Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

We need to resolve to make Peekskill transparently safer in 2024

Rollover on Route 9 southbound lane Dec. 13. (Photo by Dave Kempter from Kempter’s Fire Wire.)

Every day in Peekskill I witness speeding, flagrant disregard for basic traffic laws and signage, and a general culture of reckless driving which leaves me wondering: is the Friendly Town a safe town?

The answer isn’t obvious, because Peekskill certainly isn’t a transparent town. 

Neighboring towns like Croton and Yorktown both have public police blotters where citizens can easily learn what incidents police are responding to.

Editor’s Note: Over the past several months, the Peekskill Herald has made informal requests to the Peekskill Police Department asking for access to the police blotter. The Department has not responded to these requests.

However, the Department has complied with specific requests through the state Freedom of Information process but that information is delayed by weeks and is not timely. 

According to the state’s Department of State Committee on Open Government, the police blotter should be available to the public with reasonable restrictions. Regarding a ruling in a FOIL request several years ago, the Committee wrote “In sum, I believe that the blanket denial of your request was inconsistent with law and that the identity of a person arrested, as well as other details, must be disclosed.” The Herald will continue to pursue access to the Peekskill police blotter. 

New York City takes government transparency further with its Open Data website which provides citizens with instant access to a vast amount of data from every city agency.

One eye-opening stat from NYPD’s data dumps is that in October of 2023 (the last available report) more New Yorkers were killed in motor vehicle collisions than by homicide (26 vs 22).

Comparing non-fatal injuries from car crashes with felony assault during the same month reveals an even larger delta: 4,946 people were injured in crashes versus 2,332 people injured in felony assault.

This is true nationally as well. According to the CDC, in 2021 there were 26,041 homicides nationwide and 45,404 deaths due to motor vehicle collisions

You may think this is comparing apples and oranges, but the data shows that when it comes to physical safety, you are simply more likely to die or be hurt in a car crash than by murder or assault. In my mind, safety is safety. And when you consider that most homicides and assaults take place between people who know each other, but car crashes are typically random and between strangers, the stats are even more frightening.

Accident on South Street, image grabbed from Facebook.

Plus, the data shows that many car crashes are also the result of law-breaking behavior: speeding, failure to yield, disregarding traffic signals, road rage, and driving intoxicated. So even though we euphemistically call almost all car crashes “accidents” they’re often the result of criminal negligence if not outright intentional criminal behavior.

Now’s a good time to point out that according to the CDC the #1 cause of death for people between the ages of 1 and 24 is motor vehicle collisions.

Accident scene on Main Street near Bank Street.

That’s right. Nationally, the biggest threat to our youth is not guns, drugs, social media, global warming, critical race theory, processed foods, or any of the other headline grabbers… it’s our transportation system.

And as a newish-dad, this hits home in the worst way.

My gut tells me that what’s true in New York City and nationwide is also true in Peekskill, but unfortunately, the hyper-local data is simply not shared.

Despite the lack of hard data, my sense is that reckless, unlawful driving is our greatest safety threat here in the 10566. If a crash is tragic enough, local media sometimes picks it up and in the last half decade there’s been a handful of deaths and injuries within our city limits that have made the local news — a few in just the last year.

Plus we’ve had plenty of eyewitness accounts of wild crashes (cars flipped over on residential streets, cars crashing into residential homes) and horror stories of near misses and close calls. 

None of this replaces real data, but it’s the best we have at the moment. 

There was a brief period in late 2022 when an app called Citizen was introduced in Westchester. The app is essentially an automated transcription service for emergency radio transmissions and it revealed a near-constant stream of motor vehicle collisions in Peekskill’s city limits until the data stream was abruptly turned off in early January of 2023. But in that short time, many local citizens were shocked by the sheer volume of incidents.

Screenshot from now defunct Citizen app.

We need to bring back that kind of open transparency so that the shock can turn to action. The citizens of Peekskill deserve to know what the greatest risk to our safety is so that we can act accordingly to ensure we are allocating our limited resources in the most effective way possible.

Image from City of Peekskill Planning Department’s  safe streets grant application presentation.

I know that with that type of data available, and the resulting public outcry, our civic leaders will put in the necessary work to address the problems that are revealed, just as they’re doing for issues like stray shopping carts, litter on our streets, and overcrowded housing units.

We live in the heart of the information age. The tools to track, manage, and share data are easier, cheaper, and more accessible than they’ve ever been. Let’s make 2024 the year we open up Peekskill and be transparently honest about how we can make Peekskill a safer place for everyone.

Frederick Dennstedt writes from Ringgold Street.