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Cops Are Learning How To Charge Drivers Who Break Laws

A Highway Division officer investigates Sunday's serious crash in Bensonhurst before making an arrest
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A Highway Division officer investigates Sunday's serious crash in Bensonhurst before making an arrest

A police officer is much more likely to arrest a turnstile jumper than a driver who kills or maims a pedestrian, in part because that officer does not know how to correctly apply the law. This will soon change, according to NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, who told Streetsblog that the department is in the process of instructing all 35,000 uniformed officers how to charge drivers with a misdemeanor for violating the right of way.

Previously, the NYPD did not even bother looking into crashes in which a pedestrian was not killed or likely to die. Those few investigations that did take place were conducted by the understaffed Collision Investigation Squad, which took the unique step of contacting the DA's office at the outset of every investigation not involving alcohol, an extraordinary practice considering how many misdemeanor arrests occur in New York City without this extra step. Making the charges stick was seen as tricky.

But in June of this year, Mayor de Blasio signed a package of Vision Zero laws that made failing to yield to pedestrians and cyclists a misdemeanor offense. Precinct level officers, not members of the CIS, respond to the majority of collisions, and it is up to them to enforce the new law.

Streetsblog asked Chan about how this would happen.

"We’re working with our police academy, and we’re taking a look. Because we have a large [department] — 35,000 officers are going to be doing the enforcement on that area — it’s not only on the level of CIS. We want to make sure that they have the proper guidance and the proper protocol for that," Chan said.

He added that the department's legal bureau—whose representative admitted last year that she "[doesn't] know this area of law at all"—is working with the DA to develop accurate training standards.

"It’s a very important law that will make an impact out there," Chan said. "Again, with 35,000 people, we don’t want to get variations, different interpretations, and that’s part of why it’s important for us to make sure we get our people on board and get it done correctly."

This past weekend, the NYPD Highway Division arrested Carlo Failla for hitting and critically injuring a pedestrian in a crosswalk in Bensonhurst, charging him with failure to yield and failure to exercise due care.

Last month, 82-year-old Sui Leung was the crosswalk on Elizabeth Street and Kenmare when she was struck and killed by a van driver turning left. Leung had the right of way. To date, no charges have been filed.

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