What would you ask the cops?

Posted by on November 7th, 2005 at 12:23 pm

I’ve been having all sorts of internal struggles with my feelings about cops lately. Part of me is holding onto my long-held distrust of them and my feelings that they just “don’t get” cyclists and therefore treat us with negative bias. I’ve had my confrontations with them on Critical Mass and have generally not cared much for them in the past.

But another part of me says maybe it’s time to bury the hatchet. As I’ve talked directly with them and with other people in the bike community whose opinions I respect, I’m starting to think they might make better friends than foes.

In case you haven’t noticed, the cops have been doing great things for the bike community lately, real “extending the olive branch” kind of stuff. To learn more about some of them, read this recent comment by PDOT employee and traffic safety guru Greg Raisman.

So tomorrow I’m meeting with Bill Sinnott. Bill is the Commander (head cheese) of the Traffic Division of the Portland Police Bureau. I called him on Friday to introduce him to my site and ask about his undercover bike missions. We talked about all sorts of stuff. He said a lot of positive things (believe me, I was analyzing his words!) and I actually think there’s a chance that someday he and/or one of his officers will start commenting or even contribute some content to this site. That would be very cool.

Getting the cops’ perspective on certain issues could be very productive. Sort of like how I posted this letter from a truck driver’s perspective over the summer.

But that’s down the road. For now, we thought we’d just meet and talk. Sinnott said he would grab another officer and give me some time to ask questions…sort of like an interview, and that’s where I need your help.

If you could sit down with the cops and ask them a question, what would it be?

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FrankAdams Carroll (News Intern)Jeff S.SheldonAyleen Recent comment authors
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Michael
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Michael

1 – Do something about red light running motorists. As a cyclist and pedestrian I am threatened with these reckless idiots daily and there seems to be virtually zero done about it. (Bikers are at fault here, too, but their weapons are much less lethal.)

2 – Do something about speeders for the same reasons. Speeders are second only because they are more predictable than red light runners.

3 – Drop the police sponsored bike lighting program. If they need a PR program, do it with cadets, or reserve, or volunteers. We would all benefit much more if more police time was spent on numbers 1 & 2.

I earnestly believe that traffic law enforcement begets a more generalized respect for or lack of respect for the law. As a kid in the 50’s and 60’s I recall riding with my parents and the various laws were nearly universally obeyed because if you didn’t, you got a ticket. You really did get a ticket. 5 MPH over? You got a ticket. It was astounding to see a red light run by anyone. A kid who grew up with this certainty that the law prevailed, even in such “trivial” matters, had a firm belief that the system actually worked and that the law was basically fair and consistently enforced.

In the past few years way too many drivers in Portland have become reckless and dangerous far beyond all acceptability. This is a huge issue that affects the quality of life here, not to mention the lives and limbs of anyone who uses our public thoroughfares.

Again, for emphasis, something has got to be done about the red light running. It is absolutely horrible.

H
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H

I would ask him: Would you please have your bike-riding officers and parking enforcement officers stop riding on sidewalks in downtown Portland? It’s setting a bad example, and is wholly unnecessary.

Michael
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Michael

PS – I would like to share an idea of how I saw cops handle traffic citations on a massive scale on a visit to Paris. It appeared to be a very effective way to nail a large number of violators with few police and no chasing. It was so fascinating that I had to hang out and watch for a while.

At a busy location there were a couple cops standing on the sidewalk along the street. No cars, just the cops in uniform. One had a hand held radar. They were not highly visible, but not concealed, either. Their job was to observe for violations and get details about the car license, etc. When they had someone nailed, they simply radioed the info to another group of police about a block or so further down.

The second group of cops had a larger operation. When a violator was reported by the observer cops one of the second group began to wave down the traffic to slow down. They did this before the violator was actually there. They then stopped all the traffic just ahead of the violator. The violator was immobilized by the other stopped cars and did not yet realize it was he who was nailed. One cop then walked out to the the violator’s car and personally escorted him and his car to a nearby cordoned off off-street parking area. Once out of the traffic, the violator was cited along with a bunch of others. There were so many waiting for tickets they were waiting in line for them.

