Big sale at Community Cycling Center

Police will join cyclists on Master Plan ride

Posted by on April 2nd, 2007 at 11:51 am

As part of the Bicycle Master Plan update process, city bike coordinator Roger Geller is leading monthly rides to survey what works and what doesn’t in our existing bikeway network.

On a bike-along in SE Precinct

Members of Southeast Bike Patrol
on Hawthorne Blvd.

Two officers, including Robert Pickett (a regular commenter on this site) from the Portland Police Bureau’s Southeast Bike Patrol unit (read about my ride-along with them) will join us for this month’s ride around northwest Portland.

Below is an excerpt from the memo Officer Pickett wrote to his commander asking for permission to join this ride (emphasis is mine):

The goal of the bicycle patrol for this ride is to enhance relationships and answer any questions the public or city officials might have about how the Police Bureau works, traffic laws and enforcement in general. In an effort to promote understanding and fearless exchange of opinions and questions, the bike patrol will NOT enforce traffic laws on the bicycle riders unless there is an extreme case in which a violation is clearly, patently, egregious and dangerous. In extreme cases, they may also enforce traffic violations if passing motorists commit violations that put the ride at risk.

I am glad to hear Officer Pickett (and his partner) will join us. However, we all know that the enforcement issues we’ve been discussing on this site have to do with Traffic Division officers. I wish we could have a similar opportunity to ride with them…

I’ve heard very good things about these rides and I plan to be there tomorrow. For more information, check out the official website and/or download the detailed route map (PDF).

Please support BikePortland.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Avatar
    N.I.K. April 2, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    Even with context, I can’t make heads or tails of this statement:

    In an effort to promote understanding and fearless exchange of opinions and questions, the bike patrol will NOT enforce traffic laws on the bicycle riders unless there is an extreme case

    Is this a jab at the cycling community’s penchant for being law-breaking rascals, or is it acknowledgment of the fact that there’s a lot of lee-way with interpretation of traffic laws coupled with a statement of “don’t worry, we won’t be citing cyclists on this ride for the stuff we wouldn’t throw against motorists 99% of the time”?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    JeremyS April 2, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    Nice, looking forward to it. As one of the very few NW-area riders, I’m ultra-intrigued….

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Attornatus_Oregonensis April 2, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    N.I.K., I cannot understand that statement either. Perhaps Mr. Pickett will clarify.

    Regardless of its intended meaning, it is completely unacceptable for a police officer to believe that he/she has sole discretion to decide whether to enforce the law based on his/her subjective determination of whether the violation is “an extreme case.”

    Apparently, Mr. Pickett believes there are two types of laws: Those applicable to people participating in master plan rides, and those applicable to everyone else.

    I guess the fact that you can apparently be cited for any violation, or no violation at all, most of the time, but only for “clear[], patent[], egregious and dangerous” violations during a master plan ride should be a great incentive for people to join…especially people who would like to know exactly what it takes for Mr. Pickett to decide that a violation is “an extreme case.”

    Once you acknowledge in writing that you enforce the law however you want and whenever you want you can no longer claim to be “just doing my job.” You also can no longer feign ignorance on why many reasonable people consider such enforcement decisions unfair.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    DK April 2, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    Since he’s apparently a “regular commentator” on this site, I would hope that ofcr. Pickett would chime in with answers to some of the on-going questions regarding the inconsistent law enforcement issues surrounding bike riders. I think he would be a good contributor, not only for the PPD, but for all us head scratchers.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Jonathan Maus April 2, 2007 at 1:10 pm


    Pickett has been very helpful in sharing his insights about the recent enforcement issues brought up on this site. follow the links in that 2nd to last paragraph of the story above.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Whiney McWinerson April 2, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    I think the point was that the ride was not about citing bicyclists, but about “… an effort to promote understanding and fearless exchange of opinions and questions.” How is it helpful to nitpick the semantics of such an memo? I think the point was that they were there for the community outreach event, not to cite bicyclist for minor infractions.

