How Not To Serve And Protect

Written by Boston Biker on Sep 21

I have been involved in incidents with people in cars (incidents of the “hit you with my car/almost hit you with my car” variety) four times that have occurred directly in front of police officers.  Twice in Cambridge, and twice in Boston.

Here they are in order of “best” to “fuck the police”

Best

Lets start with the best one.  I was riding down Hampshire street in Cambridge, and a man in his car tried to force me off the road so that he could make an illegal turn.  I was in the bike lane, and there was heavy traffic.  There was a cop car on the side of the road, I tapped on the glass, told the officers what happened, they assured me they would take care of it. They walked over and started talking to the guy, told him to be careful, and said the he could have hurt someone.  That was all I wanted, them to give him a verbal warning, make it understood that bikes have a legal right to use the road (and the god damn bike lane) and that he needs to be more careful.  The officers were polite, took my story at face value, and responded in a measured and swift way.  Thank you officers, you made me feel safe, and you informed an asshole motorist that they needed to be more careful.

Meh

Next up was the time I got hit by a car in Harvard square.  The man in his car had run the red light, and when he saw me he panicked, and hit the gas instead of the brake. His car went from 3mph to about 20mph in the space of ten feet and rabbit punched the front of my bicycle.  I was thrown from my bike and landed on my hands and knees, breaking both wrists at the same time.  This incident occurred in front of not one, but 4 Cambridge police officers.  Not one of which who was actually looking at the intersection.  The report showed that not one officer had witnessed the incident…the incident that happened 5 feet in front of their faces.  My bike was totaled, and my hands hurt for months.  This could have been a coincident, they might have all been really interested in a birdy, or perhaps it was just bad luck.  I didn’t think it was some sort of conspiracy, I was just really mad that police set to watch the intersection, were not watching the intersection.

Are you fucking kidding me?!

This incident occurred today.  I was riding though Chinatown when a man in a silver prius changed lanes without looking (I was right next to him at the time).  I managed to avoid him, but he then proceeded to drive at me aggressively while honking and swearing.  His logic went something like this “You need to be more careful because I nearly killed you when I changed lanes without looking to see if any vehicle was next to me, and now I am going to try to hit you with my car while honking at you to reenforce that point.”  I of course found his logic to be lacking.  Lucky for me there was a cop right on the corner…not only had the officer failed to notice the symphony of honking (he was talking to a construction worker), his reaction was less than helpful.  When I approached him I said “excuse my officer, that man in the silver prius just tried to run me over, and is now honking and swearing at me, while trying to hit me with his car.” 

His response was “you gonna file a report, you gonna go to court?  I aint gonna do the work unless you are serious about going to court.”  It was clear he didn’t want to issue a ticket, talk to the driver, or in anyway do anything.  I continued in vain to explain to him that “that guy, RIGHT THERE” just tried to kill me, and that he should do something about it.  He continued to make it clear that “fuck you kid, you are not hurt I aint doing shit.”  Those words were not used, but the sentiment was clear.  He continued to stonewall me until the driver had driven off and I could no longer figure out what car he was in.

At no point did he ask if I was hurt, what the driver looked like, or any details about the incident. He was just very clear that unless I was “ready to go to court” I shouldn’t bother him.

Fuck the police!

This incident happened in the middle of the night.  I was returning to my home (in Dorchester at the time), and was nearly run over by a guy in a black BMW.  I was wearing a helmet, reflective strips on my bag, lights on my bike, and was riding to the right in a straight line.  The man in the BMW not only tried to run me over, but after nearly missing me continued to swerve dangerously while honking.  It was clearly a road rage type thing where he was pissed I was “in his way” even though we were the only two vehicles on the street, and he had not one but two lanes free next to me.  Eventually his aggressive driving became such that at a red light I feared he would actually strike me with his car, I pulled my u-lock out of my pocket and readied myself for battle.  It was at this point that the cop in the car on the corner (who had been watching the entire incident), decided to get out of his car and make his presence known.  He informed me that he would charge me with assault, that I was to give him my license, and that the driver was free to go.  He told me he had seen the entire thing, and that I had acted irresponsibly by riding my bike in the street at such a late hour.  When I tried to explain myself, he informed me that if I said another word he would arrest me.  He also informed me that unless I “showed him more respect” he would arrest me. I was forced to “Yes Sir” him for the remainder of the interrogation. Basically he would say “Have you been drinking” and I would say “No sir.” Etc etc. I was let go with no action taken against me, the driver was never questioned.

