Traffic scofflaws on the Upper West Side are receiving far fewer tickets from local precincts compared to the same pre-pandemic period, according to NYPD data on moving violation summonses.
During November-January, the 20th Precinct wrote 68% fewer tickets and the 24th Precinct issued 53% fewer, compared to those same three months in 2019-20. This is an even steeper decline than a similar comparison last fall where the 20th was down 37% and the 24th was down 34%. The most recent UWS drop is more pronounced than the 47% reduction in tickets recorded by NYPD citywide.
WSR pulled the NYPD data on tickets issued for some key offenses:
The reduction in traffic enforcement coincides with a sharp increase in traffic fatalities during 2021.
According to a Community Board 7 analysis, the UWS saw nine traffic deaths last year, compared to two in 2020, and four in 2019. Citywide, traffic deaths spiked to 273 in 2021, the highest since 2013, according to a Transportation Alternatives report. And nationwide, pedestrian deaths and reckless driving continue to climb, according to the New York Times.
Given this increased traffic violence, why is ticketing dropping so dramatically?
WSR has asked the NYPD, Capt. Neil Zuber of the 20th and Deputy Inspector Naoki Yaguchi of the 24th for an explanation. We have not yet received a response.
Residents should not be surprised if enforcement numbers plummet further, police sources tell WSR, thanks to a new form officers must fill out after every traffic stop.
As first reported in the New York Post, the NYPD now requires cops to record demographic information – race/ethnicity, age, gender – about each driver or biker stopped, whether a violation is issued or not.
The policy became effective January 1st after an amendment to Local Law 45 was passed last year by the City Council and is similar to the NYPD’s long-standing demographic data requirements for stopping pedestrians. Those records helped spur reforms connected to stop-and-frisk policing. Supporters of the new law expect driver data to illuminate any disparities in traffic enforcement.
“History tells us traffic stops are rife with racial and other profiling,” says Christopher Dunn, Legal Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “But it was invisible because [the data] wasn’t required to be recorded. Now we will know who is getting stopped.”
If stops happen, that is.
“You’d have to be crazy to do a traffic stop now,” one veteran cop told WSR, calling the new requirements another “attack” by groups “driven to prove bias” in policing. “It breaks my heart that people make it impossible to do the job,” he said.
Dunn finds that objection ridiculous. “Get another job. Police officers fill out paperwork all the time. If you don’t want to be accountable, if you don’t want to do the job, then do something else.”
Dunn says he doesn’t know what specific purposes the driver data may be used for in the future. “Typically, it’s used to help train and supervise police activities.” He says it’s “unlikely” that such data would be used in court to impugn an officer’s character in non-traffic cases.
“Greater data transparency benefits everyone,” says Olive Lu, Senior Research Associate at John Jay College’s Data Collaborative for Justice. With more stringent, complete reporting, “Policymakers and the [NYPD] can make more informed assessments of how policing strategies are working.”
While Lu believes the more data, the better, she does see a potential downside. “There’s a risk that people will spin [the data] in ways that aren’t entirely accurate, or will misuse or misinterpret it.”
Bottom line, Dunn says, “Removing accountability is not the way to improve traffic enforcement. Officers acting appropriately have no reason to fear this form. It will show that they’re doing their job properly.”
But another law enforcement source says the rank-and-file aren’t so sure. “I have no concerns about the quality of stops that have been made,” he said. “However, some cops may feel disincentivized moving forward.”
UPDATE: 2-15-22, 1:00 p.m.
Following publication, an NYPD spokesperson emailed WSR a statement outlining multiple traffic initiatives and achievements by the department.
“The NYPD conducts relentless follow-up in our quest towards achieving Vision Zero,” the statement said. “It should be noted that the NYPD has a finite number of resources, and the Department continually employs precision policing to traffic enforcement as a means to safety.”
An example: “The NYPD focuses on the data and over 50% of pedestrian deaths occur at intersections by turning vehicles. In 2022 the NYPD has issued 12% more summonses to drivers that failed to yield to pedestrians/cyclists.” On the UWS, the January 2022 data for “failure to yield” tickets does show an increase over November and December numbers, according to WSR’s analysis. The 20th Precinct wrote 20 such tickets in January compared to 8 in November and 10 in December. For the 24th Precinct, 102 failure to yield violations were issued in January versus 47 in November and 27 in December.
Regarding the new driver demographic data requirements, the statement said, “This information is required by law to be reported to the City Council as per local law 45 of 2021 enacted by the New York City Council. In order to comply with the law, we must collect the data. The City Council will evaluate this data.”
The statement also noted that, “During 2021, officers were assigned to patrol precincts to address specific violence related conditions. In order to address the spike in gun violence, the NYPD implemented a temporary transfer of police officers from various units, including the Transportation Bureau, to the ‘Summer All-Out Violence Reduction initiative.’ This was coupled with the assignment of members of the Transportation Bureau to the Bronx Violence Reduction initiative.” The statement did not specify if UWS officers were reassigned or whether these “temporary” staff shifts applied to the November-December 2021 period included in WSR’s analysis.