Nearly three years into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, the NYPD still struggles to hold fatal hit-and-run drivers accountable for their actions.
According to new stats released by the NYPD, only 13 arrests were made after 38 deadly hit-and-runs in the 2016 financial year. In 22 instances where someone was seriously hurt, just 14 arrests were made.
Compared to the NYPD’s clearance rate for murders (where suspects are rarely, if ever, apprehended on site), the NYPD made 308 arrests for 335 incidents of murder and non-negligent manslaughter in 2015, an arrest rate of 86 percent.
The new data was made available for the first time through the Justice for Hit and Run Victims Act, a piece of legislation passed by Queens councilman Jimmy Van Bramer earlier this year.
“[The] NYPD has failed to make an arrest in more than 90 percent of cases where a driver has hit a person with their car, then left the scene,” Van Bramer told the Voice. “That is an outrage. If you hit someone with your car and then drive away, it’s a crime and should be treated as such. We must do a better job of investigating, arresting, and prosecuting in these cases, otherwise we’re letting dangerous drivers get off scot-free.”
But even when dangerous drivers remain at the scene of the crash, the NYPD still remains reluctant to issue them summonses for unsafe driving or use the Right of Way Law, which gives police more latitude to charge drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians and cyclists.
In the days following a week where New York City saw five people killed by drivers, two more pedestrians have been added to 2016’s already elevated death toll. In both instances, no arrests were made by the NYPD.
On Friday, 43-year-old Carmen Puello was crossing a street in the University Heights section of the Bronx when a school bus made a right turn from the center lane, striking her in the crosswalk and running her over. The driver remained on scene as police and EMTs arrived, however no summons or citations were issued and they were allowed to drive away. Ms. Puello died of her injuries shortly after.
On Sunday evening, a 79-year-old man was killed in Flushing while crossing Northern Boulevard. The police reported he was crossing against the light when he was struck, and the driver was allowed to also leave the scene without a summons.
Both of the crashes are now in the hands of the NYPD’s Highway Patrol Collision Investigation Squad, which will determine whether there’s sufficient criminality involved in the crashes to warrant charges.
The stats become even more grim for individuals who received non life-threatening injuries from hit-and-run drivers — of the 5,006 people injured, the NYPD made just 423 arrests. Those injuries are investigated by Detectives from local precincts, and not the Collision Investigation Squad.
This is meant to focus the Collision Investigation Squad only on the most serious of crashes, explains City Hall spokesperson Austin Finan.
“Putting CIS investigators on [non life-threatening] cases would come at the expense of fully investigating hit and runs that seriously injure or take a life,” Finan told the Voice. “Targeting the most severe cases and the worst offenders is the way to make our streets safer.”
This reasoning would seem to contradict the philosophy of the NYPD on non-traffic related matters, where quality-of-life policing has led to the targeting of anyone breaking any laws (no matter how minor) in an effort to stem more serious crimes in the future.
So far, there’s been zero progress by the NYPD in the case of Matthew Von Ohlen, who was killed in early July when a car intentionally ran him down, even after the NYPD recovered the black Camaro that killed him.
“There’s been no arrests and the investigation is ongoing,” an NYPD spokesperson told the Voice.