SF Police Chief Talks Traffic Safety With Streetsblog. NYPD? Silent.

gascon.jpgPolice chief George Gascón, center, fields a question from Streetsblog’s Bryan Goebel. Photo: Michael Rhodes.

On August 7, George Gascón was sworn in as San Francisco’s chief of police. Four weeks later, he sat down for an interview with Streetsblog San Francisco editor Bryan Goebel. In case you thought all police were incapable of discussing street safety and traffic enforcement substantively, have a listen:

[audio: http://sf.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2009/09/Chief-Gascon-Interview.mp3]

Gascón goes on the record with positions on speed cameras, pedestrian and cyclist safety, and police chases. He says traffic enforcement resources should be allocated to the most hazardous areas, and he’ll consider appointing a liaison to address the concerns of cyclists. You don’t hear him commit to lowering speed limits or rotating cops through bike patrol duty, but you do get a feel for how he views traffic enforcement and the responsibilities of different road users.

As Bryan notes, Gascón’s willingness to sit for an interview stands in marked contrast to his predecessor, Heather Fong, "who often steered clear of reporters, and ignored efforts
to establish closer working relationships with transit advocates." By fielding questions about traffic enforcement, Gascón is sending the message that street safety is worth his time and attention.

Here in New York, we have yet to see a comparable level of seriousness about street safety from Ray Kelly or NYPD’s public information office. This week, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne has not returned requests for comment, submitted by fax and email, about the fact that traffic fatalities in New York City are on the rise. While every other city agency Streetsblog has dealt with returns phone calls and provides statements on the record, the NYPD has ignored our every request for information beyond the most basic facts about traffic collisions. This is entirely consistent with the public statements on traffic crime from Gascón’s counterpart, Ray Kelly.

Shown documentation last month that motorists commit traffic violations virtually unchecked on city streets, Kelly gave the verbal equivalent of a shrug, citing the number of tickets NYPD hands out. No word on whether those tickets actually deterred dangerous driving, or whether Kelly has given a moment’s pause to the idea that we can measure the rate of traffic crime as we do violent crime, and track progress on safety accordingly.

Not that the commissioner isn’t a voluble fellow. If you do score 30 minutes of face time with Kelly, just stick to questions about neckwear, like the Times did a few days ago, and you’ll get an earful.