Chief Beck Brings His Olive Branch to “Town Hall” with Cyclists

2_25_10_beck.jpgBeck gets sworn in last December. Photo: View from a Loft/Flickr

(Editor’s note: Ari Bloomekatz also has full coverage of the meeting at LA Now.)

Yesterday evening, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger attended a meeting of the Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee to respond to questions and concerns of the cycling community.  The tone of the meeting was markedly different than past Council meetings featuring enforcement issues involving cyclists.  Compare the statement of Paysinger that, ""Our (the LAPD’s) commitment to the cycling community as we move forward is to do better" to his appearance at the Committee in November of 2008 when he seemed unaware and unconcerned about the LAPD abusing the "bicycle licensing" law

When Beck had to leave the meeting, he was met with applause from the cycling community which might be a first in the relationship between the LAPD and cyclists.  At one point, Ramon Martinez asked that Beck make a statement that "the LAPD takes a stand to support cyclists in this city."  Beck responded, "I think I already did…Of course I do.  Of course, I do.  It’s not only a valid, but it is an admirable form of transportation and I support it."  Rosendahl referred to the meeting as, "The beginning of a new day with the LAPD.”  It truly seemed like one, how often does one hear a bike advocate such as Stephen Box get thanked for his leadership by an authority figure with the LAPD, as Beck did after Box promoted the Bicycling Backbone Network and Cyclists Bill of Rights.

However, just because Beck and Paysinger showed up with their olive branches in hand doesn’t mean that everything has been worked out.  Cyclists from a variety of different backgrounds took to the podium with various LAPD horror stories and vowed to make certain that Beck’s LAPD matched his rhetoric.  The Chief conceded that it’s not like change would happen in the department overnight and asked cyclists for patience "as we change the culture" both in the LAPD and on our streets.  Beck, and Rosendahl, both laid out a timeline of about six months before the LAPD will show signs that the "culture change" has been completed.

So how is "change" going to come to the LAPD?  Beck announced that a memorandum from his desk with new operating orders and training orders would be issued soon.  When pressed by the LACBC’s Aurisha Smolarski, Beck promised that the department’s Bicycle Task Force, which includes Smolarski, Box, Carlos Morales and other names familiar to Streetsblog readers would get a chance to review the document first.  The goal of the document is to clarify and improve the rights of cyclists, the duties of cyclists and the security of cyclists and their bikes.

Beck also brought good news for the friends, family and supporters of Ed Magos.  Both Beck and Rosendahl spoke with the City Attorney’s office about revisiting the Magos case to see if they erred in deciding not to prosecute the driver of the Porsche Cayenne who ran him down then ran away.  "No promises," Beck told the audience, "but they’re giving it a second look."  While it’s good news that the C.A. is willing to revisit their decision, the best we can hope for is a misdemeanor charge from them.  Felony cases are handled by the District Attorney.

The emotional high from the meeting came when Colin Bogart read a letter from Magos to the committee.  The full text of the letter can be found at the end of this story, but you could sense Magos’ frustration when he wrote, "To add insult to injury, I recently read in the
Los Angeles Times that the City Attorney is going to prosecute actor Sean Penn
for kicking a photographer.  Somehow there is time and resources to deal
with a kicking case but when I was smashed by a car and left for dead the
incident is not worth pursuing."

Many of those testifying told their own hit and run stories, and urged the LAPD to do more.  Stories of cyclists abandoned by the police when they were hit or had their experiences marginalized by the officers who arrived on the scene were common.  Through it all, both Beck and Paysinger didn’t get angry, or defensive, as we’ve seen from LAPD representatives at past meetings; they took it in, and promised to do better.

However, that still wasn’t enough for many of the cyclists in attendance, who’ve heard pretty words before but are taking a "thanks, but we’ll believe it when we see it," approach.  As the "open microphone" style of testifying continued after Beck’s departure, he stayed for over an hour and could have made the entire meeting had it started on time; Roadblock noted that "strike one" had already happened on Beck’s watch.  He was referring to the Magos case again, that the women who hit the civil servant was released with her license and Cayenne in her possession because she turned herself in hours after the crash.

Rosendahl came to Beck’s defense, but true to form, Paysinger accepted the criticism and just promised to do better.  Rosendahl also directed the City Attorney and LAPD to look at how the city can better enforce or even change the state law that actually encourages drivers to run from crashes because the penalty is disproportionately small comapred to the penalty for driving under the influence of even driving while texting.

Of course, not everything was cause for celebration.  Another cyclist, one of those present when an H3 smashed into Andres Tena and drove off dragging several bikes with him; blasted the LAPD for their handling of that case.  Even though this was the fourth time that the Committee had called for a copy of the crash report to be made public, neither Beck nor Paysinger brought a copy.  My own public information requests have also been ignored.  I guess that even though there’s going to be a culture change, the LAPD isn’t willing to string out Officer Cho to be sacrificed at a public hearing.

