The Week That Was: Last Week, Rampant Optimism for LAPD/Cyclist Relationship
If you haven’t already checked out Bikeside LA’s blog, a great place to start is with Enci's coverage of Thursday’s meeting of the CalTrans Bicycle Advisory Committee at their Main Street headquarters. Understandably, Bikeside's post focused primarily on the brown bag lunch seminar they hosted for the first half of the event. So, in keeping with the spirit of each blog filling its niche in order to make the whole bike ecosystem (um...bikosystem?) richer, I’m going to go into some depth on the presentation by given by Sergeant Krumer of the LAPD.
Sgt. Krumer, representing the Cyclists/LAPD Task Force, discussed the LAPD’s current efforts to educate its own officers on the rights and responsibilities of cyclists on the streets of Los Angeles.
Providing background context, Sgt. Krumer identified the genesis of the Task Force as being a series of recent incidents that spurred cyclists to demand more accountability and responsiveness from the LAPD. In particular, Krumer acknowledged that cyclists were upset by the LAPD’s citing of cyclists for not having bicycle licenses - despite an agency moratorium on the enforcement of license requirements - and by a series of accidents involving motorists and cyclists that did not get the attention they deserved from police.
Subsequently, through a series of productive meetings with bicycling stakeholders (namely Bikeside, Illuminate L.A., Sustainable Streets, Bike Writer's Collective, and LACBC) the LAPD admitted that, while officers are well trained in the vehicle code’s application to cars, they were not up to speed when it came to bikes.
In keeping with Krumer’s fundamental point that “cyclists are deserving of a well-informed police department,” the LAPD has since begun to implement a computer-based interactive training program on bicycle law and policy called “Cyclists on the Street.” So far, roughly two-thirds of the 9000-person force has completed it.
At this point in the presentation, attendees were shown the introduction video to the training module. Set against a backdrop of somewhat hokey stock graphics and rock music, a female narrator called for officers to understand that “cyclists have equal right to use the roadway” and “every street is a street that cyclists will ride.”
After the film, Sgt. Krumer then laid out a few policy changes that the LAPD is considering (though the timetable for implementation was not immediately clear). Firstly, the LAPD is going to begin cracking down on vehicles that are parked in bike lanes, just as they would a car that was blocking a car lane. Partial blockers will receive a ticket and full blockers will have their vehicle towed (except for big rigs, as towing them present a logistical challenge that the LAPD cannot currently handle). Side note: if anyone’s listening, I know a truck parked on Motor Ave. that could use a ticket.
Secondly, Sgt. Krumer reported that the LAPD is setting up a website that would allow people to report incidents of unsafe driving that might not meet the criteria for an official police report, but that should be recorded nonetheless. Thus, cyclists (or anyone else) could submit a license plate number, location, and vehicle description, in order to reference it against other submissions. These reports would help officers to identify frequent aggressive drivers that might not otherwise show up on their radar and enable the LAPD to take preemptive action (i.e. a warning letter to the vehicle owner) “to avoid another Dr. Thompson.
This concept probably rings a bell for those familiar with the LA Bike Map.
Additionally, Sgt. Krumer mentioned that the LAPD is going to take steps to improve its reporting of traffic collisions by influence, where for example a reckless driver causes a bicyclist to crash, even though the two don’t make physical contact.
Lastly, in light of the fact that local cities have different and conflicting policies on biking in the sidewalk and/or crosswalk (see Streetsblog's latest), Sgt. Krumer took a minute to plainly lay out Chief Beck’s policy for Los Angeles. Suggesting that the California Vehicle Code and LA City rules offer some room for interpretation, “Beck decided to interpret the law such that, if cyclists can ride in the sidewalk, and the crosswalk is an extension of the sidewalk, then bicyclists can ride in the crosswalk,” Krumer told the audience.
Ultimately, the whole presentation can be boiled down to a point Sgt. Krumer made fairly early on. Prior to the LAPD’s commitment to “do better,” many officers did not know the law well enough as it applies to bicycles and did not make the time to learn it. Compounding that, officers then got upset when challenged on their lack of knowledge by bicyclists.
For bicyclists who have dealt with the LAPD in the past, it is refreshing to see the department continue to come to the table with bicyclists, while admitting fault for previous mistakes and expressing a good faith interest to improve their ability to protect and serve cyclists. The fact that all officers are required to go through the training module is indeed a promising start.
However, it can take a lot of time and energy to change the culture of an agency as a big and established as the LAPD, let alone to convince it to expend serious resources towards that end. But hey, if we can get the police to work on behalf of bicyclists and all vulnerable road users, then LADOT should be a walk in the park. Right?