    I am glad bicycle officers are trying to reach out to the community and I’d like to foster and encourage such behavior. They could be an ally inside the police department for the bicycling community or at least a voice. Attacking everything they say won’t encourage them to continue such behavior.

    I do think you have a point, but I think you are in the wrong thread. It sounds like they are holding out a hand in cooperation, why is it so hard NOT to slap it away?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Jonathan Maus April 2, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    “I think the point was that they were there for the community outreach event, not to cite bicyclist for minor infractions.”
    I agree with Whiney.

    maybe the memo of the text can be mis-interpreted BUT, why take a negative tone to a police officer who wants to extend himself to make things better for bicyclists?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    N.I.K. April 2, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    I do think you have a point, but I think you are in the wrong thread. It sounds like they are holding out a hand in cooperation, why is it so hard NOT to slap it away?

    AO’s right here. The gist of the statement is that enforcement of the law is at the individual officer’s discretion: he doesn’t plan on citing any cyclists on the ride for any traffic violations unless his personal opinion qualifies a given violation as “extreme”. Beyond the “well then what ARE laws for?” gripe, and the possible (though hopefully not intended!) implication that most cyclists are just plain breaking the law all the time, this is just downright confusing. It’d be ridiculous for Officer Pickett to be riding along and suddenly call out, “Whoah there, buddy, you’re getting a little extreme!”, but something akin to this would almost be required considering that the definition of “extreme” is about as up for grabs as the definition of “common sense”.

    I appreciate Officer Pickett’s efforts and desire to get involved, and I think police participation in rides like this could indeed go a long way towards helping to repair relations between themselves and the cycling community. A little bit of clarity and consistency would be nice.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    citizen April 2, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    we get it. you’re an attorney. you went through fancy law degreement training. you like to nitpick. it’s like, your MO, AO. that said, please exercise restraint unless you have something constructive to offer. kudos to officer pickett for being a voice for pdx cyclists INSIDE the police department. i don’t see many other officers (though i suspect there are more) going above and beyond their job desecriptions to actively develop and nurture the police/cyclist dynamic. keep up the good work.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Donald April 2, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    Cheers to PoPo for working with the bike community. Jeers to AO (this time) for taking issue with the word over the spirit of this officer’s communication.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Attornatus_Oregonensis April 2, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    “maybe the memo of the text can be mis-interpreted BUT, why why take a negative tone to a police officer who wants to extend himself to make things better for bicyclists?”

    I’m really glad you asked. I don’t think it’s that the memo text can be *misinterpreted,* I think it’s that it reveals the cause of the entire problem here. The cause is that officers have too much discretion in deciding when to enforce laws and that they believe they have even more discretion than they actually do. It is this discretion/perceived discretion that is behind a great deal of our social problems, including police bias (including in Portland) against African-American citizens, police being able to avoid criminal charges after IMO murdering James Chase, police being able to use a personal bias against cyclists to exploit a loophole in the brake law, etc.

    I could go on and on with examples of how police discretion demonstrates a flaw in our legal system that allows individuals to carry forth personal biases into law enforcement and to thus perpetuate social inequity and outright criminal behavior on the part of police officers. I don’t think I have to, since I think, unfortunately, great examples of this occur quite regularly.

    If this abuse of discretion did not exist, then there would be little or no need “to enhance relationships” by going on infrastructure planning rides with citizens, because this is what has damaged the relationships in the first place. We would not have to have officers offering us a “fearless exchange” because citizens would have no reason to fear those who simply enforce the law. We only have reason to fear the police when they abuse their discretion and place themselves above the law.

    What you have just heard is an admission from Mr. Pickett that he has the discretion, or believes he has the discretion, to cite you for minor infractions or to ignore such infractions completely. Now that I’ve expressed my opinion on this issue, which option do you think he will choose when he looks at my ID? And do you think it will be different when he looks at your ID?

