Streetsblog: “If Police Don’t Take Traffic Violence Seriously, Vision Zero Will Fail”

In his latest Street Justice column, Steve Vaccaro discusses the NYPD traffic violence “law enforcement sieve” that fails to provide meaningful investigations of non fatal hit-and-run crashes.

Eight months in, Mayor de Blasio and his administration should be proud of how much has been achieved under the Vision Zero program. As an attorney and advocate for crash victims, my expectations were exceeded by the early progress in almost every area of this multi-agency initiative. There have even been noticeable changes at the police department — the one agency that historically has been most resistant to stepping up on street safety. But as shown by the Dulcie Canton scandal NYPD’s response has been inconsistent.

I have on many occasions encountered deeply held cultural biases among police against investigating traffic crimes. They don’t take them as seriously as other crimes. A “quality of life” crime like selling loosies is enough to trigger a fatal encounter under the broken windows program, but a naked act of aggression with a deadly weapon like the hit-and-run that could have killed Dulcie warrants attention only, as the detective put it to me, if police “have the time.”

Now that Administrative Code 119-90 is law, thousands of cases like Dulcie’s are misdemeanors — crimes — that require law enforcement resources and attention. This applies to crashes involving a failure to yield the right of way, even if the driver is sober and stays at the scene. Yet NYPD shows no sign it is even aware that this law took effect two weeks ago, and continues to let nonfatal traffic violence cases fall through the law enforcement sieve.

If NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton can “turn the Queen Mary” of police attitudes toward traffic crime, Vision Zero will be his lasting legacy. If he fails, Vision Zero may fail with him. But if he doesn’t even try to address this fundamental problem — and that is looking like a distinct possibility right now — it will be his and Mayor de Blasio’s disgrace.

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