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DA Eric Gonzalez creates Street Safety Bureau to prosecute traffic fatalities

July 17, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced on Thursday that his office has created a new Street Safety Bureau that will assist the NYPD with investigating traffic collisions.

The bureau will place an emphasis on protecting cyclists and pedestrians and will respond to the scenes of serious collisions quickly to coordinate support services for victims and families.

“We must do all we possibly can to battle traffic violence in Brooklyn to decrease the number of cyclists and pedestrians who are killed and maimed by drivers,” Gonzalez said. “With my new Street Safety Bureau, we aim to achieve that in a number of ways: adding resources to assist in collision investigations early on, partnering with advocates on safety initiatives and working with legislators to improve vehicular laws.”

Gonzalez’s office acknowledged that cyclist and pedestrian fatalities are down so far in 2020 compared to the same time period last year. However, he cautioned that those numbers are likely lower due to there being fewer cars on roads during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“We need to invest resources and shift our focus regarding these cases – they are often not accidents but preventable tragedies, caused by dangerous, reckless and unlawful driving,” Gonzalez said. “Now more than ever, as vehicular traffic in the city is expected to increase in light of the pandemic, protecting all who use our streets is paramount.”

The bureau also plans to work directly with state and city legislators to assist in drafting and revising bills to combat vehicular violence, attend Safety Board meetings and host regular meetings with traffic safety advocates.

Craig Esswein, left, will serve as the bureau chief of the Street Safety Bureau. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

“Traffic violence is an epidemic which impacts thousands of New Yorkers every year, so we are pleased to see that Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez’s new Bureau will refocus efforts to not only prevent reckless driving, but to also provide a new model of support for crash victims and their loved ones,” said Danny Harris, executive director of Transportation Alternatives.

The effort to get prosecutors involved earlier in the process is similar to the way the DA’s Office handles homicide cases. Once the NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad is sent to a scene, the Street Safety Bureau will send a prosecutor there. They will assist police in identifying evidence, speaking to witnesses, documenting relevant information, drafting warrants and making initial contact with victims and their families.

The DA’s Office said that, when appropriate, it will send a social worker from its Victim Services Bureau to hospitals and will provide services, whether or not the incident becomes a criminal matter.

Holding drivers accountable for cyclist and pedestrian deaths has been an issue that Brooklyn Councilmember Brad Lander has pursued for years. He helped to sponsor the “reckless driving initiative,” a pilot program that will last three years and will require drivers who get five red light camera summonses or 15 speed camera violations in one year to complete a safety course.

“Dangerous drivers with long records of recklessness and speeding often face little accountability for their harmful behavior,” Lander said. “I am encouraged that the new Street Safety Bureau will center victims of dangerous driving and partner with street safety advocates and criminal justice reformers to develop new metrics and strategies for preventing traffic violence.

“By gathering information at crash sites and making data available about the most harmful driving patterns, this Bureau has the potential to break new ground in street safety and driver accountability.”

The bureau also plans to hold outreach events in neighborhoods of Brooklyn that have seen high levels of vehicular violence, and it will meet on a regular basis with advocates and other neighborhood stakeholders to discuss strategies to improve safety.

The recently-appointed Deputy Bureau Chief Ronald Snyder, who Gonzalez referred to as an avid cyclist, will serve as a liaison with the cyclist community, and Assistant District Attorney Craig Esswein will serve as the chief of the Street Safety Bureau.

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