The NYPD Won’t Save Us From the Loss of Speed Cameras

And the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association was the only major group opposed to the extension and expansion of the life-saving speed camera program.

Speed cameras don’t care about PBA courtesy cards.
Speed cameras don’t care about PBA courtesy cards.

Hundreds of thousands of speeding scofflaws will simply get away with it because the NYPD simply cannot fill the enforcement gap that opened Wednesday as the city’s speed cameras were ordered turned off by the state legislature.

Just 140 school-zone cameras issued more than more than 4.6 million tickets since 2014, while the NYPD’s tens of thousands of officers issued 519,372 over the same time period, according to city data. Nonetheless, as the cameras went dark on Wednesday, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan told Streetsblog through a spokesman that his division “is prepared to focus precinct Traffic Safety teams towards conducting additional enforcement … in priority areas.”

The department said that 2,448 police officers and 364 radar guns have been added since 2014, allowing the Department to write 149,910 in 2017 as opposed to 117,768 in 2014, a small increase compared to the millions of tickets issued by speed cameras during the same period. “These resources are sufficient to quickly step in and address any uptick in motorist speeding,” the statement continued.

They are, in fact, not.

“NYPD has said they will see what they can do, but they have also said they have a lot of needs for their resources and they can’t completely cover what this automated system does,” Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said at a press conference on Wednesday, accepting the reality that humans cannot do what speed cameras can.

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the NYPD rank-and-file union that opposed the extension of the camera program, basically agreed with Trottenberg, saying that the NYPD’s existing staff is no match for the cameras — and that’s a good thing.

“We’d prefer to see more officers hired,” PBA spokesperson Al O’Leary told Streetsblog.

As the debate raged in Albany about the city’s school-zone cameras, the PBA consistently said officers are better at traffic enforcement than cameras — even as union President Pat Lynch basically admitted his members don’t like doing traffic enforcement. On Wednesday, he added that catching speeders and saving lives is not a goal in and of itself.

“(Cameras) cannot do the job of a live, professionally trained police officer who, having stopped a speeder, may make an arrest for driving under the influence, driving without a license or insurance or even worse offenses like carrying an illegal weapon,” Lynch said. “We view traffic enforcement as an opportunity to take the dangerous drivers and criminals off the road that a camera can’t.”

It is certainly important to remove serious offenders from the roadways, but the speed camera program saw the reduction of speeding itself as its own equally important mission. Since 2014, cameras have done that nine times better than uniformed officers.

The cameras work, too: Speeding dropped 63 percent in areas where they’ve been installed, and more than 80 percent of speeding drivers caught on camera don’t do it again.

The real incentive for the PBA here is its members, who notoriously let each other — and their buddies — off the hook for speeding and other traffic violations.

PBA is the only notable organization that opposed extending and expanding the speed camera program. Its members’ donations also filled the coffers  of Governor Cuomo, Senate Republicans, and Democrat-in-Name-Only Simcha Felder, who stubbornly refused to let the bill out of his committee despite it having a majority of votes to pass on the senate floor.

Speed cameras began being turned off on Wednesday, though 20 mobile units will remain active through August, when they, too, will be shut — unless the State Senate reconvenes and passes an Assembly bill that would reauthorize them and double their number.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said that won’t happen.

  • Fool

    Ban Police Unions.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “We’d prefer to see more officers hired,” PBA spokesperson Al O’Leary told Streetsblog.”

    https://larrylittlefield.files.wordpress.com/2018/05/police1.jpg

    We have more cops than intersections in this city, nearly three times as many officers per 100,000 residents as the U.S. average and more than anywhere else.

    And more than one officer paid to do nothing in retirement for each one on the job.

    https://larrylittlefield.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/chart1b1.jpg

    An unusually large share of whom retire with disability pensions at 75 percent of their final overtime-inflated pay.

    https://larrylittlefield.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/chart71.jpg

  • William Lawson

    When you walk around the average police precinct and observe how many of the cop’s cars have illegal license plate covers which allow them to speed in school zones, I think the NYPD’s attitude toward cameras is undebatable. Like most coarse minded, testosterone driven morons, cops perceive reckless driving as some kind of constitutional right and they’re reluctant to police it – especially given the fact that most of them drive like assholes to and from work.

    By what legal mechanism can we sue the NYPD on the grounds that they are accepting our taxes as payment without giving us the promised law enforcement in return?

  • 1soReal

    “(Cameras) cannot do the job of a live, professionally trained police officer who, having stopped a speeder, may make an arrest for driving under the influence, driving without a license or insurance or even worse offenses like carrying an illegal weapon,” Lynch said. “We view traffic enforcement as an opportunity to take the dangerous drivers and criminals off the road that a camera can’t.”