These four incidents have led me to several conclusions  The cops in Cambridge have much better training for how to deal with cyclist related issues than the cops in Boston do.  Cops posted at construction zones are not effective, and are almost never actually watching the traffic.  Many cops seem to care less about the “little” problems.  This last one is probably the most detrimental. Because these incidents were not murders, and because “no one was hurt” the cops seemed to think it wasn’t important.

All I wanted was for the police to tell the motorist “You are not allowed to threaten cyclists.”  That’s it!  No ticket, no arrest, simply a verbal warning from a person in a position of power.  Instead I am met with stone wall “not my job” attitudes, or threats against me for daring to protect myself from speeding piles of metal, piloted by possibly drunk and belligerent assholes.

This post is not to say that all officers are horrible, in fact the officers in the first two incidents did their best to help. But its clear that training could be better, and that some officers are shirking their duty, or are heavily biased against cyclists. These sort of attitudes change over time, and in light of recent fatal incidents I think its once again time to reexamine the types of training (if any) that police officers are given for how they interact with cyclists.

If you are an officer and you are reading this here are some suggestions:

  • Take cyclists seriously
  • Talk to both parties
  • Most drivers have no idea how dangerous they are behaving
  • Pay attention to the traffic, not the big dirt moving machines
  • Most of the time warnings are sufficient, most cyclists just want you to remind drivers to be careful
  • People rely on you to protect them, don’t forget why you took this job

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Posted in advocacy, bostonbiker | 9 Comments »


9 Responses to “How Not To Serve And Protect”

  1. By h4ckw0r+h on Sep 21, 2012 | Reply

    I had a situation a few weeks ago where two cars, one a taxi, passed dangerously close and quickly to run a light that I was stopping at (Mass Ave and Vassar; I was turning left onto Vassar). I caught the entire event on video, had license plates and times and was pretty shaken up. There was a detail officer at the intersection of Main and Vassar, and he encouraged me to go to the police station but said that there wasn’t anything he could do, since he wasn’t technically on duty.

    The officer at the station didn’t seem particularly concerned since I wasn’t physically hurt. Even though I had plenty of documentation about the situation, he said that nobody could be cited on the basis of video evidence and that it wasn’t admissible in court anyway. He did take the plate numbers and said he’d see what he could do, but wasn’t interested in expending any effort to actually look at the video.

    However, I did file a complaint with the Boston hackney officer and they called me to let me know they were looking into it, so that’s something.

    I really think that unless someone actually is a cyclist, they have absolutely no frame of reference or perspective on what it’s like to ride a bicycle with motor vehicles in the mix. Automobiles are incredibly dangerous in the wrong hands. If people let their emotions dictate their habits when they are controlling heavy machinery, I think they aren’t responsible enough to be trusted to use it.

    I’ve gotten better response from officers who have been cyclists or bicycle officers, but those who don’t ride a bicycle simply don’t fathom the gravity of these situations.

  2. By Brian on Sep 21, 2012 | Reply

    About 5 years ago near MIT I was biking through a construction site with a police detail when a parallel-parked bulldozer just ahead of me on my side of the street pulled out with no signal. I went over my handlebars to avoid being hit. Cop watching the whole thing waved the bulldozer away before I was even off the ground.

  3. By SJE on Sep 21, 2012 | Reply

    You need to get videocam. Its the only way to keep the drivers and the police honest.

  4. By MariaV on Sep 21, 2012 | Reply

    I have had two experiences that are pretty in line with your Cambridge v. Boston observation.

    In Cambridge, an overly emotional woman on the phone (she was engaged in some relationship drama conversation) came up behind me on the left and cut me off to get to a parking spot on the right. A cop just happened to be coming in the other direction and I flagged them down. I told them what happened and they immediately went over the the driver and spoke with her.

