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Clinton Hill

NYPD Can’t Answer Questions About Traffic Crime

12:13 PM EDT on March 18, 2009

speed_gun_1.jpgThere's a speeding epidemic on New York City streets, but does NYPD know how big the problem is? Photo: TA.

The Times recently launched a couple of new blogs devoted to neighborhood coverage, and today the Fort Greene/Clinton Hill outlet posted an interesting Q&A with officers at the 88th Precinct. Here's a revealing answer from Captain Vanessa Kight about traffic enforcement:

Q: Can you please let us know what the 88th is doing to keep the streets safe from criminal drivers? We regularly see drivers flying through our streets (perhaps especially along Washington Park, right along the park, where there is no stop light for two blocks). Running red lights is also common. I live on Clinton between Myrtle/Willoughby and it seems that that block is a continual double-park fest. I've lived here since 2000 and cannot recall ever seeing a police officer issuing a traffic violation -- I don't doubt that it happens from time to time, but clearly it doesn’t happen enough to deter dangerous behavior from drivers.

A: We've never heard that we don’t give enough summonses. I do have a summons officer and will send him over to Clinton and Willoughby if that's an issue. But so far this year, we’ve already issued 1,200 violations in the precinct for hazardous driving, including running red lights, speeding, talking on a cell phone and backing up unsafely. That’s in addition to many summonses for less hazardous moving violations. We've also issued 2,400 parking violations so far this year.

Citing the number of summonses handed out is typical of how NYPD measures traffic enforcement, and it doesn't come close to telling the whole story. Consider that nearly 40 percent of New York City motorists were clocked speeding in Transportation Alternatives' report Terminal Velocity [PDF]. Or that drivers burn through red lights in the city more than a million times every day, according to a 2001 study conducted by the city comptroller [PDF]. It stands to reason that those 1,200 citations issued in the 88th comprise only a very small fraction of all hazardous driving violations committed in the precinct this year.

The questioner on The Local gets at the crux of the problem by asking whether the precinct's enforcement actually deters dangerous driving. The answer doesn't address this at all, and in fairness to Captain Kight, hard information on deterrence isn't available because NYPD doesn't measure compliance with traffic laws. If the city is serious about preventing the hundreds of deaths and tens of thousands of injuries incurred every year by motor vehicles, getting a handle on the prevalence of driver malfeasance is a necessary step.

After the jump, an "exchange" with 88th Precinct commanding officer Anthony Tasso about police cars hogging the public right-of-way.

Q: My neighbors and I would really appreciate it if this question could be addressed in a public forum: Why are police permitted to park their personal vehicles at an angle in front of the precinct on Classon Avenue, simultaneously blocking the sidewalk and obstructing an entire lane of traffic? Classon is a major thoroughfare to the BQE and the bridges, but your angle-parking creates a bottleneck at Lafayette, causing considerable delays (as well as sometimes forcing pedestrians to step into the street and walk in the busy traffic).

As you begin your new job, you would do well to consider the message being sent to the community through the rear ends of your cars. You seem to be telling us A) we don’t live here, B) the rules you have to follow don’t apply to us, and C) we don’t really care if that inconveniences you.

A: No reply.

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