    I understand why you’re appreciative of how outreach efforts. BUT, I respectfully submit that (1) An “exchange of opinions and questions” with Mr. Pickett will do nothing to solve the underlying problem of police abuse of discretion (as you admit, he is not even a traffic division member) but will distract from public perception of the underlying problem by promoting the belief that police officers simply do all they can to address their negative image in the community; and (2) The energies of members of the PPB are better directed inwardly at working to keep fellow employees from abusing their discretion in ways that is harmful to the community (as discussed, the root cause of the problem).

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Attornatus_Oregonensis April 2, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    “[AO,] please exercise restraint unless you have something constructive to offer.”

    I have had this thought (and comment) many times for other posters, so I know where you’re coming from. I hope my post, #11, above, demonstrates a sincere attempt to be constructive. If not, please take me at my word that it is exactly that.

    Also, I have nothing against Mr. Pickett or any individual police officer. I’m happy to shake his hand, thank him for, as Jonathan put it, extending himself to help the cycling community, and to have a good ride with him. The tone was certainly intended to be negative, but I hope I’m never perceived as not engaging constructively. If so, I will re-phrase. I want to make Portland a better place for everyone to live, too, and I understand that sometimes reasonable people can disagree.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Dabby April 2, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    I was going to ride my Fat Chance Mt. Bike on the Tuesday ride, but maybe now I will ride my true track bike.

    Offer up a clinic in the true ability to stop…..with what is a true brake…..

    And, in regards to this officers other comments……

    You folks have read his postings as well as I have..

    You also know that he is not the one targeting cyclists, and you also know that he is not the higher up of the officers targeting cyclists…. So…

    Why don’t you leave him the hell alone?
    He is going, seemingly, out of his way to bridge the long and wide gap between Portland Police and our cycling community.

    We have also had many problems in the past in this town with statements by officers, and by higher ups, in regards to selective enforcement..

    In the 90’s during a town meeting, between messengers and police, and the mayor, and alot of others, a statement was made..

    In regards to messenger sidewalk usage, they decided we could ride on the sidewalk, and they would decide whether to give us a ticket depending on how we were riding on the sidewalk, basically left up to officer discretion….
    This was a big problem for many of us, and I ended up having to leave the meeting, during the course of defending our honor against selective enforcement….

    Officer Pickett’s remarks above do not appear to be due to a want for selective enforcement.

    It appears he is trying not to drive away from the ride those who would be worried about selective enforcement, ie, someone like me…..While still doing his job as an officer, and looking out for dangerous situations…

    His comments appear to be on the mark and just fine…..

    So, get over it, show up and ride…..

    I will…..

    Bringing it ’round the Turkey and into your living room,

    Dabby McCrashalot

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Jonathan Maus April 2, 2007 at 2:08 pm


    I appreciate the time and thought you take in your comments.

    I will think about them as I continue to write about this topic.

    Remember though, that police officers are not robots. Discretion in enforcing the law is unavoidable because they are humans that have feelings, biases, etc…

    These biases mean their conduct will not always be perfect. Just like you and I, they like and dislike certain activities and people more than others.

    Sure, they should be held to a higher expectation of objectivity than civilians, but we cannot expect perfection from them.

    Again A_O, I appreciate your comments. I have a longer article on this issue coming and I look forward to your ongoing input.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Jeremy April 2, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    As I read it, the root of AO’s argument above is that “…officers have too much discretion in deciding when to enforce laws and that they believe they have even more discretion than they actually do.” This is an interesting point.

    While law is concrete as written, it is still open to legal interpretation, both in its application on the street and execution in the court room. As I see it, in our current environment, the police have discretion to cite someone based on an officer’s individual interpretation of a specific law. Should this process instead be concrete? If so, what would an applicable scenario look like?

    I would like to know if people on this thread believe that law enforcement should be concrete and not open to individual officer discretion. I’m curious how such an environment would operate as it appears (based on dialog in this thread) that we live in an environment working opposite of this new paradigm. Should law and law enforcement be black and white?

