City Supervisors Call to Revamp Police Protocol for Investigating Bike Accidents
"Our Federal government may be shut down, but our local government is still working," Supervisor David Campos said, kicking off the Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee hearing yesterday morning. And that's a good thing, since on the agenda was the issue of police protocol for investigating cyclist and pedestrian traffic-related deaths and serious injuries.
The topic is especially sensitive after the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition came across video footage of the Aug. 14 death of Amelie Le Moullac, the 24-year-old cyclist who was killed by a turning truck on Folsom Street. The footage showed that Le Moullac was actually not to blame for the accident, which was contrary to what police had initially concluded.
Things got worse when a SFPD police sergeant arrived at Le Moullac's memorial and outraged mourners when he reportedly said that cyclists were to blame for most of these car-versus-bike accidents.
And as Supervisor Eric Mar bluntly noted, "People are pissed, over the supposed investigation."
Mar continued: "Is there a bias or blame-the-victim attitude in the San Francisco Police Department?"
Deputy Chief of Police Michael Biel responded to Mar, saying "To use your language, I myself am pissed that that video was not found."
"I do not think there's a bias," he said. "We enforce the laws evenly, for everyone." He then added, "we can do a better job."
But the speakers at the meeting didn't agree that the laws were enforced evenly. A parade of speakers recounted experiences of being treated unfairly, unprofessionally, and unjustly, by police. They told stories of cyclists who had been hit from behind when stopped at a stop sign; cyclists who had been broadsided by cars that had run red lights, yet police still blamed the cyclists; and then there was a cyclist who said he was hit from behind, with a young child in a rear-mounted seat, and was found at fault.
Leah Shahum, executive director for the San Francisco Bike Coalition, used her time at the meeting to advocate for three changes in the SFPD:
- Ongoing training of police officers to respond fairly to bike and pedestrian accidents
- Transparency in reporting and handling of traffic enforcement
- Data-driven enforcement that focuses on the most dangerous intersections in the city
"What we want to see is not special treatment, just fair and equal treatment,"
The SFPD, city supervisors, and the Bike Coalition agreed on one thing: There needs to be more traffic enforcement.
Also, there needs to be an attitude adjustment when it comes to sharing the road with pedestrians and cyclists. Both drivers and cyclists spoke about how the increase in bikes on the roads isn't exactly welcomed by many -- including some cops -- and education could help change that.
Deputy Chief Biel must have drawn the short straw and stood in for Chief Suhr, who was across the street reading to kids at the library (that's what it means to make the big bucks). But Suhr might get another chance. The committee wasn't satisfied with one hearing on the matter, and Supervisor David Campos called for a joint hearing with the Police Commission to discuss revamping police protocol for bike and pedestrian accidents.
In the meantime, the Police Department made no promises to change its current practices for handling bike accidents, but at least more than one person is pissed and that's always a good start.
Leif Haven is a writer and cyclist living in the Bay Area. He's can be spotted dragging himself up a hill -- literally and metaphorically.