Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on October 21st, 2009 at 2:06 pm
When it comes to police enforcement of bicycle traffic laws or bicycle collisions, discretion is very important. If you've watched the recent bicycle traffic enforcement video produced by the Portland Police Bureau, you'll notice the concept figures prominently.
PPB Bicycle Liaison Officer Robert Pickett opens the video with this:
"This video is also meant to advise officers' discretion in bicycle enforcement situations. Discretion is an indispensable part of police work, as it allows officers to reasonably apply a written code to the huge variety of specific enforcement situations they encounter everyday. We expect officers to take the suggestions as advice, not as a mandate..."
Prior to the release of this video, Officer Pickett performed many informal polls to make sure an emphasis on discretion would be palatable to the community. At our Get Together events, at Bicycle Advisory Committee meetings, and at other gatherings, he would pose a scenario to everyone and then ask them to vote.
The scenario went something like this:
Suppose you're the Captain and you have to respond to a citizen complaint about people running a stop sign in a neighborhood. When you send out your officers, would you tell them to give everyone a ticket for not stopping according to the precise letter of the law, or, would you advise them to use their discretion and only cite the worst offenders?
Over the several times I observed Pickett pose this scenario, the votes always came in overwhelmingly for discretion as opposed to going by the book.
However, there's something much more important than discretion when it comes to fair and equitable enforcement of laws -- perspective.
While it's imperative to have officers that can use their best judgment when assessing fault or deciding on a course of action at the scene of an incident, it's also essential that their discretion is informed by a balanced perspective.
In Portland, very few police officers have experienced the streets from the seat of a bicycle. Several years ago, while on a ride-along with the (now defunct) Southeast Portland Bike Patrol Unit, officers told me that only "a few dozen" officers (out of over 900 total) have done bike patrol. Since then, due to continued budget woes and a precinct consolidation, there are even fewer bike patrol officers.
Bike-mounted officers are one thing, but separate from that, we need to get more cops on bikes more often as part of their standard training (whether they become bike patrol officers or not).
All police officers know what it's like to drive a car and to walk around our city. We'd all benefit if many more of them knew what it was like to ride a bike. If we expect and encourage police officers to use their discretion, we should also encourage them to experience the streets from all perspectives -- including from the saddle of a bicycle.Email This Post Possibly related posts
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