    At noon on July 4th in Boston I was in the bike lane along the greenway at Quincy Market where there is nothing between the bike lane and the curb. The light turned red and as I was coming to a stop, along with the car in the lane to my left, a motorcycle cut me off so they could beat the light in the bike lane. It was sheer force of will that kept me from hitting the curb and toppling off my bike. As it was the holiday, there was a cop (sitting in his car) on the sidewalk at that pedestrian crossing. Enraged at the moto, I was gesticulating wildly in the manner of “Didn’t you %$@#$^ see *that!”

    The officer, upon exiting his car, acted in the most unprofessional manner, yelling at me (when my stress level was already off the chart) and blaming me for “tailgating” the moto.

    But the Boston experience did get a little better…

    I eventually filed a complaint with BPD (if only to bring awareness to the bias against cyclists). I was contacted by IAD, they asked me to come in for an interview, and they really did seem to take the situation seriously…also asking to interview the person I was riding with. IAD also kept me informed as their investigation was ongoing, though I am still waiting to hear what conclusion they came to (though I know there were other circumstances delaying this – unrelated to the incident).

    So even if the officers in the area of an incident are unresponsive, stupid, condescending, etc…it is worth filing a report and letting them know that we, as cyclists, deserve to be treated fairly and will do whatever we can to ensure that we are.

  5. By Dan on Sep 21, 2012 | Reply

    I consider cops as just a higher than average driver threat. They’re not quite as bad as middle-aged white guy in a beater pickup but they’re close. They’re usually in a car all day which makes them more prone to aggressive driving. They can violate the rules of the road without repercussions. They’ll do sudden braking and sharp turns without signalling. I actually had one blow through a crosswalk I was walking in last week.

    My technique for dealing with aggressive drivers is to silently hold my line if possible and just completely ignore the haters because my bike will not win in a road-rage escalation.

    Nobody except another bicyclist is going to take my side, even if I am clearly in the right. So calling a cop (who spends all day in a car) is unlikely to provide any good results.

  6. By Cecily on Sep 22, 2012 | Reply

    I would like to add a fresh positive story: I just got back home after a collision with a cab that was getting onto the Harvard Bridge from Storrow, and the Boston police officers on the scene were extremely professional/nice/helpful and ruled the driver at completely at fault (correctly).

    I had just gotten off the Charles River bike path and was riding down the sidewalk prepping to get back on the road, the cab was totally stopped behind the line on the exit ramp. I went to cross the ramp and when I was right in front of him he started moving forward without looking. I am totally okay, I have a milk crate on my rear rack so that hit the car first and threw the bike underneath me and that acted as a buffer between the car and the pavement so I didn’t get pinned at all and got out of the way easily.

    Cab driver’s insurance is covering the damage to my bike (which doesn’t appear to be too bad, just some totaled brake levers, but there could be less visible things), and he offered me a ride home which I refused, seriously you just hit me what makes me think I want to get in your car. The first police officer (there was two) stayed from the moment they arrived to the moment I started walking away, and offered me a ride home but there wasn’t any way we could’ve fit my bike into his car and it wasn’t too far anyway. He’s also making sure the police report is filed immediately and is going to call the driver’s insurance company for me to make sure they know I’m going to be making a claim and that the driver is completely at fault.

  7. By kisumxes on Sep 22, 2012 | Reply

    Arrest for “disrespecting” a cop = ka-ching, somebody hit the jackpot

  8. By Kate on Sep 24, 2012 | Reply

    Reading this post and the comments just raises my blood pressure. I’ve had some pretty awful experiences with cops and drivers myself and really wish that the police would take the risk these dangerous drivers pose to our lives a little more seriously.

    I think they look at all cyclists as “cowboys” even the responsible ones (i like to include myself in that number) who follow the traffic laws, wear bright reflective vests and do their best NOT to engage with the cars around them.

    Imagine if every Boston officer had to spend a year or two patrolling on a bicycle. Attitudes would change very quickly I think….

  9. By Chris on Sep 24, 2012 | Reply

    This is why I laugh when Boston is rated “one of the best cities for cycling”.

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