The other thing to be concerned about was the silence from Beck and Paysinger when asked directly about the policing of group rides.  The cyclist was talking about the harassment that she witnessed from the LAPD to cyclists on a recent Critical Mass.  Rosendahl urged the cyclists to get names and badge numbers of any officer not acting appropriately towards cyclists and to pass it on to his office.  Responding to a different questioner, Beck did argue that officers have options beyond flashing their lights to get cars, or cyclists, to pull over.  However, the procedures could be re-examined as part of the policy review the LAPD will be undergoing.

All in all, yesterday has to be considered a "high watermark" day for the ongoing relationship between the LAPD and the cycling community.  However, as was pointed out many times, the proof of a change will be on the streets not the boardroom.  We’ll have to wait and see if yesterday was the "Dawn of a new day" as Rosendahl stated or an aberration in what has long been a rocky relationship.

And for posterity’s sake, here is the full statement from Ed Magos, delivered by Colin Bogart:

I was doing something I loved, something that was good for
me, good for my community, and good for the environment.  All that was
taken away on January 6th when my world was turned upside down by a woman who
slammed her car into me while I was cycling to work.  She left me exposed
and injured laying in the street while she fled the scene.

After much discussion with the LAPD the incident was correctly assessed as a
felony hit-and-run with injury.  Much to my dismay I have discovered that
neither the District Attorney nor the City Attorney intend to prosecute this
case and serve justice.  To add insult to injury, I recently read in the
Los Angeles Times that the City Attorney is going to prosecute actor Sean Penn
for kicking a photographer.  Somehow there is time and resources to deal
with a kicking case but when I was smashed by a car and left for dead the
incident is not worth pursuing.

The system seems to have broken down and failed at multiple levels.  The
driver who hit me, committed a crime by fleeing the scene, and was driving
without insurance is out on the road with nary a consequence.  My wife,
children, and I, are the ones suffering the consequences and are left to pick
up the pieces of this mess.

Hit and runs must be prosecuted as the crimes that they are and a strong
message must be sent that they will not be tolerated in this city!

  • Jeff G.

    The key to chief Beck’s redemption in they eyes of bicyclists will be if he indeed reopens the Ed Mago Hit and Run case, reviews the incontrovertible evidence and moves forward with the District Attorney to vigorously prosecute the perpetrator. That’s step one. Step two, put all motorists on notice. Hit and Runs of cyclists will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Step three, cyclists are a protected group, any acts against them will be considered a violation of their Civil Rights and local, State and Federal laws will be used to jail anyone and everyone who attempts to violate cyclists rights.

    That’s a start.

  • Erik G.

    Jeez, even Rush Limbaugh flagship-station KFI covered this!

  • So I was one of the cyclists there yesterday, (I was the one talking about the harrassment on the Critical Mass ride), and while I was pleased that Chief Beck and Assistant Chief Paysinger were taking our comments seriously and seemed to be armed with a plan of how to address our issues, talk is just talk until we see action. I look forward to seeing them implement the policies/procedures discussed yesterday.

  • As an Australian visiing the United States and California who chose to use my bicycle as my prefered mode of transport for my short stay rather than use a car. I have several times questioned my decision after numerous near misses. Incidents that were totally avoidable. And I don’t mean by me not riding on the road. It is every cyclists right to ride on the road. What I mean is motorists blatant actions to threaten and attack me on the road with their car. Cement truck drivers, moms in unnecessarily large black pick ups, Metro Rapid bus drivers etc…. motorists who have chosen to be agressive toward me as a cyclist on the road.

    Take just the case of the woman in the pick up. She drove past me, so she must have seen me on the shoulder of the road as she pulled around me to apparently over take me, only to make an immediate right hand turn at the lights as she is still paralell with me on the road. This was clearly more than accidental. This was aggressive driving intended to be an attack on me as a cyclist. At the speed I was riding at, she could have simply backed off the gas for just a matter of seconds, I would have continued straight ahead though the intersection ahead of her, and she could have turned right just behind me. Perfectly safe, and would have had no impact on the time of her journey.

    As a visitor to Los Angeles and this country, I’ll be returning home and advising all that i know, to never consider using cycling as a viable mode of transport in LA. Sad indeed, considering that we are the ones who are doing the right thing by everyone else in this town and on the planet by reducing our carbon footprint. Sad indeed.

  • Andrew, sorry your experience here has been so negative.

    I’ve often suspected that many cars are sold in California without brakes or turn signals, so a driver’s only option is to speed up to pass a slower road user, then cut back in front without signaling to make their turn.

    At least, that’s the only explanation I can come up with.

  • It is sad. Sad that people have the knee-jerk reaction of absolutist rhetoric after bad cycling experiences. Sad that most people (not just Andrew R) view the most negative experiences as the norm. What about all the drivers who didn’t cut Andrew off? While my experiences biking in LA have been generally more positive than this, I can understand a bad experience informing one’s opinion significantly toward disdain. But the solution is not to tell people to “never consider using cycling” in LA. Don’t even consider it? Please.