    Both my opinion and argument on this subject are in development as I write this, so thanks for humoring me.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    DK April 2, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    Jonathan, my understanding of Picketts’ “commentator status”, was that he may pop in on this site from time to time and give us, especially those getting busted for rolling stop signs and other funny violations, some insight from his position as a cop. He seems to dig what he does, but how is it helping riders who are looking for answers to these daily unforseen predicaments?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    N.I.K. April 2, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    While law is concrete as written, it is still open to legal interpretation, both in its application on the street and execution in the court room.

    AO doesn’t seem to be talking so much about interpretation of law but rather selective enforcement…not “X body will decide what constitutes [debatable open-ended definition]”, but instead “X body will decide whether or not a given law is enforced.” This would be a cause for concern even with the mythical perfect law that doesn’t require any flexibility in context or room for interpretation in its language.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Sasha April 2, 2007 at 3:56 pm


    My read is that you are saying officers have too much discretion about how to apply the law, and thus people are often disenfranchised or their rights are violated improperly or unfairly as a result of said discretion.

    I would propose that some group needs to have discretion when applying the law. The alternative to that would be total equal application of the law, all the time, or no application.

    I don’t think reasonable people would agree to strict adherence to the law 100% of the time. It would in essence be a police state.

    I also said “group” specifically as the antithesis would imply a single entity, and thus a single viewpoint. You could argue that an officer in the field is in this position, but I would argue that they are not.

    Law enforcement is a de facto group unto itself. There is an entire study and field about how to apply the rule of law, in just the right amounts, to affect the appearance of societal compliance to the law. It’s about perception, and they recognize that. In essence, that is all that policing is. The perception of penalty for an action.

    I think it is important for Officers to exercise their own views and their own discretions when applying the law. It is not perfect, but it should not be. Indeed where it is imperfect it quickly bubbles up for the community to act on (see the legislation to rectify the fixed gear brake language). The discretion they are allowed is, at the end, still based on laws that citizens write or vote into power.

    If you do not accept 100% adherence or 100% dismissal of the application of law, then you are saying there needs to be an arbiter. If you do not want the Officer to be the arbiter, then who would you propose? The courts? Indeed, they are the arbiters of the process. That isn’t to say they’re free of their own problems, but that is their role.

    Maybe we should change how courts handle things so that they can be more effective arbiters? Maybe simple infractions should be de facto judged by the citing Officer because to bother the Arbiter with such a trivial manner (people are dying elsewhere) would mean a more important item would not get attention. That’s what we often do.

    So, AO, while I agree with the spirit of your complaint, you’re extremely long on complaint with a veiled hint of a solution… which actually looks very much like the system we already have.

    And while I appreciate your candor in clarification above, you still jumped on this memo with a bit more zeal that it really warrants. Indeed you are ignoring the intended audience of the memo entirely: Pickett’s boss. If I were his boss, it would be a valid question to know if he was going to the ride to enforce, or to outreach. They are not mutually exclusive, but the PERCEPTION of either is important to the ultimate audience: the Riders.

    Because policing is perception, a point you appear to be against (you tell me), Pickett’s memo is on the money.

    Apologies for errors, this is not spellchecked kind even sorta.


    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Donna April 2, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    So, I’ve been on the last 2 Master Plan rides. While on these rides, I had the opportunity to meet and become acquainted with Robert Pickett, private citizen and enthusiastic bikey guy. So now it sounds like he will be attending this next ride along with a colleague and in a work-related capacity. Big freakin’ deal. I imagine the major differences between the last 2 rides and this one will be that he won’t be drinking the beer with us after the ride is over, he’ll be wearing different clothes, he might have to do cop things if there’s a problem while on the ride, and he’ll actually be able to really answer all the questions we pestered him with that he had to dance around because he was off duty.

