HOLD THE PHONE! New NYPD Transportation Bureau Chief is Saying the Right Things
Could it be that the NYPD’s new Transportation Bureau chief gets it?
Streetsblog chatted by phone on Wednesday with Chief Kim Royster during her second full day on the job running the police department’s all-important (but long-neglected) Vision Zero department — and found the NYPD veteran a breath of fresh air from her stolid, uninspiring predecessors.
How fresh, of course, remains to be seen, but we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that Royster said all the right things — in the right ways — during our 20-minute chat. She even said she cycles herself, and gets an insight into what bike riders experience every day from her husband, who is a frequent rider.
Given that Royster just started her new position, after stints in Community Affairs and the agency’s public information office, we didn’t grill her on specific cases — like whether the NYPD will arrest the Range Rover driver who killed two people in Jamaica last week — but we did get a tiny glimpse that maybe, just maybe, the Transportation Bureau won’t be an NYPD backwater under Royster.
Here are some excerpts:
Streetsblog: So is there any overarching philosophy you’ll bring to the job?
Kim Royster: The goal is to make people safe. And I will listen and hear what you’re saying so we can work together so that people in this city, cyclists and pedestrians and our most vulnerable elderly residents, can be safe.
We’ve partnered with the Department of Transportation on press releases and press conferences, but I want to double down on outreach. I just came from a place [Royster previously was Executive Officer in the Community Affairs Bureau] where I’ve been dealing with what the NYPD can do to build bridges to our communities. So I’d like to expand the outreach not to just talking to the public, but including everyone in this fight. Let’s look at a specific: I’m looking at storeowners. During the COVID crisis, people were told, “You can’t go to stores; you gotta do delivery.” Well, who is making those deliveries? People on bicycles! So I want to partner with store owners and say, “Do you need anything? Do you need us to focus on something so your cyclists who are delivering can do their jobs? Is there anything we can help with?”
The city is open to people using our streets, to ride in our streets, whether it’s for exercise or to get to and from their destination. They gotta know that they’re going to be safe, right?
Streetsblog: No offense, but that’s been a real challenge from the NYPD.
Royster: On outreach and education — it’s not just handing out a flier, but actually sitting down and speaking to people. … And in Vision Zero fatalities, I want to sit down with my Collision Investigation Squad frequently to bring me up to speed on what they see in an investigation and make sure I have clear communication to the DAs offices. Each one. I’ll be sitting down with them to look at cases, to look at the investigation, to determine what happened. We need to be able to bring closure to the victims and aggressively prosecute those who are causing traffic violence.
Streetsblog: You mentioned in a previous interview that your husband is a cyclist. He must tell you what craziness he sees from drivers out there every day, right?
Royster: My husband rides his bike all over. It’s personal to me because when he leaves the house, I say, “Make sure you stay safe.” I want him to come back to me. And that’s the main thing some families don’t have. Their loved ones go out and then are victims. So they’re not coming back to them. My husband rides all over the city. He’ll ride to Riis Park. He’ll ride to the George Washington Bridge. I ride with him the park. It’s part of our life, for entertainment, but also for exercise.
Streetsblog: You know, when we go out, our loved ones also say, “Get back here safe,” but we often answer, “You know, it’s not always up to us.” The drivers are insanely aggressive.
Streetsblog: Well, not all of your predecessors have been great at understanding that cars are the principal problem and therefore should be the main focus of your bureau.
Royster: That’s what I want to do. Listen, cars are built with safety mechanisms in them [for the driver]. But they’re 5,000 pounds! That’s a machine! Motorists have to have their head on a swivel. When I talk to pedestrians, I say we need to share the road and practice road courtesy, but let’s put that in context: that goes more so for motorists. The majority of this [road violence] is motorists. Motorists who are not paying attention to what is going on around them. Motorists who are speeding. Motorists who are not yielding. That’s one of our hotspots there. They’re not yielding to pedestrians.
Streetsblog: It’s refreshing to hear that from an NYPD official. But the agency has long treated the bureau as a backwater. Are you trying to change that?
Royster: Yes and I’m going to need your help. And I’m going to need everyone in this fight to help me drive down these fatalities. I can’t do this alone. … During the COVID crisis, drivers took an opportunity to speed through the city. They were speeding on local streets, not just highways. That’s a problem!
I talked about outreach and education, but the other thing is that I’m going to focus on a data-driven strategy. The data we obtain [from crash reports and summons statistics] will give us information about where we need to focus on — hotspots where crashes are occurring. There are places where injuries are happening and I don’t want them turning into fatalities, so I have to focus on those areas. We’ve been doing TrafficStat for a number of years. … We bring the Executive Officer of the individual 77 precincts into a forum and we discuss the traffic safety issues we are seeing in their precincts. We tell them, “You’ve had injuries and fatalities.” We hold them accountable to devise a plan about what they are going to do about it. … It’s akin to CompStat, but focusing on fatalities and safety and making sure they are looking at the data and understand the data. If you don’t understand the data, you won’t create a plan to correct the problem.
Streetsblog: We would be remiss if we didn’t point out that some of the worst drivers in town are cops. And some of the most egregious examples of bike- or bus-lane blocking is done by cops.
Royster: That has to be taken seriously. We are providing the public with information about safety rules and regulations, so we must adhere to the same. … If we are going to recover from COVID, we have to make the city more vibrant — and that means everyone using our roads and making sure everyone is protected on our roads, especially in the three categories I mentioned: the elderly, cyclists and pedestrians.