NYPD Will Not Move Against Yellow Ribbon Vigilantes on Staten Island

Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

That’s some catch, that Catch-22.

NYPD officials suggested that they do not support a group of pro-car vigilantes who are encouraging drivers on Staten Island to speed by putting up yellow ribbons at the locations of speed cameras, but won’t do anything about it because the saffron-colored symbol also is deployed to honor “military service” and victims of crashes.

At a stunning session with reporters this afternoon, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said he was not aware of the effort by the anti-speed camera group to undermine a key part of the city’s Vision Zero strategy — the subject of extensive coverage by Streetsblog (which had also alerted Shea’s office that a question would be posed at his press conference). Shea did say that he is concerned about “anything that [interferes with] our methods to keep people safe” and added that it would be easy to “just take down” the ribbons.

But Transportation Bureau Chief William Morris said the agency will not be doing that.

Morris started by saying he was well aware of the yellow ribbon crisis, thanks to “the articles and the pictures” that Streetsblog has posted. We asked Morris if the NYPD would move decisively to return law and order to Staten Island, but he said it would not.

The full exchange is below:

Morris: There are about 600 speed cameras throughout the city. We have always supported them. Anything that addresses dangerous driving behavior, anything that gets it to stop, is something that we encourage. There were 221 fatal collisions last year and … speed is clearly an issue. Anything that gets dangerous driving behavior to stop, we would encourage. Posting signs on city property is clearly improper and illegal. However, there is some confusion here with these yellow ribbons. It’s well known that yellow ribbons are used to commemorate military service and to honor folks who have passed in traffic collisions. So at this point, we are not prepared to take action on the yellow ribbons specifically. But anything that deters dangerous driving behavior is something that this agency would support.

The answer was confusing: If the NYPD encourages people to slow down, was Morris saying that the agency approves of the yellow ribbon campaign because, at least in a theory espoused by lead-footed Council Member Joe Borelli, drivers will slow down on the blocks with ribbons, even if they will speed everywhere else? So we persisted:

Streetsblog: Chief, that answer suggests you support the yellow ribbons because at least on those blocks, the driver would be going slower, even though on other blocks where there is no yellow ribbon, they could drive recklessly.

Morris: I don’t believe that’s what I said. I addressed the yellow ribbons specifically saying only that we’re not prepared to take action against them given the dual message being made.

We have asked NYPD for clarification and are, as always, awaiting a response.