Dangerous Police Car Chases Need Stiffer Punishments, Says NYPD Oversight Board
The Commission to Combat Police Corruption said that vehicle pursuits that cause harm should be treated the same as unjustifiable use of force.
As the number of NYPD vehicle pursuits surges to new heights, a police department oversight board is recommending tougher penalties that include termination for cops who conduct unauthorized chases or whose actions result in injuries or property damage.
The inherent risks of police vehicle chases came to the fore this week with two high-profile Manhattan incidents that injured pedestrians, including a crash near Grand Central Terminal Tuesday that left at least 10 bystanders hurt and another that one witness told THE CITY involved NYPD vehicles “doing probably 40 miles per hour” on a side street.
The Commission to Combat Police Corruption said in its annual report released last month that vehicle pursuits that cause harm should be treated the same as unjustifiable use of force.
The commission said that while the current maximum penalty — loss of 25 vacation days — is sufficient in most cases where an officer fails to make proper notifications about a vehicle pursuit, termination should be an option when there are aggravated factors.
Those include insufficient justification for a chase, not notifying a dispatcher before initiating one, injuries or property damage that result from one, or not terminating a chase when ordered to do so.
“Termination should…be explicitly applicable in unauthorized vehicle pursuits that result in significant but avoidable harm,” the commission wrote.
Marnie Blitt, executive director for the CCPC, said the commission’s recommendation came after its staffers anecdotally saw an increase in the number of NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau probes and disciplinary cases related to vehicle pursuits.
The group’s annual report on the NYPD’s handling of misconduct by police officers and supervisors was published shortly after THE CITY revealed that data showed cops reported initiating more than 600 vehicle chases in the first six months of 2023 — more than in the prior five years combined.
‘They Were Flying’
The NYPD patrol guide says that pursuits must be terminated “when the danger to the public and officers outweighs the potential harm to the community if the perpetrator is not immediately apprehended.”
In both of the dangerous Manhattan incidents Tuesday, NYPD officers tried to stop vehicles after license-plate readers alerted them the cars were allegedly stolen.
In Midtown, the driver of a Hyundai Tucson that had been reported stolen a day prior drove away from cops who tried to pull him over near 44th Street and Third Avenue.
Police officials said 20-year-old Kyle Fernandez drove the wrong way on East 44th Street before turning left on Lexington Avenue — crashing into a cyclist and two vehicles and mounting a sidewalk full of pedestrians near 42nd Street.
He was charged with a dozen counts of reckless endangerment and leaving the scene of an accident, as well as criminal possession of stolen property, resisting arrest and other charges, according to police officials.
An attorney for Fernandez didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cops also attempted to pull over the driver of a Honda Odyssey on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, but he similarly made a break for it — at some point striking and injuring a 66-year-old woman on the sidewalk on Broome Street, according to police.
That incident, first reported by the New York Daily News, ended near 23rd Street and Third Avenue with the arrest of 42-year-old Ansel Goolcharan — who was charged with reckless endangerment, assault, criminal possession of stolen property and other charges, according to police. Police said they later learned the license plate, not the vehicle, was reported stolen in June.
Records show the NYPD arrested a person with the same name in March 2014 at gunpoint following a nearly four-mile vehicle pursuit that ended in South Ozone Park. His attorney couldn’t immediately be reached to get comment.
While the NYPD characterized Tuesday’s pursuit of Goolcharan as “brief,” two witnesses near the route of action told THE CITY they saw multiple cop cars speeding down streets in what they said was a potentially dangerous way.
Edmund Dunn said he was walking home after work when he saw a slew of police cars right on the tail of a van that was speeding down East 15th Street near Irving Place on Tuesday afternoon.
The longtime Manhattan resident said it was the first police chase he’d ever witnessed.
“If someone was a pedestrian, they would have been dead,” Dunn, who said he’s in his 60s, told THE CITY. “They were doing probably 40 miles per hour at least on 15th Street – they were flying. All the vehicles.”
Shortly afterward on Madison Avenue and 26th Street — a few blocks away from where Goolcharan was arrested — another witness said he saw multiple police vehicles driving recklessly by Madison Square Park.
Zack, who asked THE CITY to identify him only by his first name, said he was walking with his 3-year-old son when they saw an emergency services SUV speeding the wrong way down Madison Ave before it met up with a police car coming the opposite way.
As a helicopter hovered overhead, an unmarked police vehicle sped east on 26th Street and “had to skid to a screeching stop” to avoid striking two women who were walking in the crosswalk on Madison Avenue, he said.
“There’s no time for pedestrians to react, or even process where the sirens are coming from, when they are driving that fast,” said Zack, 41. “This is completely unacceptable, I’m still furious about it. I can’t imagine any situation that would call for this, especially if it’s explicitly against department policy.”
As THE CITY has reported, the huge uptick in vehicle pursuits coincided with the NYPD’s appointment of John Chell to Chief of Patrol in December.
He has defended the NYPD’s strategy of going after all-terrain vehicles and cars with fake license plates, which account for a substantial portion of the stops made by police vehicles, because they contribute not just to street safety risks but also to robberies and other violent crimes.
On Thursday, Mayor Eric Adams defended the NYPD’s increased willingness to engage in vehicle pursuits.
“When you allow these guys to get away, they become so emboldened throughout the years that they say, ‘You know what, if you leave? The cops’ not going to go after us.’”
Adams said the shift in tactics has shown that when cops catch up to fleeing drivers, many of them have multiple fake license plates or weapons in their vehicles, or are part of a crime pattern.
“That’s why you saw this decrease in crimes. They were having guns in the car, patterns over and over again,” added Adams. “So there was a real lax approach to going after people, that we changed that whole dynamic.”
The NYPD didn’t respond when asked about the CCPC’s recommendation to boost the penalties for some vehicle pursuits.
The commission wants the higher penalties codified into the NYPD disciplinary matrix, a guide first implemented in 2021 that sets recommended penalties for dozens of infractions.
The department and Civilian Complaint Review Board have a mutual agreement to seek the presumed penalty against officers who commit misconduct, and to explain any departures from the matrix in writing. The matrix can also be updated every year.
Former NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell proposed a number of changes to the matrix before resigning from the post in June, including lessening the penalty for infractions such as using offensive language.
NYPD officials didn’t respond when asked about the status of the proposed changes, for which the public comment period closed on June 18.