Numerous reports of New York City car accidents, including some in this blog, have noted that the New York City Police seldom investigate accidents unless someone dies or is very likely to die as a result. This is beginning to change, according to a recent story in the New York Times.
The new approach was announced in a letter sent from the police commissioner to the City Council. In the letter, Commissioner Kelley announced that crash investigators will be called to the scene “when there has been a critical injury or when a Police Department duty captain believes the extent of the injuries and/or unique circumstances of a collision warrant such action.”
The changed proccedures have been in use but not announced for some time, according to departmental officials, and criminal cases have been opened in numerous instances. In the past, drivers who caused car accidents that resulted in catastrophic injuries might have received a speeding ticket or other citation.
The commissioner also announced in his letter to the City Council that he was increasing the size of the investigations unit. Procedural guidelines will be revised to provide guidance to officers responding to accidents.
The department will institute another change that may appear to be symbolic but has been requested by victim advocates for some time – the use of the word “collision” instead of “accident.” The investigative squad will be renamed to “Collision Investigation Squad.”
And in a symbolic change that some advocates for crash victims have long requested, the department will begin using the term “collision” instead of “accident” to describe car crashes, Mr. Kelly said. The squad itself will soon be renamed the Collision Investigation Squad.
“I think it will give us more information about what we can do when we design our streets,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner.
The departmental changes are in part a response to reports criticizing the department’s response to crashes. Some of the changes announced in the commissioner’s letter first appeared in City Council bills that called for the changes.
Several recent accidents drew attention to public concern over traffic safety. A six-year-old boy was hit and killed while on his way to school in East Harlem. Three days later, a hit-and-run driver caused the deaths of a newlywed couple and their unborn child in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
In the past, investigations have been delayed while the squad waited until the victim died. In some cases, several days elapsed, resulting in the loss of valuable evidence.
Source: New York Times, “After Criticism, Police Change Policy and Begin Investigating More Traffic Crashes,” Mar. 10, 2013.