NYPD Supervisor: Speeding Enforcement “Usually Done on the Highways”

The Post revealed earlier this week that NYPD trains only one officer per precinct to use a radar gun, which partially explains why speeding enforcement is close to non-existent in most neighborhoods. But while NYPD thinly spreads local precincts’ speeding enforcement resources over thousands of miles of surface streets where pedestrians and cyclists are at risk of getting struck by drivers, the department does have a number of officers trained to apprehend speeders. The problem is that they’re positioned on the city’s limited access highways.

At a forum organized by the New York Cycle Club on Tuesday evening, Inspector Michael J. Hurley, adjutant of Patrol Borough Manhattan North, told the audience that speeding enforcement is “usually done on the highways, mainly done by the highway district.”

The NYPD Highway Patrol is part of the department’s Transportation Bureau, which is distinct from local precincts. In February, the Transportation Bureau issued 4,664 speeding tickets [PDF], more than two-thirds of the total 6,495 speeding tickets NYPD issued citywide [PDF].

In other words, it seems that a large majority of NYPD’s speeding tickets are issued on highways, not local streets where almost all pedestrian and cyclist injuries and fatalities occur. Chalk up another reason for Marty Golden and the speed camera obstructionists in Albany to stop blocking automated enforcement.

Hurley, a high-ranking supervisor in the NYPD hierarchy, had a TrafficStat meeting to attend at 1 Police Plaza the next morning, where presumably he was grilled by Transportation Bureau Chief James Tuller about how the precincts in northern Manhattan are responding to data on traffic violence. But throughout the evening, Hurley did little to dispel the impression that anecdotes, complaints, and prejudice guide NYPD’s approach to traffic safety more than dispassionate analysis.

“We’re protecting cyclists from their own behavior,” he said in response to a question about whether police target cyclists for enforcement. “In most cases it seems like the cyclist is the one at fault.” At that point, fellow panelist Paul Steely White of Transportation Alternatives stepped in to remind Hurley of the 2006 Department of Health study that found motorist error contributed to most fatal bike crashes [PDF]. (The same study found that cyclist error also contributed to most fatal crashes, since in many cases both parties were found culpable. But as White said, dead cyclists can’t tell their side of the story, while the motorists who get cited in police reports have a distinct incentive to avoid blame.)

If you want the police to start targeting reckless driving in proportion to all the injuries and deaths it causes, Hurley did have some good advice: Go to your local precinct community council, which takes place once a month. “Let’s face it, the squeaky wheel gets the oil,” he said. “A lot of the enforcement we do is in response to community complaints.”

  • Stephen Bauman

    Your best bet for NYPD action on a specific local street speeding situation is to write the police commissioner. The letter may take a few days to get routed to the proper precinct. However, it will have a lot more clout than a direct communication from a citizen.

  • Anonymous

    I think most people would be shocked to find out how rare it is to get ticketed for speeding in NYC. And I think the police would be afraid to have it become general knowledge. Maybe a publicity campaign from “Speeders for Kelly”–or how about “Killers for Kelly”?–would do the trick.

  • Although I absolutely love the new 20 mph Slow Zones (and there are three within a half mile walk from my home in Queens) this is why I worry about them ever being effective. Although if there are speed humps on nearly every block, that does certainly help….but I don’t think we’ll ever see a ticket written in a Slow Zone.

  • JK

    When it comes to street safety, the NYPD seems stalled in about 1993. Is this really the agency that brought us data driven policing? What do they do at TrafficStat these days? The rest of NYC government is cycling into the future, DOT is rolling out state of the art street engineering and hosting visitors from governments around the world. Can anyone name a street safety innovation of any kind that the NYPD has introduced in the last five years? Does NYPD even know what kind of traffic enforcement is done by leading police forces? Does the NYPD even care?

  • Guest

    Imagine if the NYPD only enforced gun laws in shooting ranges! That’s essentially what’s happening here and it’s equally absurd.

  • Joe R.

    So it’s police policy to enforce speed limits only in the one place where they’re set much too low and there’s really no danger posed by going 15 or 20 mph over the limit?

    As for the “We’re protecting cyclists from their own behavior” line, does Chief Tuller even have a clue why cyclists do what they do? Has anyone ever tried to inform the police in detail of the reasons why many cyclists don’t obey all traffic laws to the letter? I would be willing to write such a letter myself as I’ve already discussed this issue myriad times on Streetsblog and elsewhere. I know damn well if I go through a red light I’m technically at fault if a collision occurs. It’s a risk I’m willing to take because the chances of a collision are just about nil given the way I go through red lights but the benefits (safety and otherwise) are enormous. People should be free to make their own risk assessments without worrying about being ticketed unless they’re doing something highly dangerous to others. For example, going through a red light at speed when the crosswalk is full of pedestrians qualifies. Since the police can’t exercise any kind of discretion with regard to cyclists the laws need to be changed. A cyclist shouldn’t get ticketed unless they do something overtly dangerous to others. Besides that, it also takes attention away from other things looking for police when you’re riding.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Well, we can use some enforcement on the highways too. The speed limit on NYC highways is lower than the usual 55-plus, because the highways are more congested and obsolete. But that isn’t how people drive.

    You want terror? Try a ride in he passenger seat with a recently licensed driver who actually follows the speed limit, and see what the drivers around her do. That was terror. Particularly when it was necessary to change lanes to exit, with people flying by in the right lane honking and swerving.

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s fair to say that driving the speed limit on highways in and around NYC is very dangerous. . . . and that’s very wrong.

  • nanter

    It seems that Hurley should already know this, but I’d like to point out is not the NYPD’s job to protect people from themselves but rather protect people from the dangerous actions of others, such as by speeding while piloting a 3000lb machine or other reckless behavior.

  • Olgierd

    Slow zones are supposed to be self-enforcing through design. DOT does not intend 20mph to be achieved through Police enforcement.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Jeez! In my sleepy suburban New Jersey town, I mostly see our cops speed trapping our local 25mph streets and NOT the two highways that go through town, and that’s the way I like it!

  • Ian Turner

    Really, you don’t think NYPD should respond to suicide attempts, accidental falls, etc?

  • If people are hurt they should be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. We don’t need to pay police officers to stand around telling bystanders not to use their camera phones, although we do.

    Years ago when my late grandfather called 911 for his ailing wife, far from here, he was surprised and terrified when firemen and police officers stormed into his house even as he asked them not to. Much changed in the course of his life, and more will change in ours.

    I would like for the police to refocus on protecting the public from dangerous people. We can’t afford to pay them for everything their union would like to “respond” to, after centuries of mission creep.

  • Anonymous

    Do you even know what a “Speed Trap” is?

  • Anonymous

    Do you even know what a “Speed Trap” is?

  • Anonymous

    Do you even know what a “Speed Trap” is?


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