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Steve Levin to Ray Kelly: Time to Fully Investigate Serious Traffic Injuries

3:01 PM EDT on March 15, 2012

Brooklyn City Council Member Steve Levin wants NYPD to explain the way it investigates traffic crashes, and is preparing legislation that would bring department procedures in line with state law and significantly increase the number of officers trained to deal with cases involving serious injury and death.

In a letter to Commissioner Ray Kelly [PDF], Levin questions the practice of deploying the Accident Investigation Squad only in instances where someone is killed or is believed likely to die. Currently, crashes that result in injuries that are not considered fatal are handled by precinct cops who aren't trained to conduct full-scale investigations.

Delaying AIS engagement in fatality cases in which injuries were initially not thought to be life-threatening has severely compromised subsequent police work. When a doctor told officers that cyclist Stefanos Tsigrimanis wasn't in mortal danger after being hit by a driver in Brooklyn, AIS called off its investigation and did not return to the scene for 46 days. Because NYPD was unaware that pedestrian Clara Heyworth had died after she was struck by an unlicensed driver, AIS was not dispatched until at least three days after the crash, as physical evidence slipped away.

According to testimony presented at the February City Council hearing on NYPD traffic enforcement, AIS protocol also violates state traffic code. Writes Levin:

According to Article 22, Section 603-A of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Rules, a detailed investigation into a vehicle accident must be conducted when an accident "results in serious physical injury or death to a person." The section specifically defines "serious physical injury" as that which is already defined in section 10.00 of the penal code. Section 10.00 of the penal code defines "serious physical injury" as physical injury which "creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes death or serious protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ. "

As this type of investigation is only authorized to be carried out by AIS and as AIS limits itself to the investigations of those accidents in which one has either died or is deemed likely to die instead of all accidents that result in serious injury, I do not see how the NYPD can reasonably claim to be in compliance with Article 22, Section 603-A of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Rules.

Levin goes on to ask for a public explanation of the discrepancy between state code and NYPD procedure, and requests that Kelly amend the department patrol handbook "to reflect the need for AIS to be called to investigate every accident in which a serious physical injury has occurred."

In the meantime, the council member has two bills in the works, according to a spokesperson. One would amend the patrol handbook to conform to state law. Another would mandate that at least five officers per precinct be trained to conduct AIS-scale investigations.

The second bill would dramatically increase the size of the AIS. At the February hearing, council members learned that the squad is comprised of just 19 officers. As few as one investigator may be on duty at one time.

“The Patrolman’s Handbook is at odds with the New York Vehicle and Traffic Rules," said Levin in a media release. "I want an explanation as to how the intent of the law is being met by NYPD policy on accident investigations.”

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