The whole thing was so civilized and sensible as to be amazing. It was a very safe way to get a lot of violators cited with few cops. It involved no chasing and blocking of lanes as we do here. It also made quite an impression on the other motorists passing by.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

I’d ask what plans were in place for investigating and prosecuting drivers who struck bicyclists in non-lethal accidents. It seems that most of the time, this is settled outside of the legal system (insurance or just not at all), and I’d like to know if there will be more police involvement in the future in accidents with a bicyclist injury where street laws were broken.

In response to the sidewalk thing, I got on my bike downtown a few weeks ago and needed to go one block west to get on the street I needed. Instead of walking, I rode slow up the sidewalk against traffic (I know, bad form) and was passed by a policeman also riding the sidewalk who said as he passed me: “riding on the sidewalk is illegal downtown, you need to be on the street. I couldn’t help laughing right at him.

Michael
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Michael

Sorry to hog the space here, but bikes on sidewalks downtown is another issue. I was walking near the county courthouse when I was nearly knocked over by a bike messenger on the sidewalk. He got off to enter the courthouse. I asked him to please not ride on the crowded sidewalks. He responded with a crazy tirade that seemed like he was trying to provoke a fist fight with me.

Downtown bike messengers are very visible. Their numbers and behavior makes them stand out from the better behaved cyclists. Too many motorists and pedestrians get the wrong ideas about cyclists in general from the relatively few bad apple messengers.

I think the general bicycle community would benefit by the cops reigning in the abusive messengers.

Dan Porter
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Dan Porter

I would actually ask the police to treat bicyclists the exact same way as motorists. I’d expect to get a ticket if I went through a red light regardless of what vehicle I’m riding.

In my daily (bike commute) I feel like I am seeing worse & worse bike riding behavior – Almost as if the “bad apples” are influencing the rest of the cyclists on the road.

Nothing infuriates me more as a daily commuter than to be patiently waiting at a stop sign/light etc, only to have another cyclist ride up and around me (and the cars) and blow through the sign/light like it wasn’t there.

The funny thing, is that I usually catch them at the next block. Running a stop sign doesn’t make you fast, it just makes you dead.

Andy
Guest

I’ve never been on a Critical Mass ride but in my history of bike riding I’ve always found the police to be very lenient with and observant of cyclists. The biggest “confrontation” I’ve ever had was being yelled at by a cop in a speedtrap waiting for cars. I was going 15 over so he suggested I slow down, but that was all.

I’ve also had plenty of encounters back in my Hans Rey wannabe days where I was asked not to ride on this property or that picnic table or those stairs, but there was never beef.

I suppose a lot of it is how you handle the situation. An event like critical mass is intended as a confrontation. It’s a necessary event but it really is like starting out a conversation by calling someone a name.

I think this conversation will be good, and the bike decoys sounds like a great idea.

Tony
Guest
Tony

I’m a daily commuter and run my fair share of red lights. I used to do it very rarely (I’m in a downpour and there are no cars in sight, that sort of thing). But 3 years ago I was struck by a a car that ran a redlight. Plenty of witnesses, no question as to what happened. But the responding police officer refused to cite the driver and then proceeded to get on MY case because I had the gaul to be upset about it. It was “standard procedeure” I was told. So later in the day I called the precinct and was informed that indeed it was standard procedure. I would have to go to the emergency room for the driver to be cited.

So there you go. Straight from the cops’ mouths. The rules are there to bust us but not to help us. Well guess what, you can’t have it both ways officers and if you are upset by how we behave, you are merely reaping what you’ve sown.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t rail through red lights, but I’m not going to sit there at 9:30 at night, waiting when there isn’t a car in sight.

