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NYPD Still Keeps Crash Reports Under Lock and Key

2:42 PM EDT on May 23, 2016

Two years into the de Blasio administration's Vision Zero initiative, NYPD still refuses to release crash investigations to the public.

NYPD refuses to disclose basic information pertaining to the crash that killed Brooklyn cyclist James Gregg, such as where the trucker who hit Gregg was going, and what was in his trailer. Photo: Eric McClure

The most recent case: NYPD denied a freedom of information request from a New York Times reporter who asked for documents related to the crash that killed cyclist James Gregg in Park Slope last month.

Gregg was killed on April 20 by a tractor-trailer driver on Sixth Avenue near Sterling Place. That’s not a truck route, and based on photos of the scene, there is a strong possibility the truck that hit Gregg was too long to be operated legally on NYC surface streets. But an officer at the scene suggested Gregg had acted recklessly by trying to hitch a ride, which also describes what a cyclist desperately trying to fend off an oversized truck might look like. NYPD later said Gregg "for unknown reasons fell to the ground," and eventually ticketed the trucker for equipment violations driving off-route, but he was not charged by police or District Attorney Ken Thompson for taking Gregg’s life.

Not satisfied with the shifting narrative from police, the Times's Andy Newman filed a FOIL request on April 24, reports street safety advocate Charles Komanoff, who posted the NYPD letter denying the request on the Right of Way web site.

Newman asked NYPD for Collision Investigation Squad reports, any police determination concerning what caused the crash, the driver’s name and address, information on any summonses issued and charges filed against the driver, information on the driver’s route and cargo, the length of the truck trailer, and whether police determined that the truck driver broke laws relating to truck routes and passing at a safe distance.

On May 11, Lieutenant Richard Mantellino rejected Newman’s request on the grounds that granting it “would interfere with law enforcement investigations or judicial proceedings.”

NYPD's handling of the crash -- reflexive victim-blaming followed by conflicting police statements and a refusal to release information that would shed light on what happened and how the investigation was conducted -- adhered to a script that has not changed in years, with or without a Vision Zero policy framework in place at City Hall.

Streetsblog began FOILing NYPD for crash reports in 2010. FOIL officers have repeatedly said these documents can't be released in a timely manner because the investigations are still open or the reports contain private information like phone numbers or vehicle registration details, even though releasing reports with private information redacted would be a seemingly simple matter. The practical effect has been to deny public access to nearly all crash reports.

Advocates had hopeful exchanges with the late Michael Ameri, who in 2014 was promoted from CO of the 78th Precinct to head the NYPD division that includes the Collision Investigation Squad, about remedying the situation. That October, Komanoff met with Ameri, who was receptive to the suggestion of opening up crash investigations for the sake of preventing future deaths. “He also assented to use his position to instruct police officers to stop leaking (mis-)information to the press at the scenes of crashes -- a practice that compounds families’ pain while perpetuating pernicious myths of pedestrians causing their own demise,” writes Komanoff.

Those changes did not come to pass during Ameri's tenure as leader of the Highway Patrol. In 2015, Lieutenant Mantellino denied Streetsblog FOIL requests pertaining to crashes that killed pedestrians Felix Coss and Mike Rogalle in Brooklyn and Manhattan, respectively. We appealed both denials. NYPD later sent us a one-page police report that cited driver error in Rogalle’s death. The crash that killed Coss made national news when Streetsblog published video that showed the NYPD officer who hit him failed to yield.

"Last October," writes Komanoff, "NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said at a civic forum (video at minute 46) that he would 'follow up' on releasing CIS reports, but without further pressure, nothing has come of that."

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