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NYPD to Continue Slandering Deceased Crash Victims and Compounding Loved Ones’ Grief

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill

NYPD has no plans to reform the way it releases information on traffic crashes, despite the department's terrible track record of falsely blaming victims for their own deaths.

NYPD said Dan HanegbyKelly Hurley, and Lauren Davis -- to name a few recent victims -- were responsible for the collisions that took their lives before evidence revealed motorist behavior as the cause. Those incidents are consistent with the department's pattern of accepting a driver's version of events as the official account of a crash, often in cases where a victim can no longer speak for herself.

By the time the truth comes out, in most cases the media has moved on

Lauren Davis. Photo: Danielle Davis via Medium
Lauren Davis. Photo: Danielle Davis via Medium
Lauren Davis. Photo: Danielle Davis via Medium

This causes real pain for victims' loved ones. Writing on Medium, Danielle Davis recounts how NYPD jumped to conclusions and turned her sister Lauren into someone her family did not recognize:

From the beginning, Lauren was accused of wrongdoing. The police officer who filled out the initial “accident report” created a premature fiction surrounding my sister and her cycling habits. The media and initial witnesses fueled false claims that Lauren was going southbound on Classon Avenue, against traffic. As a supposed lawbreaker, Lauren became the wrongdoer and her death adopted a distinctive story -- not that of being a victim, but a story of a criminal causing her own fate. I never thought the NYPD would brand my sister a wrongdoer without first gathering evidence, and I never thought the media would echo falsehoods without first waiting for all the facts.

Rather than acknowledge the shortcomings of its crash information protocol and work to change it, NYPD is denying there's a problem. Speaking with Gothamist, Inspector Dennis Fulton of the department's transportation bureau "disputed the idea that the NYPD's media approach is problematic":

"Right now the current way works," he said. "CIS will do the investigation and then relay the information to DCPI [public information office] and they will relay information to the press."

"There's a general policy that we have one voice and it comes through DCPI," he said. "So if you want to get the true information you go through them."

The system Fulton describes, in which indisputable facts flow from CIS to the public via DCPI, does not jibe with reality. Police officers routinely leak erroneous information anonymously to the press without going through DCPI. The result is stories like the Daily News account of the crash that killed 3-year-old Allison Liao, which said she "broke free" from her grandmother in the crosswalk, an assertion that was later disproven by video.

Even in official press statements, NYPD sometimes ties itself in knots to exonerate the driver, like when police said cyclist James Gregg "collided into [the] rear tire" of an off-route big rig that "created something like a wind force that sucked the bicycle toward the back of the truck." In other words, the truck driver was on a street he wasn't supposed to be on and killed a person because he didn't pass safely.

Fulton's superiors -- Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, Police Commissioner James O'Neill,  and Mayor Bill de Blasio -- have the power to end the harmful NYPD practice of post-crash victim-blaming. All that's needed is the will.

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