The NYPD’s New Traffic Sleuths

Image Courtesy Andrew Hinderaker

Eight months ago, at the urging of Transportation Alternatives, the New York Police Department increased the size of its Collision Investigation Squad (CIS) by 50 percent and brought on a dozen new technicians. The results, according to testimony delivered at a recent City Council hearing, have been nothing short of staggering.

For decades, NYPD had only a handful of investigators trained in traffic-crash reconstruction. These are the specialists who can cut through the assumptions and he-said, she-said of eyewitness testimony and look at the hard facts—skid marks, debris piles, impact zones, injury patterns and much more—to paint an accurate picture of what actually happened in a traffic crash and, more importantly, whose actions led to the collision. For years, this staffing shortage left hundreds of life-changing crashes uninvestigated and thousands of police reports short of concrete details and filled with suppositions.

Last year, a series of high-profile T.A. actions forced Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to rethink his understaffed “Accident Investigation Squad.” In a lengthy letter to the City Council, he outlined a new vision for a bigger and more aggressive “Collision Investigation Squad” capable of making a real difference on New York City’s streets.

Last month, less than a year after the formation of that new unit, its commanding officers and an NYPD attorney delivered an update on the new squad’s impact to the City Council. According to Deputy Chief John Cassidy, Executive Officer of NYPD’s Transportation Bureau, the number of CIS investigations this year is already up 23 percent over last year. These efforts have led directly to the arrest of 20 dangerous drivers involved in fatal vehicle crashes.

Though these are significant gains, City Council members and advocates at the hearing, including Transportation Alternatives’ Executive Director Paul Steely White, insist there’s more that the NYPD can do to tame New York City’s Wild West streets and ensure that perpetrators of traffic crime are brought to justice.

“More thorough investigations means more justice—drivers who make fatal choices will be held accountable,” said White.

Back at T.A. headquarters, advocates are already making plans. “We worked with the Council for years to push the NYPD towards improving their traffic-crash investigation policies,” said Juan Martinez, T.A.’s General Counsel & Legislative Director. “And we’re already working with them to raise awareness about what the Police Department can do to prevent crashes with targeted enforcement, as well as what they must do to make sure law-breaking drivers who cause fatal crashes are brought to justice.”

“We’re looking forward to partnering with new Council Members and a new administration,” he added. “We need to ensure that no law-breaking driver eludes justice.”