EXCLUSIVE: The NYPD is Doing Very Little to Battle the Speeding Epidemic

People are driving recklessly. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
People are driving recklessly. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

For once, cops aren’t in a hurry.

Police officers are writing fewer speeding tickets, even as the city’s school-zone speed cameras are catching more reckless drivers during the COVID-19 crisis — stats that suggest the NYPD is not addressing a growing and demonstrable safety concern on New York’s wide-open speedways.

Cops wrote just 10,736 speeding tickets in March, a 36-percent decrease from the 16,829 they wrote in January. Over the same period, the city’s speed cameras issued 15 percent more tickets.

And when you calculate for the fact that speed cameras only operate on weekdays, the weakness of the police effort becomes even more clear:

In March, NYPD officers wrote 346 speeding tickets per day, down 36 percent since January. By comparison, speed cameras caught 13,533 scofflaws on the average day in March, up 20 percent from the January average.

Two charts tell the full story. First, the total tickets by month:

NYPD vs. Cameras Jan-March 2020
Reminder: This chart does not account for the fact that speed cameras only operate on weekdays, but cops work seven days a week. Source: NYPD/Department of Finance.

Second, average tickets per day…

Second, average tickets per day. Source: NYPD/Department of Finance
This chart does account for the the days that cameras are not operating. Source: NYPD/Department of Finance

When you break down the numbers even more, the minuscule scale of the NYPD effort becomes even clearer: In March, cops wrote an average of just 4.5 speeding tickets per day per precinct. By comparison, speed cameras wrote an average of 175 tickets per day per precinct. (Reminder: Speed cameras only issue a ticket when a driver exceeds the speed limit by 11 miles per hour or more.)

Streetsblog has been asking the NYPD for more than two weeks for an explanation of the agency’s strategy as reckless driving has become an increasing — and increasingly documented — problem. On Tuesday, the agency finally responded. Here is the answer, in full, from department spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Frances O’Donnell:

As you know, traffic moving at more than a crawl is something of a miracle in NYC. So speeding usually is far less of a problem than numerous other traffic infractions.

Now, with fewer cars and fewer people on the streets it seems like there may be more speeding — at least in some parts of the city.

We don’t condone it.

We do enforce it. But we also have other extremely significant pressures on our department.

One possible explanation for why cops are writing fewer tickets during the speeding crisis is that many of the speeders are, in fact, cops on their way to and from work. Cameras don’t differentiate, but police officers have a well-documented practice of not writing each other tickets.

And Streetsblog’s months-long investigation last year revealed that NYPD employees speed at rates that are twice that of the general public. And police officers — 51 percent of whom live in the suburbs — constitute one of the few workforces that is still on the roads right now, albeit slightly diminished due to the virus.

On the plus side, the number of cars on the road is so dramatically diminished that total collisions are down more than 50 percent over the last 28 days, according to the latest NYPD stats.

But whatever the issue, the NYPD’s effort will be under scrutiny if the City Council ever gets back to working order.

“Safety is paramount, which means we shouldn’t sacrifice holding drivers accountable for reckless behavior that puts New Yorkers trying to get to their jobs or to the grocery store at serious risk,” said Queens Council Member Costa Constantinides.

And Council Member Donovan Richards, a Queens lawmaker who heads the Public Safety Committee, called on the state to expand speed cameras because the NYPD obviously can’t handle the workload — and shouldn’t have to during the virus.

“The state and city should consider how we can expand our speed camera program to promote social distancing between officers and residents,” said Richards. “We want to be smart and strategic with how we are utilizing our resources to avoid injuries and fatalities, especially because our hospitals are already overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.”

The speeding crisis — and the police department’s failure to do much about it — brings to mind Streetsblog’s song parody, which we post below as a courtesy. Sing along to our version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)“:

Speed up, you drive too slow
The streets are clear I’ve got places to go
Just zippin’ ‘round these boulevards.
On open roads, I’m feeling’ zoom-y!
Ba da-da da-da da-da, feeling’ zoom-y!

Hello lamppost, with your cam’ra
Slowin’ me down, you got real chutzpah
Ain’t you got no decency?
Hit the gas, I’m feelin’ zoom-y
Ba da-da da-da da-da, feelin’ zoom-y

I’m going so fast, I’m out of control
I’m wrapping my Charger around a light pole
You can read all about it on Streetsblog to-night.
Do-do-do-do feeling woozy!

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