88th Precinct Botches Traffic Fatality Stats As Families Demand Enforcement

Last night, dozens of protestors gathered in Fort Greene to remember the at least 14 New Yorkers under the age of 18 killed in traffic so far this year, including Fort Greene’s own Lucian Merryweather, 9, and demand more traffic enforcement from the police. Chanting “NYPD, make it safer on our streets” and “safe streets, slow down,” the march entered the 88th Precinct’s community council meeting for a question-and-answer session with the precinct’s commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Scott Henderson.

Marchers at last night's traffic safety protest in Fort Greene. Photo: Dmitry Gudkov
Marchers at last night’s traffic safety protest in Fort Greene. Photo: Dmitry Gudkov

“Five children have been killed on the streets of New York City in less than five weeks’ time since the end of September,” march organizer Hilda Cohen said. “The death of an innocent child is an unbearable tragedy, and each one is preventable.”

Automobile crashes are the leading cause of injury-related death for New York City children. Last night’s march comes a week after a similar march in Jackson Heights, where Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao spoke about their 3-year-old daughter Allison, killed by a turning driver who ran her over in the crosswalk as she walked with her grandmother. Tam and Liao came from Flushing to march in last night’s protest.

Amy Cohen and Gary Eckstein, whose son Sammy was killed by a driver on Prospect Park West, spoke at the march. “This past Saturday was supposed to have been his bar mitzvah,” Cohen said. “Too many children are dying on our streets.” Cohen called on the NYPD to increase its enforcement of speeding and failure to yield to pedestrians and urged the City Council to pass a bill to lower the speed limit to 20 mph in residential neighborhoods. She also urged Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio to choose transportation and police commissioners who will prioritize street safety.

“When you are on the street, your life is in someone else’s hands — everyone else’s hands. And most of these hands are on the steering wheel of a car,” said Esme Brauer, 11. “Drive safely. Follow the rules of the road. Please.”

After reading the names of New York City children killed by drivers so far this year, marchers then walked to the corner of Clermont and DeKalb Avenues, where Merryweather was killed on the sidewalk by a reckless driver, before continuing to the 88th Precinct’s community council meeting. At the meeting, Henderson expressed sadness over Merryweather’s death before defending the precinct’s traffic safety record.

A flier from the precinct referencing the crash that killed Merryweather was distributed at the meeting warning drivers not to speed, text, or drive drunk. Cohen later thanked Henderson for the education material targeting drivers, but at the beginning of the meeting, Henderson revealed his ignorance concerning traffic safety in his own precinct. Henderson said that before Merryweather’s death, there had not been a traffic fatality in the 88th Precinct since 2008. The audience began to murmur loudly and Henderson called the disruption “disrespectful.”

In the front row, immediately in front of Henderson, was Jacob Stevens, whose wife Clara Heyworth was killed by an alleged drunk driver in 2011 in the 88th Precinct. Charges against her killer were dropped after a botched NYPD investigation.

“We’ve heard community complaints about speeding,” Henderson said, particularly along Park and DeKalb Avenues. He said that so far this year, the precinct issued 810 summonses on Park and 250 summonses on DeKalb. Though Henderson was talking about speeding, it’s likely these numbers reflect the total number of moving violations on these avenues, since NYPD’s own public data shows that the precinct has only issued a total of 62 speeding tickets as of October 31 — that’s one every 20 days [PDF].

Henderson said he has put in a request for three additional officers to be trained to operate radar guns, and is confident the request will be approved.

Speakers at the meeting also asked Henderson to increase enforcement against drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians; so far this year, the precinct has issued only five tickets for this offense. Henderson replied that the precinct prefers to issue tickets for “failure to obey pavement markings” to drivers who do not give the right of way to walkers. It should be noted that this violation encompasses a number of other actions besides ignoring a pedestrian in the crosswalk; even still, so far this year the precinct has issued fewer than one of these tickets per day.

Near the end of the meeting, Cohen presented Henderson with maps showing traffic danger hotspots that residents have identified in the neighborhood. Henderson thanked her for the feedback. “I think it’s a great idea,” he said.