    The long and the short of it is that this bikey guy is also a Portland police officer. He is one of us, and his many of his values are consistent with our own. He is neither Barnum nor Balzer, folks. Cut this guy some slack, and at least give him the benefit of the doubt.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    PoPo April 3, 2007 at 1:15 am


    I should pay more attention on my day off. 🙂

    This ride is for bicyclists to communicate with the city to make our cycling lives better and safer. It is Roger Geller’s hard work and vision. It isn’t about the police, though we thought an informal opportunity to chat biking issues or traffic laws with a couple bike cops might be a nice added bonus, if people were interested.

    Roger’s vision with these rides is to make a little slice of Portland feel like a little slice of Amsterdam, if only for a couple of hours. For this, and to garner a productive number of ideas and critiques from various cyclist, we need as many bikers as possible. Acutely aware of potentially raw tensions between some bicyclist and the police, my number one concern was not to scare any bicyclist away from the ride because of worry that they might get ticketed for the slightest infraction. Explaining that to Mr. Geller and any potential riders was one intention of the paragraph above. Reassuring my own boss that our non-enforcement approach wouldn’t result in everyone intentionally blowing every red light we came to was the other reason for that paragraph. (I’ve been on the first two rides, and I know nobody does that. We will be on-duty police officers, however, and it has been my experience that on the rare occasion when someone makes some incredibly crazy or stupid or dangerous traffic move right in front of a police officer, everyone notices it and they all look at me to do something about it.)

    I guess you can read what you will from the quoted paragraph, and this reply. All I can say is that our intent is to be chill and chat and have a nice ride with people. And hopefully it won’t rain.

    Regarding AO and NIK’s comments on descretion, they are absolutely right. Police Officers have an incredible amount of discretion. An amazing amount. Not only in traffic matters, but in criminal matters potentially resulting in jail time and hefty fines and other loss of liberties. Society also has an incredible variety of failures and mistakes that the police are constantly called upon to come and try to patch up. (I often think of my job as societal triage!) I would think it difficult to figure a standard procedure, or the “right way” to handle every single eventuality. I don’t arrest every single person I discover drinking alcohol on the street, even though I could, and one might even argue that society wants me to, as time, energy and some sort of political will was used to pass an ordinance prohibiting that behavior. But sometimes (often in fact) I come across a situation in which I don’t think an arrest will make the problem any better, so I choose a different tact.

    Indeed, this discretion is also a cause for debate, and has been taken away from officers in some cases. Mandatory arrest laws are a good example. Many states, including Oregon, have somewhat recently passed laws requiring that officers arrest and take a suspect to jail when certain criteria are met in domestic violence situations. This was partially a response to studies revealing a cycle of violence among abusive couples with victims who would hesitate to press charges when the police arrived and broke things up, and/or officers who thought solutions other than arrests were more appropriate.

    It’s a facinating issue, and a complicated one, and a delicate one in terms of the public trust that gets wrapped up into it. Maybe we can chat about it on the ride!

    So NIK has it exactly right, I don’t plan on citing anyone on the ride for traffic violations unless someone does something that in my personal opinion, is extreme. I try to do my best on these judgements, but am probably never perfect in everyone’s eyes. (And have even made downright mistakes.) This is one of the reasons we have a system for judgement review in the form of the criminal (and civil) court system.

    NIK is also right that with a state traffic code book about two inches thick, it is virtually impossible for anyone, (myself included), to drive or bike for very long without committing some sort of little violation! I’ll bring one of my traffic code reference guides and we can look at some of them.

