City council members want to yank crash investigations from the NYPD and put them under the authority of the Department of Transportation — but both agencies railed against the idea on Wednesday.
Testifying via Zoom on Wednesday, DOT and NYPD officials hit back at the council bill, which they claimed would “effectively decriminalize vehicular deaths.”
“Shifting these investigations to DOT, an agency without specialized law enforcement expertise — at least in the first few years — could severely compromise prosecutors’ cases and lead to fewer convictions, effectively decriminalizing vehicular deaths and bringing fewer reckless drivers to justice,” DOT First Deputy Commissioner Margaret Forgione said.
“This bill would require… hundreds of new personnel, and would be a huge undertaking outside of our expertise at a time when the staffing of our essential operations is already strained.”
The bill, backed by Council Speaker Corey Johnson, would establish a unit within DOT with the “primary responsibility for investigating, analyzing and reporting on all serious vehicular crashes.”
DOT would be required to work “in coordination” with NYPD on investigations, but have final say on public statements and communications. The agency would also be tasked with recommending street redesigns based on its investigations.
Police officials, however, insisted that investigating should be left to actual cops.
“I think we’re going a little bit too far when we’re talking about peeling away, or law enforcement responsibilities, and starting to farm it out to other agencies,” NYPD legislative affairs chief Oleg Chernyavsky told council members.
“I don’t think that police officers should be under the direction of another agency,” he said. “Police officers should be under the direction of police department and police commissioner.”
NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad worked 374 cases last year out of more than 100,000 car crashes, leading to 74 arrests so far.
In 2019, the unit worked 349 cases leading to 110 arrests, officials said Wednesday.
Proponents of the bill jumped on those numbers to argue that the 26-person squad is understaffed and ineffective. Under DOT supervision, they said, the unit’s work would more directly influence street design, speed cameras and other policy initiatives intended to prevent crashes.
“The goal here is to save lives, reduce crashes, prevent injuries, and we could be doing that,” said bill co-sponsor Councilman Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn).
“The approach that CIS has taken has not gotten serious about that.”
All five New York City district attorneys are also opposed to the bill, they said in joint testimony submitted to the council.
Speaking at the hearing, Queens councilman Robert Holden called the proposal “another attack on NYPD and a giant waste of everyone’s time.”
‘It’s a fact that some crashes are criminal situations and police are the only ones qualified to investigate. There’s a chain of custody of evidence. Interrogating suspects, making arrests at the scene are all part of NYPD’s jurisdiction,” Holden fumed.
“I failed to see how anything under DOT would change.”