Friday, 4 October 2013
Bicyclists and the San Francisco police
I testified yesterday at a landmark hearing before a committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (city council) on "Police Department Protocol for Investigating Cyclist and Pedestrian Fatalities and Serious Injuries Resulting from Traffic Collisions", which actually turned into a broader -- and unprecedented, at least in San Francisco -- inquiry into police bias against bicyclists.
Mine was far from the worst of the horror stories told by witnesses.
Because of the number of people wanting to testify, our time was reduced to two minutes each. The following is my prepared statement, which I wasn't quite able to finish:
Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 4 October 2013, 08:36 ( 8:36 AM) | TrackBack (0)
My name is Edward Hasbrouck. I'm a former professional bicyclist, I've never owned a motor vehicle, and the ability to rely on bicycles for year-round transportation is one of the reasons I moved to San Francisco and have lived here for most of my life.
One evening, I was riding home from work when my progress down the bike lane on Valencia Street was blocked by a line of cars double-parked in the bike lane waiting for valet parking at one of the restaurants.
When I asked the drivers to move, they and the valets cursed and threatened me.
When I asked a passing police sergeant to ask for motorists to move, he didn't.
Instead, he made me carry my bicycle between parked cars to the sidewalk to get by.
As I was walking my bike down the sidewalk to leave, I asked the sergeant, "What would I have to do to get you to ticket these cars double-parked in the bike lane? Do I have to take your badge number and report you to the Office of Citizens Complaints?"
At that, he arrested me. Then he went back to the restaurant and persuaded some of the patrons and one of the valets to join him in a perjured complaint against me for "felony vandalism".
Fortunately for me, they lied so ineptly that the judge dismissed all the charges against me, entered a rare factual finding of actual innocence, and ordered all record of the arrest expunged.
But not before I spent $3,000 on legal fees. And not before I spent the night in jail before I could get bailed out. I spent the night in jail for asking the police to protect my right to ride in the bike lane without interference or assault.
This happened a decade ago, but I don't think much has changed. Too many San Francisco police still need an attitude adjustment. I could tell you more stories if I had more time. And you'd be hearing from more people it weren't so scary to criticize the police to their face.
The biggest thing keeping more people from bicycling is the fear that motorists will run us down -- and that they can do so with impunity, because the police will act, if at all, only after a bicyclist or pedestrian winds up in the hospital or the morgue. Lesser assaults are ignored.
The transit-first policy in our city charter applies to all city departments including the police and the district attorney and their discretionary decisions about enforcement priorities. But tellingly, we've heard not a word today, or ever in the 40 years that this policy has been in effect, about what the police department is doing to bring their enforcement priorities into compliance with the transit-first policy. I urge you to request a report from the police and the district attorney's office as to what they intend to do to implement the transit-first policy.