Waiting for Raymond: In Letter to Albany, Kelly Silent on Safety Cams

kelly.jpgPhoto: Newsday.

Ray Kelly’s open letter to Albany in today’s Daily News was the perfect opportunity to remind state legislators
how much New York City needs traffic enforcement cameras to keep
streets safe. The police commissioner chose not to take it.

New York can’t add more red light cameras or install the city’s first speed enforcement cameras without Albany’s go-ahead. The NYPD Commissioner only gets so many chances to lobby the state legislature in a major daily, so you’ve got to wonder why Kelly failed to mention these life-saving technologies. Does he need a news peg? How about this: Albany expanded the city’s red light camera allowance by 50 percent this session, but many dangerous intersections remain uncovered, and we still don’t have a single speed enforcement camera anywhere in the city.

It’s not that Kelly balks at taking on motorists’ privacy. In his letter, he openly criticized a recent court decision that prevents the NYPD from attaching GPS trackers to cars without a warrant. To make the case that warrantless GPS tracking is needed, Kelly highlighted the NYPD’s shrinking manpower: There are 5,000 fewer New York City cops today than there were in 2001. Well, this is the same argument one would make to get more enforcement cameras.

The way things stand, drivers can travel at life-threatening speeds on New York’s neighborhood streets without any fear of enforcement. Safety cams are what you would call a "force multiplier" — deploy them well and you don’t need much manpower to make huge strides in compliance. From page 33 of Transportation Alternatives’ Executive Order [PDF]:

In 2007, in Montgomery County, Maryland, six
months after installation of speed cameras, the
proportion of drivers exceeding speed limits by
more than 10 mph declined by about 70 percent.
In 2001, within 6 months of the installation of speed cameras in Washington,
DC, the proportion of vehicles exceeding the speed limit by more than 10
mph declined 82 percent. “Automated enforcement is a force multiplier,
recognize your force is limited and multiply its abilities with automated
enforcement,” says Richard Retting, “It’s crude and almost barbaric to think
about chasing people on crowded urban streets for driving fast when we
can automatically deter and ticket them. Dangerous driving is reduced 80
percent just by doing that.”

These reductions in speeding can spell the difference between life and death. And on New York City streets, lawful observance of speed limits would mean major improvements in quality of life. Imagine avenues and cross-streets where cars don’t constantly zoom from one red light to the next at speeds that guarantee death upon impact with the human body. What would crossing the street feel like? Or biking next to traffic? Or sitting on a stoop? How would our public spaces change?

Kelly wants to ease the way for GPS trackers on cars because, as he says, they help the police catch suspects in "bank robbery, kidnapping, murder and terrorism investigations." So, enforcing those crimes is what motivates his willingness to contest motorists’ expectation of privacy. The pervasive lawlessness of urban drivers, which contributes to about 300 deaths in New York City every year, seemingly doesn’t concern him. 

Last week, Streetsblog noted that Kelly doesn’t appear to grasp the public safety hazard posed by dangerous urban driving any better today than he did during his first stint in charge of NYPD. We’re waiting for him to prove us wrong.