    Hopefully see ya’all tomorrow!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    N.I.K. April 3, 2007 at 9:42 am

    You said “Wow,” Officer, but I assure you it’s coming from my end this morning. Thanks very much for the very clear and very thoughtful reply. Thanks for both acknowledging both the pros and cons of the discretion issue as well as, much much MUCH more importantly, going to the trouble of participating in this month’s ride. The only other thing we could possibly ask you for at this point is to encourage more officers to be as level-headed and self-aware as yourself…oh, and maybe to rally the other cyclists on the force to get involved in these kind of efforts like you have. Hope that’s not asking too much. 😉

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Bill April 3, 2007 at 10:14 am

    I would like to leave comment about a situation I ran into last week going to work. I cross MLK each day at a crosswalk to get to work. Im talking about the northeast end of MLK, one block north of the Nike Factory Store. I always stop at this corner and wait for a gap in traffic before stepping into the crosswalk. This particular morning a police vehicle is approaching, but close to one block away in the lane closest to the middle of the street on my side of the road. I look across to the far side of the road and both lanes of traffic have stopped three cars deep as Im stepping into the road. As the officer approaches I look straight into his windshield to make eye contact. This officer (license plate# 230556) didnt stop. Not feeling the need to get upset prematurely I watched the officer go down the street as I crossed the road on got to the other side. He was not driving especially fast, did not have on his lights or siren, he did stop at the next block for a red light and after it went green casually proceeded to go south on MLK at a normal speed. Therefor I figured he didnt have any calls he was responding to at the time. I called the PPB when I got to work to report him, afterall, if a officer isnt willing to follow the law how can expect everyone else to and how can they ticket for such things they purposely setup sting operations to catch and fine the public? These are all things I asked the PPB. They had a sargeant contact me. He initially told me he’d run the plate and get ahold of the office. He called me back shortly thereafter saying the officer was in that area at that time, that he was not responding to a call, but didnt see me. End of story, that was good enough for him. I went on to ask more questions such as; does it trouble you that he didnt see me even though people on the opposite side of the four lane street noticed me? do I have to step in front of a car and risk getting plowed down for this officer to see me and stop? shouldnt an officer be more aware of his surroundings much like he expects me to be? is this ignorance of the law by his part of committing the offence or yours by weakly defending him? The PPB sets up stings for this very same offense and tickets the public, why does one of your employees get to get away with it?
    the sargeant then told me that this particular offense isnt enforced all that heavily, that he many times has stopped at a crosswalk to have a car blow by right next to him where he doesnt go after the guy and ticket him. So, it sounds to me that ticketing is very discretionary based on many factors and interpretations of the law. It sounds like it has a lot to do with the will of the officer……

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Jonathan Maus April 3, 2007 at 10:23 am

    “So, it sounds to me that ticketing is very discretionary based on many factors and interpretations of the law. It sounds like it has a lot to do with the will of the officer…”

    Bill, this is definitely the case. when I have asked Traffic Division lieutenant about enforcing the fixed-gear thing, he answers by saying something like, ‘my men can use their discretion as to whether or not the situation poses a safety hazard and warrants a citation.’

    My feeling is that the “will of the officer” plays a large role in how they choose to police the streets.

    I think discretion and individual will are usually a good thing…but it can also be a slippery slope to selective enforcement that might be led by personal bias.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Matt Picio April 3, 2007 at 11:55 am

    “Maybe simple infractions should be de facto judged by the citing Officer”

    I really liked Judge Dredd, the comic book (the movie was almost ok), but I’d rather not have that in real life here in Portland.

    Yeah, I know that’s oversimplifying a bit, but I agree with the separation of executive and judicial power. When you combine the two in one person, you lose a layer of accountability, IMO.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Burr April 3, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    I’m with Donna here, I think Officer Pickett actually is one of the good cops trying to reach out the ‘cycling community’ rather than busting our chops.

    I think it would even be good for Officer Pickett to go one step further and get himself appointed to the City Bicycle Advisory Committee. It’s been a long time since there has been a Police Bureau rep on the BAC, and it would be great to see someone like Officer Pickett step into that role.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Sasha April 3, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    Matt Picio,

    The point I was ineloquently making was that a lot of things that used to be litigated (largely in the traffic arena) have been deemed a waste of time by the courts. They end up being binary rules more because of volume and priorities, which means the citation once given is essentially writ in stone.

    You do lose a layer of accountability. And that is definitely frustrating.


    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar