NYPD Promises More Transparency on TrafficStat

As part of his continued push to increase transparency in the New York Police Department, Commissioner Bill Bratton announced on Tuesday that the department will open up TrafficStat to more city agencies. The reforms are aimed at meeting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero goal of zero traffic fatalities.

TrafficStat was created in 1998 using the same model as CompStat, which tracks a wide range of crime statistics, including murder rates, shootings and rapes in a particular precinct, all of which can be accessed online. TrafficStat, which compiles data regarding traffic accidents from both NYPD and the Department of Transportation, cannot be found online. In 2011, following a law passed by the New York City Council, the NYPD began releasing moving summonses and vehicle collision data, but not all of the data kept in TrafficStat.

Bratton said the first priority will be to open the TrafficStat data to all agencies involved in Vision Zero, including the NYPD, the Department of Transportation, the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

“The department also has significant computer capabilities that we are able to share with our colleagues to get our information out to them as they work on their portion of the plan,” Bratton added.

The commissioner said that there was no deadline for when the TrafficStat data would be made open. He gave few details, deferring to his new head of the NYPD Transportation Bureau, Chief Thomas Chan, who was not made available for interviews. City & State requested an interview with Chan through the department’s deputy commissioner for public information, who did not immediately respond.

While de Blasio has invited collaboration with community boards and advocacy groups in order to help coordinate his Vision Zero plan, it is unclear if the new data will be made available beyond the limited number of city agencies. It is also unclear whether the weekly TrafficStat meetings, held at police headquarters, will be opened to the public. Typically the meetings are by invitation only; As traffic fatalities have climbed in recent years, advocates have pushed for invitations, to no avail.

For Vision Zero advocates who fought the Bloomberg administration for the release of TrafficStat information, the news—while somewhat vague—seemed a welcome improvement.

“I think it is a good start. It is too early to say if it will work out well,” said Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “But the fact he knows the data is inadequate and seems to want to make it better, can’t be seen as bad.”

Paul Steely White, executive director at Transportation Alternatives, said this is another sign of improvement in transparency from the NYPD. He said the communication between the NYPD and his organization has been much better than his experience dealing with the previous administration.

The next evolution in data will be to get the NYPD to put the data in a more useable format. The CompStat data is released in PDF form, something that is data experts are able to use. White said they will speak with the NYPD about using a data-friendly format.

City Councilman Ben Kallos, who fought for open data laws prior to getting elected to the Council, said he will continue to push for a usable format.

“The data must be released in open data format so that members of the civic hacker community or anyone for that matter can have live access to that information, as soon as possible,” Kallos said.

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