NYPD Now Taking Death-by-Car More Seriously

By
A New York Police Department emblem reading "POLICE DEPARTMENT, CITY OF NEW YORK" is displayed on the side of an NYPD Aviation Unit helicopter in Manhattan.February 1997, Manhattan, New York City, New York State, USA --- A New York Police Department emblem reading "POLICE DEPARTMENT, CITY OF NEW YORK" is displayed on the side of an NYPD Aviation Unit helicopter in Manhattan. --- Image by © Mark Peterson/CORBIS
Photo: Mark Peterson/Corbis© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

A citywide spike in traffic-related deaths — along with harsh criticism (and lawsuits) from cycling and pedestrian advocates because drivers usually get away with it — has resulted in a re-branding for the NYPD's Accident Investigation Squad, which is now known as the Collision Investigation Squad. "Everybody calls it an accident," an officer told the New York Times today. "But you find out that there may be criminality involved." Rarely, at least up to this point: Out of more than 200 pedestrians and bikers killed in 2011, just seventeen drivers faced charges. But they're working on it.

The unit granted ride-along access to Times reporter J. David Goodman in what appears to be an attempt at both highlighting adjustments to the system and responding to critics. For example, whereas the Accident Investigation Squad only showed up at a crash site if someone died or was likely to, "now, whenever a paramedic lists a patient as critical, Collision Investigation Squad detectives respond." (That way they can collect evidence in case a victim dies a few days later.)

Still, the detectives are managing expectations:

Inspector Ciorra, who starts every shift by reading Streetsblog, a Web site often critical of the department, pays attention to the complaints.

“Our goal in every one of these cases is to put someone in cuffs,” he said. But without an underlying crime — like drunken driving or leaving the scene — detectives have difficulty establishing the probable cause needed to inspect the car’s black box, where information about the driver’s behavior is stored. Speed alone is not enough, he said.

... Only in about 40 percent of cases will the device work with a given car’s computer system, often because the manufacturer will not allow access to the data. “That’s where these guys don’t understand,” Inspector Ciorra said of the squad’s critics.

Acknowledging the issue, at least, is a start.