    While I am an optimist relative to the general biking populace of LA, I am not naive. I recognize that we have a long way to go, and perhaps Andrew is used to his Austrian cycling paradise. But I don’t think this attitude is helping. We have a lot more work to do here than you, and it’s never going to happen if this climate of hopelessness continues to perpetuate itself.

    Andrew, I really hope that if you get a chance to visit here, you’ll give biking a second chance. It might be that you had unusually bad luck, or it might be that I have unusually good luck in my years riding here, I just don’t think it’s fair to write an entire city off so quickly. Maybe get in touch with some cycling groups here; if nothing else, it helps to have a friend on the road.

  • Drew Reed.

    Thank you for your reply and comments about being optimistic and giving it a go. Believe you me I am optimistic. Hence my choice to chose my bike as my primary mode of transport for my visit to LA. I am Here Right Now. But, fact is that in one month of riding on LA roads, I have had more near misses, and I mean serious life and death type near misses which for the most part were caused by shear agression from the part of the motorist toward the cyclist, than I have experienced in more than 21 years of cycling on the road.

    Another case in point, the cement truck driver. On a four lane each way road, Whilshire Blvd in Westwood, with no other traffic on the street, the cement truck stayed in the right lane, where I was cycling at about 26 miles per hour, and came right over to the right hand side in what is already a rather wide lane and sped past me so close that I was forced to lean to the right, over the gutter, put my right foot down and leap out of tghe way of the truck on to the pavement to avoid being hit by the truck.

    Actions on the part of the driver that we absolutely culpable.

    Sorry, If you don’t feel that I am optimistic. But I’m prefering to remain optimisic about my return to Australia, where I honestly feel so much safer, and in real terms I am much safer on the roads.

    Andrew

  • la rider

    @Andrew

    How else can we say we’re sorry. Most streets in Los Angeles are not ridable. Unfortunately it takes months of riding and trying different routes. Even now during traffic hour I have to be really careful because most people on the road at that time are really angry.

    I never take Wilshire anymore. Too many close calls and people using the right lane as the high speed lane. I myself have been run into the gutter by cars that did not appreciate me being there.

    As for cars speeding by and then making a right from the outer lane, it happens all the time. It’s just something you have to be on the look out for here :(

    Riding in Los Angeles is a skill. If Los Angeles can ever fix that, we could easily become a great tourist city that people like Andrew can readily enjoy without fearing for their lives.

    Give us a chance again later, maybe we will become like Denmark someday. Los Angeles is such an amazing city on bicycle.

  • Does anyone really trust the LAPD on this? Are we really getting all excited about a few words? Is the bar that low?
    How quickly we forget about all the harm they have done.

  • Matt,

    I think we appreciate that Chief Beck and Paysinger are willing to come to the table and talk, but we are all wary about what progress will evolve. I think we’re saving the celebrations until we see the culture shift, see the results of better incident investigation, and see fair treatment of cyclists as crash victims, street users, and even as traffic violators when being cited. (It’s funny, whenever I used to drive and got a ticket-which only occurred 3 times in my whole life-I always felt that even though I was being ticketed for doing something wrong, the officers were fairly courteous, etc. When you get ticketed on a bike, I’m surprised they don’t glove up and do an anal probe: that’s how malicious and rude the LAPD can be, just because you’re on a bike.)

    I also don’t think it’s an issue that will ever go away. Even if things get better, we will always have to push and remind the LAPD (and the City Attorney and District Attorney) to continue training young officers on how to treat cyclists, etc.

  • Ross Hirsch

    Glad to hear about the LAPD’s and/or the City Attorney’s “second look” they informed of regarding the initial decision to pass on prosecuting the driver that hit Ed Magos.

    Who knows what new/different facts they’ll find during this “second look” or what it will yield, but at least it’s promising that their willing to go back and revisit their decision. Too bad the initial decision was what it was–and that it took all this effort and public outcry just to convince them to take another (proper) look at a grossly unfair situation.

    Andrew R–I hear you. You still in LA? If so, wanna go for a ride? Let’s go have some fun.

  • Omri

    I guess that even though there’s going to be a culture change, the LAPD isn’t willing to string out Officer Cho to be sacrificed at a public hearing.

    Officer Cho committed a crime that night. A public shaming is a miniscule portion of his just desserts.

  • Andrew,

    A few of your stories read as though you aren’t riding by in the lane, or “taking the lane”.

    I’ve found that when I’m not in full command of a car lane, I get put into all sorts of stupid situations due to the way the streets are engineered here and the culture of laissez faire driving.

    So, while your experiences sound harrowing, they are not necessarily and indictment of LA as a great city to ride a bike in. I have my share of danger on my short ride to and from work every day, but most of the time conditions are ideal for riding.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Bike Sharing Coming to USC and City Passes Rough Timeline for Anti-Harassment Ordinance. Speed Limit Increases Delayed.

|
The City Council met today and discussed two cycling related issues.  The first was the ongoing discussion of whether or not the city should have a bike sharing program.  Second, the Council debated how to create an ordinance that would better protect cyclists from harassment. As predicted, Councilman Rosendahl moved to "re-open" the public record […]