your bias (which I share with you, despite your personal attacks on me). To us cyclists, yes, it looks like misallocation, but likely not to everyone else. As despicable as I think the NYPD is, I think they honestly believe that they’re just out there educating people on street safety, objectively ticketing violators.

    The more we whine about how the rules shouldn’t apply to us as a privileged, non-violent class, the more they’ll want to put us in our place. Don’t give them a reason to ticket you and they won’t be wasting their time ticketing bicyclists.

    Now if there was evidence that during these blitzes, they willfully ignored car/truck violations in favor of citing bikes, that is a scandal. But you need that to justify the outrage.

  • Simon Phearson

    The more we whine about how the rules shouldn’t apply to us as a privileged, non-violent class, the more they’ll want to put us in our place.

    No one is doing this. Period.

  • jr195

    You just did:

    The answer is not, “Crack down on cyclists safely running red lights.”

  • Simon Phearson

    Look, it’s clear you have a reading comprehension problem. There’s only so much I can do about that. Literally nothing about that statement asserts that cyclists should be part of a special class to which the rules don’t apply. That’s just your bias showing through.

    That statement is going to show up in any discussion where the point is to criticize the NYPD for failing to keep our streets safe-
    – for misallocating resources. And it’s not “biased” at all to characterize NYPD enforcement priorities as a “misallocation” if we take for granted that NYPD should be enforcing laws in a way that keep us safe.

  • kevd

    It is one of many strategies by the NYPD with the primary goal of getting cyclists off the streets.
    not unlike, not prosecuting drivers who kill cyclists, and blocking cycling infrastructure as much as possible.

  • Cynara2

    You are making this way too esoteric. It is a practical matter. People want to walk and drive without constant shocks to their system. The stress is too hard on both pedestrians and motorists when cyclists act like total wild cards.

  • Rex Rocket

    “If you really want to stick it to the cops, don’t give them a reason to pull you over.” This is the same bullshit logic that racist law-and-order zealots use to respond to police killings: If you don’t want to be killed, don’t break the law. People ticketed by cops aren’t necessarily breaking any law. Laws regarding biking in NYC are vague, confusing, and easily misinterpreted. In any event the correct police response should be to enforce laws pertaining to the drivers of vehicles that cause the most damage and destruction to lives and property.

  • monica lee

    I say ticket them all! Double all the fines for all traffic violations including jay walking! Any pedistrian that walks a dozen NYC blocks each day, knows that there exists flagrant contempt for traffic laws by pedestrians, cars, and bicycles. The difference being—jay walking pedestrians don’t kill people!

  • bolwerk

    As with all other frivolous policing, there is no stopping it except until police who make these sort of “mistakes” start having to compensate the victims of frivolous tickets out of their own pockets.

  • neroden

    Or until they’re ARRESTED.

    For example, if the state Attorney General took an interest in NYPD corruption, the state police could move in and start arresting police captains who promote harassment while conspiring to let killers get away.

  • neroden

    And the biggest problem is that cops shouldn’t be acting like “them” or “us”. Cops should be acting like public servants.

    NYPD are a crime gang, not police.

  • neroden

    NYPD aren’t just stupid, they’re actually criminals.

    The mayor can just fire all of them. Literally all of them. He could shut NYPD down. Let the state police handle major crimes while a new police department is organized.

    The mayor seems to be too timid and afraid to even take smaller steps to reform the corrupt NYPD.

  • neroden

    Yep. NYPD has very clearly been a crime gang for decades at this point. It needs to be cleaned out from top to bottom.

    I think the first move should be to completely disarm them — no guns. Second move — take away their cars. (Everyone knows you can get across NYC faster on the subway or on a bike anyway.) I figure all the bad apples — who have been spoiling the whole bunch — will voluntarily quit after these two moves are made. This gives the opportunity to clean the place up.

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