Lander: Get NYPD Out of Traffic Stops, Crash Investigations

The moment before a truck driver killed teenaged cyclist Mario Valenzuela.
The moment before a truck driver killed teenaged cyclist Mario Valenzuela.

The city must relieve the NYPD of its traffic enforcement and crash investigation responsibilities in favor of designing safer streets with automated enforcement that does not rely on racially biased humans who have a poor track record, Council Member and Comptroller candidate Brad Lander will announce on Sunday.

The proposal, first reported by Politico on Saturday night, will be formally released after Sunday’s World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, but Streetsblog got a preview of the Lander plan, “Transforming Traffic Safety: Safer Streets with Less Policing.” (It is embedded below.)

“NYPD traffic enforcement has been shown to be unwieldy, unfair, and dangerous, and it has little impact in achieving safer streets,” Lander says in the proposal, citing the agency’s “windshield view” of traffic safety and serving as “at best, a grudging participant in Vision Zero,” as Streetsblog has reported.

Cops, Lander adds, have “become the default tool to address seemingly every public safety issue, including traffic enforcement” and, worse, don’t even do the job particularly well, with less than 1 percent of the drivers in tens of thousands of hit-and-run crashes per year getting ID’d and then arrested, as City Limits reported.

The proposal has several recommendations:

  • remove NYPD officers from routine traffic stops so that cops can focus on driving behavior that “immediately endangers public safety,” such as drag-racing, drunk driving or road rage).
  • expand speed cameras, but also ensure that they are positioned equitably.
  • fully fund the already passed Reckless Vehicle Abatement Program, which requires drivers with more than 15 speeding tickets to take a safe-driving course or lose their car. Mayor de Blasio blocked funding to the bill, which passed earlier this year. Lander would now expand it to capture more drivers.
  • take crash investigations away from the NYPD and have them done by the Department of Transportation. “The new unit would take a victim-centered approach that emphasizes public transparency and accountability. In the hands of the DOT, the Collision Investigation Squad would “would expand its focus not only on determining criminality for individual crashes, but also on broadly assessing factors underlying traffic risk and safety in order to make strategic recommendations for preventing future traffic violence.” Streetsblog’s Charles Komanoff made that recommendation earlier this year. Streetsblog has frequently reported on botched police investigations that end up blaming victims rather than drivers. And the DOT and NYPD do not currently use CIS investigations to inform decisions about street design.
  • require city agencies to reduce their own crashes, which have resulted in half a billion dollars in lawsuit settlement payouts since 2013, as Streetsblog reported.
  • decriminalize or eliminate minor pedestrian and cyclist infractions such as “jaywalking” or biking on the sidewalk, which, as Streetsblog has reported, unfairly target Blacks and other people of color.
  • design streets to be safer and therefore “self-enforcing” to compensate for the removal of police.

“For too long, we have shifted more and more roles to police officers, bloating their budgets while starving other public safety and public health programs of resources,” Lander said in a statement. “Traffic enforcement by police does little to achieve safer streets, but brings with it the risk of racial profiling and escalatory violence. Mayor de Blasio continues to spend $11 billion on policing, but he has failed to provide the mere $1.6 million to implement the [Reckless Vehicle] act. We have better tools to reduce crashes, save lives, and prevent thousands of injuries every year.”

The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday night, but issued the following statement on Sunday:

“The NYPD will continue to work with the City Council toward our shared goal of enhancing public safety. This department remains committed to the safety of all New Yorkers and fostering stronger relationships with each community we serve. We disagree with the Councilman’s recommendation to cease conducting traffic enforcement.”

Advocates disagreed with the NYPD, and hailed Lander’s proposal.

“The vision of a data-driven, highly automated, restorative approach to enforcement of dangerous driving violations, coupled with his plans to remove police from routine traffic stops and reform CIS, promises a future that’s both safer and fairer,” said Eric McClure, executive director of StreetsPAC.