    Yeah Lynch, no s***.
    So sick of hearing this illogical reasoning against speed cameras. Cameras and in person enforcement are not mutually exclusive. Few people would disagree with the above Lynch quote. However speed cameras do not prevent or absolve police officers from making traffic stops. In fact getting pulled over is much more punitive since it is an actual moving violation for the driver, not to mention quickly becoming prohibitively expensive for most people.This nonsensical either or talk is just to fool people, who is actually buying this argument? Just a bunch of propaganda.
    Its sad they would let this program die just so cops in their personal vehicles and their family/friends can get out of a $50 ticket..which is basically treated like a parking ticket, just pay and be done with it. Its not even the cameras operate 24/7.

    God forbid a cop or family member might get a $50 ticket only on school days during school hours only on actual streets with a school. The sense of entitlement is reaching new heights.
    Then they wonder why people don’t like cops.

  • HumanRightsForAll

    Why everyone freaking out

  • While speed cameras should blanket every street, and while the PBA are scumbags for opposing cameras, the premise of this piece, that “the NYPD simply cannot fill the enforcement gap”, is wrong.

    It is a question mainly of policy. Instead of having officers terrorising the residents and visitors of public housing projects, this personnel could be deployed to catch speeders. Likewise, a good deal of the manpower that is currently devoted to “counter-terrorism” could be better used in traffic enforcement, especially considering that traffic violence is an actual ongoing menace, while the threat of “terrorism” is grossly exaggerated as an excuse to justify the excessive militarisation of the police.

    The other obstacle is the attitude of the officers. First, traffic work is seen as low-status grunt work; no one wants to do it. Second, the officers themselves are serial offenders of traffic laws, and simply do not consider these laws legitimate. (Anecdote: one time at a red light, I alerted the officers in a police car to the fact that the car in front of them had stopped at the red light well beyond the stopping line, and was encroaching on the crosswalk. The cop’s response: “You haven’t been in this City long, have you?” Meaning: hey, that’s just how things are, and you should stop complaining about it.)

    We know that our current mayor is frightened of the police, who have staged organised displays of insubordination and intimidation against him. This is a department that has arrogated to itself the policy-making function, and which operates in a manner indistinguishable from a military junta. If we had a functioning civilian government, the mayor could order the appropriate change in enforcement priorities and a reorientation towards traffic enforcement; and, if he got guff from the police commissioner, he could replace that commissioner with an appointee who was willing to carry out the orders of the chief executive who appointed him.

    However, even then every traffic stop would be accompanied by the officers telling the drivers “We don’t want to be doing this; the mayor is forcing us”, which would in short order become a story repeated on the local news and throughout the idiot media. Worse, at every occasion of street crime, the cops would say “maybe we could have stopped that mugger/robber/rapist/killer if the mayor didn’t have us out here harassing drivers”.

    So the obstacle to catching speeders is not any kind of police personnel shortage. It is the police department’s intransigence, as well as its toxic culture of disrespect towards the civilian government to which it is meant to be subordinate. If not for those factors, we could eliminate not only speeding, but also all other driver misconduct.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I think you make some valid points, but it is also true that stopping speeding is relatively hard.

    To catch a driver going fast on a local street you have to be going fast in a police cruiser, which raises its own risk. If you catch them and they stop, it’s probably 10 minutes or more to call in the registration, write down the ticket, etc. Before they can start looking for someone else.

    We know that the NYPD prefers the “shoot fish in a barrel” method of enforcement from bicycling. Ticketing a speed demon blowing a light going against one-way traffic is hard. Ticketing a walking pace cyclist jaybiking across a side street red next to jaywalkers is easy.

    Just compare speeding enforcement with parking enforcement during alternate side. It’s zero tolerance for illegal parking by those outside the placard class, but it’s easy because the cars aren’t moving.

  • It’s true that the police department tends to go for the easy targets (such as bicyclists going through red lights) as opposed to the lawbreakers who are doing the most harm.

    But catching speeders wouldn’t necessarily involve a high-speed chase. If there were regular traffic patrols along Second Avenue, Northern Boulevard, Ocean Parkway, and every other major thoroughfare in the City, then an officer who spotted a speeder could radio ahead to units farther up the street, who could stop the car as it approached them.

  • Andrew

    Just 140 school-zone cameras issued more than more than 4.6 million tickets since 2014, while the NYPD’s tens of thousands of officers issued 519,372 over the same time period, according to city data.

    Do the 519,372 include tickets issued on controlled access highways, which don’t serve pedestrians? All of the 4.6 million are on streets that serve pedestrians.

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