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NYPD Crash Investigations

Contrary to Ray Kelly, NYPD Doesn’t Investigate Serious Traffic Injuries

One day after Jacob Stevens filed suit against the NYPD for failing to properly investigate the crash that killed his wife, Clara Heyworth, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told reporters that the department's Accident Investigation Squad handles all crashes that result in serious injury. The claim does not withstand the slightest scrutiny.

Here's what Kelly said at a presser yesterday, according to Transportation Nation:

Q: Do you want to respond to transportation advocates who are questioning whether the department investigates deaths (and) injuries of bicyclists who are not likely to die?

Kelly: What is the question? I’m not..what is the question? 

Q:  The transportation advocates are saying the department doesn’t investigate deaths…(Kelly: deaths?) involving bicyclists unless the bicyclists are likely to die. Is that something that you -

Kelly: We have a policy for accidents. We don’t have a different policy for bike accidents or accidents involving bicycles. We have — if people are seriously injured, our accident investigation squad does an investigation.

As NYPD Deputy Chief John Cassidy testified at a February City Council hearing, however, the Accident Investigation Squad does not handle crashes "if people are seriously injured." They only handle cases where the victim is deemed "likely to die." This protocol, which often rests on hasty medical evaluations made immediately after the crash, is the reason NYPD lets some traffic deaths go un-investigated until evidence has been lost or destroyed, as was the case with Heyworth and Stefanos Tsigrimanis.

Kelly's remarks are, in fact, incredibly misleading. Contrary to the commissioner's claim, each year thousands of traffic crashes resulting in serious injury do not get investigated by the AIS.

Last year, AIS investigated only 304 traffic crashes, according to the Times.

Meanwhile, according to records compiled by the State Department of Motor Vehicles [PDF] -- culled in large part from NYPD crash reports -- 3,138 crashes in New York City caused serious injuries in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available. An additional 261 resulted in deaths, for a total of 3,399 traffic crashes that supposedly met the standard for AIS investigation, according to Ray Kelly.

Without the 2011 crash numbers, we can't say precisely how many serious traffic injuries do not result in an AIS investigation, but based on this recent data, AIS looks at about 300 traffic crashes each year while ignoring 3,000 other crashes that cause serious injury or death. And even when AIS does conduct an investigation, police have been known to overlook or discard key evidence that indicates motorist culpability.

It gets worse. It's not like precinct cops are picking up the slack for trained crash investigators. NYPD protocol explicitly bans precinct officers from issuing citations for careless driving that injures pedestrians or cyclists, unless the officer directly witnessed the offense.

Ray Kelly either has no idea that his department fails to respond to incidents that leave thousands of New Yorkers with life-altering injuries every year, or he's deliberately misleading the public about NYPD protocol.

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