Mixed Signals From Bratton’s NYPD Jaywalking Directive

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s memo ordering precincts to focus on dangerous jaywalking offenses looks like a positive sign, but it still directs officers to write out citations in a way that ensures many won’t be heard in court.

The Daily News reports that Bratton issued guidelines Tuesday that instruct beat cops to issue warnings to “elderly and handicapped” pedestrians “absent reckless disregard for safety.” Senior Kang Wong was left bloodied after a jaywalking stop on the Upper West Side earlier this year. Charges against him were dropped and he is suing the city.

“If pedestrian actions are not causing a safety risk or the ends of justice are not met by issuing a summons,” the memo reads, “warn and admonish the violator instead.”

Attorney Steve Vaccaro says Bratton’s directive appears to address the department’s tendency to concentrate on generating mass summonses for technical violations that are more likely to stick in court — what Vaccaro calls the “fish in a barrel approach” — rather than targeting behaviors that are more likely to result in injury. “I think this would be consistent with a data-driven approach to dangerous violations,” he says.

On the other hand, the memo cites the NYPD Patrol Guide rule that says pedestrian summonses should be processed through New York City Criminal Court. As Vaccaro wrote in a March Street Justice column, the Criminal Court does not adjudicate traffic offenses. The current protocol is a waste of time and resources for NYPD, the courts, and people who are ticketed, says Vaccaro.

With tickets being thrown out of court, the practice also works against Bratton’s stated goal of encouraging “safe pedestrian practices,” and provides no judicial check against bogus summonses. “If the summonses will never be heard, cops can do whatever they want,” Vaccaro says. “The tickets are never reviewed.”

NYPD had issued 916 jaywalking summonses as of Sunday, according to the Daily News, compared to 532 tickets total in 2013.

  • jooltman

    Whatever the circumstance, it is unsettling to hear NYPD refer to average walking New Yorkers as “violators.”

  • Ben Kintisch

    Mr. Bratton,
    Does this same directive include directions for officers at intersections to issue moving violations for failure to yield? That would actually prevent injuries and needless deaths.
    Ben Kintisch

  • Larry Littlefield

    They should take the same approach to “jaybikers.” Rather than insisting that bicycles wait to cross a side street where no vehicles are in sight — and pedestrians are walking across — concentrate on those who just blow through lights at speed and put themselves and pedestrians at risk.

    If a bicycle is moving at the speed of a pedestrian, enforce as if it were a pedestrian (except for riding on the sidewalk). If it is moving at the speed of a motor vehicle, enforce as if it were a motor vehicle. If it is moving at a speed in between, enforce in between.

    It’s all about speed.

  • Bolwerk

    Bratton was the first sign that de Blasio wasn’t serious about reforming the police. I suppose it’s way too much to ask that the oinkers who beat Mr. Wong be prosecuted.

    Regardless, the police should not be deciding social policy.

  • runnin’reds

    *It’s all about speed* and mass. I take you point, and agree that any enforcement should account for the difference between a cyclist who slowly rolls through a red light while deferring to vehicle/pedestrians who have the right of way and one who blows through lights at speed.

    However, even a bike passing a red at 20 mph represents an small hazard compared to that of the multi-ton motor vehicle being operated in any number of the dangerous and illegal ways that they are. So while I agree that the cyclist in the latter scenario is far more deserving of a citation than the one in the former, that cyclist does not merit the same level of enforcement as someone who did the same thing in an motor vehicle.

  • walks/bikes/rides

    I agree. NYPD tends to take an all or nothing approach. I drive, bicycle, and walk in NYC. While I try never to break any rules while driving, I definitely jaywalk and go through red lights on bike. But as mentioned, I always slow at lights and only proceed when the way is clear of vehicles and pedestrians. That didn’t stop an NYPD officer from chasing me down with lights and siren, doing a 180 degree turn in rush hour traffic, to give me a red light ticket for stopping at the red on 96 and Amsterdam, and then making the right turn when it was clear. Since the light was against me, he risked the safety of others to give me a ticket.

    But jaywalking is a problem in the city, and should not be ignored. Just not all jaywalking is a problem. Those people jaywalk with the attitude of cars with the right of way should stop for them are dangers to themselves and others. And also those that step out into the street without even looking, often because their eyes are glued to their phone, are just as dangerous.

  • Joe R.

    I agree here. I personally think the main criteria for giving a cyclist a ticket for running a red light should be 1) whether or not there were any pedestrians or motor vehicles in the intersection and 2) the lines of sight. The speed of the bike is secondary. There are some intersections with not so great lines of sight where it really is necessary to slow to walking speed in order to safely pass a red light. In that case any cyclist going much above walking speed might merit a ticket. On the other hand, I’ve been through quite a few intersections where I can safely pass reds even at my normal 18 to 23 mph pace. I’m referring to intersections where the lines of sight aren’t blocked by parked cars or buildings and I can clearly see motor vehicles a block away long before I’m in the intersection. In these cases nothing except entering the intersection while pedestrians or motor vehicles are present in it should merit a ticket.

    Unfortunately, most NYPD officers are incapable of operating at this high a level of discretion, so a reasonable compromise might be to slow down to no more than 10-12 mph, even at intersections where you know you can safely go faster. The act of slowing down at least shows a police officer that you’re aware there’s a red light, and are actively taking precautions in case anything is coming.

    All that said, I’m not seeing why NYC can’t start using sensors at all traffic signals so lights never go red unless something is actually crossing the intersection. The very reason why cyclists pass red lights is because of the sheer number of red lights they encounter, along with the fact that 95% of the time a light turns red even though the intersection is empty. It’s incumbent upon the state to engineer safety in the least obtrusive manner possible. Dumb, timed signals are not the least intrusive way to do this. We’ve had the ability to link traffic signals to sensors for at least 4 decades. We now have the ability to intelligently keep traffic signals red for only as long as it takes a vehicle (or pedestrian) to cross the intersection). You can also give one direction of traffic the green early once a crossing pedestrian clears the lanes going in that direction. There’s no excuse for what NYC does, even for motor vehicles, never mind for cyclists or pedestrians.


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