A Woman Dies, So East Harlem’s Top Cop Taunts Street Safety Advocates

Thomas Harnisch, commanding officer of the 25th Precinct, reacted to a woman’s death on the subway tracks at Union Square by antagonizing Transportation Alternatives and advocate Keegan Stephan of Right of Way on his personal Twitter account.

After a woman was killed by a subway train in Union Square yesterday, Captain Thomas C. Harnisch, commanding officer of the 25th Precinct, took to Twitter to harangue street safety advocates. His comments, since deleted, claim advocates “seize on a tragedy and assign culpability having no facts… to further your agenda.”

Harnisch, whose officers were busted last year writing bogus tickets to cyclists for using a bike path, used his personal account to send Transportation Alternatives and street safety advocate Keegan Stephan a link to a news story about a woman who fell onto the subway tracks and was killed by an oncoming train on Saturday. “Let me guess, driver’s fault right?” he said.

Stephan replied, “A woman is dead and you are using this as an opportunity to criticize our attempts to save lives?”

Minutes later, Harnisch replied using the 25th Precinct’s official account: “Isn’t that what you do? Seize on a tragedy and assign culpability having no facts? To further your agenda?” The tweet was later deleted, but Stephan posted a screen capture.

This tweet about traffic safety advocates from Captain Thomas C. Harnisch, commanding officer of East Harlem's 25th Precinct, was deleted yesterday after Harnisch first tweeted from his personal account.
This tweet about traffic safety advocates from Captain Thomas C. Harnisch, commanding officer of East Harlem’s 25th Precinct, was deleted yesterday. Image via Keegan Stephan/Twitter

NYPD’s public information office has not replied to questions about Harnisch’s comments.

Update: Stephan says NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Strategic Initiatives Zach Tumin contacted him and apologized, saying that Harnisch’s comments do not reflect NYPD’s views. Stephan asked Tumin why Harnisch sought him out on Twitter, even though the two had never been in touch before, but did not get an answer.

Harnisch was one of the first five precinct commanders to receive Twitter accounts earlier this year as part of NYPD’s effort to put forward a friendlier face using both traditional outlets and social media.

“It is me. Well, I exercise editorial control,” Harnisch said of the account in an interview with DNAinfo in May.

“It’s been fun,” he told the Daily News of his new Twitter presence.

Tweets from Harnisch’s personal account date to March. Family photos posted online, as well as a tweet directing someone to follow the precinct on Twitter, clearly indicate that it is Harnisch’s account.

Less than two months after Harnisch took over the precinct’s top job last September [PDF], his officers were stationed on the Willis Avenue Bridge’s shared bike-pedestrian path, giving cyclists bogus tickets for riding on a sidewalk.

Under Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, precincts have broad discretion for traffic enforcement on city streets. Summonses for dangerous driving in the 25th Precinct are up over last year, but its officers issued only 47 speeding tickets through the end of May, the latest month for which data is available [PDF]. This barely scratches the surface of dangerous speeding in Harlem. A speed camera was stationed for one day in May on northbound Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard between 147th and 151st Streets, a few blocks northwest of the 25th Precinct, according to city data posted online. It captured 57 speeding violations in fewer than seven hours.

Last year, two people were killed in traffic in the 25th Precinct, according to data compiled by Streetsblog. Six-year-old Amar Diarrassouba was killed by a turning truck driver outside his school at First Avenue and E. 117th Street in February. That June, an unidentified woman riding a bike was struck and killed by two cab drivers at Park Avenue and 125th Street.

To express your concerns to Harnisch and the NYPD, you can attend the next 25th Precinct community council meeting, scheduled for July 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the 25th Precinct, 120 E. 119th Street.

Update: At approximately 5:30 p.m., Harnisch tweeted an apology from the 25th Precinct’s official account:

Thomas Harnisch, commanding officer of the 25th Precinct, apologized for his comments. Image via Twitter
Thomas Harnisch, commanding officer of the 25th Precinct, has apologized. Image via Twitter