Eyes on the Street: Law Enforcement Takes the Lane

Signs, signs everywhere signs...are ignored. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Signs, signs everywhere signs…are ignored. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Usually when I’m writing about the questionable behavior of law enforcement, I’m looking at how racial profiling and the harassment of people of color — in either its more traditional or more blatant forms — can negatively impact those folks’ mobility.

But sometimes the hampering of mobility comes in more basic forms.

Yesterday, it came in the form of a fleet of vehicles parked in the buffered bike lane on Los Angeles St. in front of the Parker Center Police Dept. building in Downtown L.A.

Police cars parked in the bike lanes for much of the length of Los Angeles Street, just north of 1st. Sahra Sulaiman's terrible cellphone/Streetsblog L.A.
Police cars parked in the bike lanes for much of the length of Los Angeles Street, just north of 1st. Sahra Sulaiman’s terrible cellphone/Streetsblog L.A.

In the event you are wondering if perhaps it was just that the lane was not that well marked, behold the clearly buffered lane as it runs in front of the police buildings in a Google Maps view from March of 2015.

Google Maps screen shot of the buffered bike lane that runs in front of the Parker Center police building.
Google Maps screen shot of the buffered bike lane that runs in front of the Parker Center police building.

And lest you think perhaps there was a major emergency and the vehicles had been parked there in haste, behold the Google Maps shot from a little farther up indicating that, no, this is just common practice.

Nope, not a fluke. Thanks, Google Maps.
Nope, not a fluke. Thanks, Google Maps.

And not only is it not a fluke, some officers apparently give little thought to the protection of the good people of Los Angeles from fires during this terrible drought, as evidenced by the vehicle below, blocking the fire hydrant like a boss.

Nope, still not a fluke.
Nope, still not a fluke. #parklikeaboss

And just because Homeland Security is not one to be outdone, three of their vehicles parked in the bike lane on the same street one block up (just north of Temple).

When I first spotted them at around 11 a.m., Los Angeles St. was kind of quiet and it wasn’t that hard to get around them safely. But the situation was much different and far more problematic at rush hour, as cars couldn’t easily enter the right lane to turn onto the freeway (causing traffic to back up at an angle) and making it more dangerous for both cyclists and drivers looking to continue north on Los Angeles.

Homeland Security parks in the bike lane just north of Temple on Los Angeles St. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Homeland Security parks three SUVs deep in the bike lane just north of Temple on Los Angeles St., blocking bikes and making it more dangerous for both cyclists and drivers when cars struggled to maneuver around the SUVs to turn right and get on the freeway. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

And, no, as you might have guessed, this is not the first time they have either parked in the bike lane…

Seriously not a fluke.
Seriously not a fluke.

…or blatantly ignored the red curbs and visible and well-placed “No Stopping at Any Time” signs.

"No Stopping at Any Time"
“No Stopping at Any Time.” Unless you’ve got the head of ISIS stashed in the back and are taking him to trial, DHS, this applies to you, too. (Google Maps screen shot)

If we take a “broken windows” approach to these infractions — “broken windows” being the LAPD’s own approach to enforcing the law on quality-of-life issues (graffiti, actual broken windows, sidewalk loitering, sleeping in parks, street vending, etc.) in order to keep minor lawbreakers from feeling emboldened to commit more serious crimes in a neighborhood — then we can see we have a serious problem on our hands.

A student of that approach could not help but ask, If law enforcement is so nonchalant about regularly parking illegally in marked travel lanes and blocking fire hydrants in the middle of a very busy downtown neighborhood, what is to keep them from committing more serious infractions when they think no one is looking? Like profiling black cyclists as criminals and beating up innocent people or harassing them for participating in Martin Luther King Day festivities? Oh, wait, my bad. They already did that.

We ask an awful lot of law enforcement — we want them to act as protectors, counselors, mediators, problem solvers, and knowledgeable and justice-oriented enforcers of the law  — and we neither give them the support they need to carry out those tasks nor do we reward their performance when they do. Much within the institution and how we, as a society, conceive of and implement policing needs to change.

But starting with the basics can help put everyone on better terms. It is hard for people to feel trust in law enforcement officers who feel completely free to violate city and traffic codes while cracking down on invented infractions, like pedestrians crossing streets within a designated walk period, or cracking heads in lower-income communities of color.

Making it look like the department has at least a modicum of visible respect for the rule of law might be a good first step in that direction.

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