Just get over it. Bikes aren’t cars. They don’t weigh 3,000 pounds and in my entire life I’ve only heard of 2 people getting killed by bikes. Yes that’s 2 too many, but it does hint at the essence of the larger picture.

Same rules for bikes and cars? It’s like expecting some mom & pop laundromat to abide by all the accounting rules and regs that apply to Enron and GE. It does nothing to acknowledge the much greater potential for death and destruction that motor vehicles have over every human-powered user of public space.

My own personal credo? Pedestrians rule. Human powered transportation yields to pedestrians. All motor powered yield to the first two.

silken
Guest

Tell him to tell Officer Richard Storm that CHUNK 666 wants the video footage of our December 31, 1999 ride back. Y’know, the one where they detained 11 or so of us and confiscated upwards of $600 worth of fireworks.

organic brian
Guest
organic brian

Yes, ask him if they can use some of those resources they’re wasting to babysit Critical Mass to patrol traffic in neighborhoods instead. I notice cars doing double the speed limit, every day, on SE Ankeny, SE Stark, SE Belmont, NE Killingsworth (whenever I’m out there), basically anywhere with a long distance between stop signs/signals, also a lot of running stop signs. Drivers seem to only signal to leave a curb or to park about 5% of the time, and often turn w/out signalling, open doors w/out looking, etc. Since most never get cited, I think drivers in this town are becoming extremely careless about traffic laws.

Ayleen
Guest

– Given that there are so many cyclists dying or getting injured from situations that do not seem like it is the cyclists’ fault, what is the PPD doing to increase the safety of our streets?

– What do we do when we’re almost hit by a car but not? I’ve heard different stories. Is there any way to alert the police that a dangerous driver is out there and may actually hit the next cycling he or she approaches?

– I was told that if someone is hit but not injured enough to go to the hospital, the police won’t come out to the scene even if they car driver is there. Why is this not considered something like reckless driving? Shouldn’t hitting someone be enough to write a ticket? In one case, my coworker was thrown over the hood of the car.

– It seems like all of these types of incidents are not being recorded and should be if we’re to have accurate crash data. Is there a way to report such incidents so they will be “counted”?

Sheldon
Guest
Sheldon

You all make some good points, but it is probably worth noting that the police aren’t necessarily discriminating against cyclists in these accidents. Even if only vehicles are involved the police won’t come to the scene unless a car needs to be towed or someone needs to go to the ER.

Jeff S.
Guest
Jeff S.

Some bicyclist behaviors that are illegal(e.g., treating certain stop signs as “yield” signs, stopping & proceeding through a red light at a quiet intersection at 11PM, riding slowly and cautiously on uncrowded downtown sidewalks) are not necessarily unsafe*. Other bicyclist behaviors — in fact, the same ones I just listed, among others — can be very unsafe.

How can the Police target enforcement efforts towards bicyclist behaviors that are truly dangerous, when the Law doesn’t distinguish subtle differences (subtle to a non-cyclist, anyway) in behavior? Is your rank-and-file cop able to make the distinction here?

* yielding at stop signs & proceeding through red lights after stopping is legal for bicyclists in the great State of Idaho, & has been for several decades. Riding on the sidewalk, with certain behavioral caveats, is generally legal in Oregon except where specifically prohibited.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Guest

Thanks for all the great suggestions…keep them coming.

Not sure how many I can bring up in the meeting…but I’m hoping to create an ongoing forum and space for these issues. Stay tuned.

Frank
Guest

How many murderers and rapists are currently going free while the Portland Police commits ~20+ cops every month to Critical Mass? How much does it cost taxpayers each month for the amount of officers that ‘patrol’ critical mass? Why are relatively small amounts of people patrolled by a couple dozen police officers when there are thousands of motorists that are not patrolled? Are people on bikes more apt to break laws than motorists? The numbers would say otherwise. Can we please get the numbers on how many crimes are committed by motorists compared to cyclists? If crimes committed by cyclists outweigh those of the motorists, I could at least partly see the point of view of the Portland Police. However, I doubt this is the case.