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Data Show SF Police Bias Against Cyclists
Numerous injuried sustained by bicyclists in San Francisco prompted the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition to open up a hotline for cyclists to report incidents. Over 14 months of reports revealed a disturbing pattern of police neglect and indifference to injured cyclists.
Chris Deluci is a 20-year veteran bike commuter. On January 19, 2001 he was hit by a cab on Market Street, sending him flying over the handlebars and onto the pavement, suffering cuts and bruises and damages to his bicycle. A police officer responded to the scene quickly, but refused to take an incident report. The officer insisted that the SFPD does not take incident reports unless the victim needs to go to the hospital.
When the victim insisted that a report be taken, the officer responded that the driver and bicyclist should simply exchange information and allow the insurance companies to handle any issues. Deluci responded that he does not own car insurance, since the bicycle is his main mode of transportation. The police officer continued to deny Deluci a report, claiming simply that \"accidents happen.\"
The officer\'s handling of the situation blatantly violates SFPD policy, according to an official bulletin released by Chief Fred Lau in March 2000. The bulletin states that an accident report is required when the bicyclist is injured as a result of a traffic collision, and that \"[SFPD] members should complete investigations and reports as appropriate and not unduly dissuade bicycle riders from making accident reports.\"
Responding to a growing number of complaints of police neglect and misconduct toward bicyclists, the SF Bicycle Coalition (SFBC), with support from the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Union, set up a Bicyclists\' Rights Hotline in November 1999. They used this Hotline to advise bicyclists involved in traffic collisions of their legal rights, and to gather data on the San Francisco Police Department\'s (PD) handling of bike-related incidents, as well as the District Attorney\'s Office (DA) prosecution rates of motorists who injure cyclists. Over 100 Hotline reports were collected in 14 months.
Data gathered during the past 14 months from the Hotline revealed a disturbing pattern of neglect of bicyclists\' rights by officers of the SF Police Department. In nearly one-third of the incidents reported to the Hotline involving injuries to cyclists, police neglected to file incident reports. In all of these cases, a bicyclist was injured in a collision or near-miss with a car. And in all of these cases, the cyclist had some interaction with a police officer after the incident, either through police coming to the scene, a visit to the police station, or a call to police resulting in a refusal to send an officer to the scene.
Filing an incident report is a fundamental right of anyone complaining of pain resulting from a traffic collision involving a bicycle, according to the SF Police Department. The bulletin states that \"an accident report is required when any of the involved parties are injured as the result of a traffic collision.\" Such collisions include a bicycle and any object, including a vehicle door opened into the path of travel of a cyclist.
It is bad enough to be hit and injured by a motorist while bicycling. Imagine the insult added to that physical injury as one is denied his or her legal rights by a San Francisco police officer who refuses to file an incident report simply because the injured party was riding a bike. This scenario is all too common on San Francisco\'s hectic streets. As the number of people choosing to commute by bikes grows, so do the reports of police misconduct in responding to bicycle vs. automobile collisions.
The result is not only a denial of individual\'s rights but also severe underreporting of bicycle collisions. This impacts the full comprehension of traffic safety issues affecting cyclists, as well as decision makers\' ability to make policy to improve traffic safety. Following are four personal stories collected from the Cyclists Rights Hotline.
The Incident: John Lindenfelzer had just bought his new bike the night before he was hit, November 7, 2000. He was riding in the Folsom Street bike lane when a truck turned right into him, forcing Lindenfelzer to flip over his handlebars onto the trunk of a parked car. Lindenfelzer\'s near-fatal collision resulted in several cuts and bruises, and his new bike was ruined.
The Police Response: Lindenfelzer called the police several times from the scene of the collision (just a few blocks from the Hall of Justice), but no officers arrived. He went to the Hall of Justice to file a police report. Officers refused to take a report, insisting that he handle it through his insurance company. Since many bicyclists do not have auto insurance, they cannot rely on this method of handling costs of injury treatment or damages to the bicycles.
The Incident: On March 23, 2000, Griffin McPartland was riding on Battery Street downtown when a passenger of a limousine opened the car door (driver\'s side) into the cyclist\'s path of travel, ejecting him off his bicycle and flying onto the pavement. The injuries he sustained in the collision required three months of physical therapy and several missed days of work.
The Police Response: The bicyclist called police from the scene in order to report the collision. He explained that he was injured. The police dispatcher refused to send an officer to the scene unless McPartland required an ambulance. Though he insisted for some time, police continued to refuse unless an ambulance was needed. According to the SF Police Department\'s stated policy, officers should not make a distinction regarding the severity of an injury when deciding whether to send an officer to the scene of a collision. Any complaint of injury merits an incident report.
The Incident: John Dwyer was cycling to work the morning of March 3, 2000 on Noe @ 14th Street when a driver hit him from behind. The cyclist suffered abrasions and bruises; his bicycle was wrecked. Witnesses on the scene agree that the driver was at fault, and testified as such in a settlement won by the bicyclist, who was forced to enlist a personal attorney.
The Police Response: Dwyer visited the Mission Police Station to ask that an incident report be taken. He had statements from witnesses and the necessary identification of the driver and vehicle. Still he was denied a report by police. On the advice of his attorney, he visited the station a second time, and was again denied a report. Dwyer says the police officers were \"very rude.\" They told him that reports could only be filed at the scene of the incident. When Dwyer insisted a report be taken, an officer told him: \"That\'s not how we do things.\" SFPD policy does not require officers to be at the scene of the incident in order for a report to be taken. Complainants may visit a station to report a crime after the fact.
The Incident: bicyclist David Olem was heading east on Market Street in November 1999 when he was cut off by a car in the intersection. The cyclist hit the car and was thrown to the pavement, hitting his head. He was treated at the scene by paramedics for a head injury and contusions.
The Police Response: Paramedics at the scene called the police. Olem waited at the scene for 40 minutes, but no officers showed up. (Officers later stated that they drove to the scene but did not see Olem.) When Olem called the police again, he was told to come to the station to fill out a report. He rode his bike to the Hall of Justice within an hour of the collision, feeling disoriented and \"out of it.\" At the station, officers refused to file a report even though Olem complained of injuries. The dispatcher told him it was \"too late\" to file a report. The information given to Mr. Olem was completely untrue: SFPD policy does not prescribe a time limit for filing police reports. After going to work that day and making a doctor\'s appointment, he phoned a district police station. An officer there told him that a report would not do him any good and dissuaded Olem from filing. Though he was injured and likely unfit to travel to the Hall of Justice, police denied his right to a report.
At best, this pattern of police\' neglect of duty represents a serious problem with police training and failure to follow procedure. At worst, it evidences the bias against cyclists as legitimate road users from the public servants whose job is \"To Protect and Serve.\" If you experience a problem with SFPD police follow-up after a bike collision or injury, you should report the officers involved to the Office of Citizen Complaints at (415) 597-7711. You should also report the incident to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition at (415) 431-BIKE, extension 7.