Police killing of Daunte Wright renews call to get NYPD out of traffic enforcement

traffic safety
The DOT and the NYPD pushed the Dusk to Dawn program as more people will be traveling in the dark. Highway cops stand near billboard calling on drivers to slow down. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

The death of Daunte Wright at the hands of a Minnesota police officer on Sunday — a Black man killed in the middle of a traffic stop — is rekindling the older debate in New York City as to whether the NYPD should continue conducting traffic enforcement in the five boroughs.

Brooklyn City Councilman Brad Lander released a plan in November alongside Queens City Council candidate Tiffany Cabán to remove NYPD from the task as well as crash investigations with the aim to bring these duties under the purview of the city Department of Transportation, similar to a notion going back to the George Floyd demonstrations last summer.

“No one should die over a traffic stop,” Lander said. “Daunte Wright, Allan Feliz, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile — we’ve seen over and over again how pre-textual stops are used to racially profile and quickly escalate into deadly violence. Traffic enforcement by police does too little to achieve safer streets. With smarter use of data and a preventative approach we are piloting here in NYC, we have better ways to address reckless driving and traffic violations that will prevent crashes and save lives.”

Lander’s Reckless Driver Accountability Act, passed by the city council in early 2020 formally creating the Dangerous Driver Abatement Program, has yet to get off the ground as the de Blasio administration has not provided funding since the advent of the COVID-19 crisis.

After nearly a year on the back-burner, Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed to fund the program in the upcoming budget.

Automated enforcement, for example, is preferred among motorists as a recent poll from Transportation Alternatives shows that 73% of drivers would prefer to get a ticket in the mail instead of being stopped by NYPD.

Manhattan Councilman Mark Levine reacted to the death of Wright by calling for the greater punitive authorities separate from NYPD’s discipline measures such as giving the Civilian Complaint Review Board power to handle police accountability.

“Just yesterday it was revealed that the NYPD failed to turn over records related to a botched no-knock raid, complete with a false arrest and unnecessary trauma inflicted on a family of six,” Levine said Tuesday. “In the City Council, we have been forging ahead with crucial accountability measures, including passing an historic repeal of qualified immunity. But we have much more work to do… This includes pushing to give the CCRB full power to mete out discipline for officer misconduct–without the ability of the police commissioner to overturn their recommendations.”

Kim Potter, the police officer of 26 years on the force was identified in the killing, shot Wright, 20, claiming it was a tragic mistake — she said she used her sidearm when she meant to use her Taser.

Wright’s death took place about 10 miles from where George Floyd was killed in May 2020.