Last week I joined Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division officer Ron Hoesly for a ride-along.
Why go on a ride-along?
First and foremost is my ongoing desire to build good, working relationships with the cops (especially the Traffic Division). Whether you like them or not, I think our experience as cyclists will be much better if we continue to work with them, not against them.
Consider this; the Traffic Division writes the vast majority of bike tickets, they work bike parades, patrol Critical Mass, and they investigate bike crashes. As time goes on it’s inevitable that we’ll come together, and whether those moments are constructive or destructive is up to us.
OK, now onto the action.
After meeting with his team at roll call and hanging around the station for a bit, Hoesly and I took out an unmarked patrol car for a night on the mean streets of Portland.
Our first stop was in Southeast Portland to stake out a stop sign in response to a citizen complaint. After writing a few tickets to motorists, we noticed a young girl on a bike blow right through the intersection. By the time we caught up to her she had pulled into her driveway and her mom was out front.
It turns out the girl was just 12 years old. Hoesly had a talk with her and her mom and they were both receptive and grateful for his concern.
Hoesly and I both have daughters (his are 8 and 14, mine are 1 and 3) so that girl’s carelessness really hit home.
We then drove out to 82nd and Powell and while Hoesly was writing up a guy in Escalade for turning left on a red light (the driver said the sun was in his eyes (sound familiar?)), I heard a call come over the radio. The dispatcher said,
“That guy that has been written up in the paper for harrassing ladies on his bike is at River City bike shop.”
I knew it was “that creepy cyclists named James” so I told Hoesly we should go check it out.
We pulled up to River City Bicycles and talked to the officer on the scene. She said “that guy named James” was indeed inside, but that there was nothing they could do (the D.A. is working on the case and trying to put together an arrest warrant for him). Just as I went to check things out, James had fled back onto the streets.
[For the latest on the unfolding James saga, visit this thread on the Portland Bike Forums.]
After a textbook speed enforcement mission on Highway 26 near the Zoo, we went back into downtown.
As we drove west on Burnside approaching Broadway, we looked up and saw a cyclist run the red light right in front of us. Hoesly pulled her over. When he asked her why she crossed on the red light she said,
“I thought that law was only for cars. I didn’t know it also applied to bikes.”
She said she just moved here from New York City about a month ago. She also didn’t have lights. I was embarrassed for her because we were in a high-traffic area of downtown and there she was, on her bike, getting pulled over by a cop.
It was surreal to be sitting on the other side of the windshield. I felt awkward, like I was on the wrong team or something.
Luckily, Hoesly is great at loosening up the mood. Within a few minutes, Hoesly and the woman were laughing at her driver’s license photo and carrying on like old friends.
I got out of the car to snap some photos and saw another friend on a bike nearby. Soon, there we all were, hanging out and discussing traffic safety, laws, and bike lights.
In the end, Hoesly gave her a warning and a free front light.
A few minutes later we were back in the car, onto the next stop.
If it sounds like Hoesly is a nice guy, it’s because he is. A family man with three kids, Hoesly is easy to talk to and quick with a smile. He’s a personable guy and he approached each stop with an open mind,
“Most of the time, when I stop someone, it’s an individual thing. If they are reasonable and honest they’ll have a much better experience. It’s all about common sense and attitude. When I’m dealing with people on the street, I just think about how I would want my own family to be treated.”
Common sense is something he brought up a lot. I consider it his core philosophy for traffic safety. For instance, he couldn’t believe how many cyclists ride at night without lights and don’t wear brighter clothing. “It’s just common sense,” he’d say.
Like the other Traffic Division officers I’ve met, Hoesly brings a sincere concern for traffic safety to his work.
My ride-along was definitely a worthwhile experience. It helped me further understand the cop’s perspective and it helped me realize is that each officer is an individual, with his or her own set of values and motivations for their work.
Does this mean all officers are as friendly and open as Hoesly? I doubt it. But then again, I haven’t met all of them so it’s hard to say.
I realize that things aren’t always peachy between cyclists and cops. Open wounds remain for some and there is still work to be done to help them better understand things from our perspective (and vice versa). My hope is we can move forward as partners, not adversaries.
If I’m going down the wrong path, I hope you’ll set me straight.