If the Police Department came across somebody lying on the street with a gunshot wound, they would immediately secure the area as a potential crime scene, they would collect evidence and they would look for the person responsible for the crime. If a witness came forward and said "He went that way." they would pursue. If they found somebody holding a gun, they would detain the person and even protect the person's hands in order to examine for evidence of recent gunfire. The gun would be collected as evidence and tests would be run to determine if the bullet in the victim came from the gun and if so, the person holding the gun would be hard pressed to prove that they were not responsible for the gunshot victim's injuries.
Yet, if the Police Department came across a cyclist lying on the street with injuries that indicate some form of collision, they would look around at the debris, the skid marks, the damage to the bike and they would have the victim transported to the hospital while they filled out hit-and-run paperwork. If a witness came forward and said "He went that way." they would ask for a description of the vehicle and they would make a note on the report. If they found the vehicle that was involved in the hit-and-run collision, they would ask the owner if they knew anything about the hit-and-run collision and if the owner of the vehicle said "no!" they would leave the motor vehicle and the owner behind and return to the witness and the victim.
In the first scenario, they would confiscate the gun as a weapon, as evidence, as a clue that would be used to determine the identity of the criminal responsible for the crime.
In the second scenario, they would allow the owner of the vehicle to maintain possession of the weapon, they would accept the owner's denial of responsibility and they would file a report.
Imagine if the owner of the gun said "I put my gun on the coffee table, I went to sleep, and when I awoke, the gun was gone. I later found the gun and was holding it when the police approached but I am not responsible for the crime that took place. I know nothing." The Police Department would not allow the entire case to hinge on the victim's ability to identify the shooter. There would be other evidence that could be collected. The gun, the plausibility of the gun owner's story, the gun owner's record, the gun owner's alibi, etc.
Yet when a motorist's car is involved in a hit-and-run crime, invariably the case rests on the ability of the witness and/or victim to identify the person responsible for the crime.
Why is the vehicle (weapon) not collected as evidence of a crime? Why is the owner of the vehicle (weapon) not investigated and obligated to offer a plausible and verifiable explanation for who was operating the vehicle (weapon) when the crime was committed? Why isn't the owner of the motor vehicle (weapon) not responsible for offering an alibi that would confirm that the vehicle (weapon) owner could not have been behind the wheel? Why is the owner of the vehicle (weapon) not responsible for producing cell phone records and text message records that would indicate location and journey and intentions and serve as evidence that could be used to analyze the truthfulness of the vehicle (weapon) owner's story.
The simple answer is this:
If you use a gun to kill somebody, you're a criminal. If you use a motor vehicle to kill somebody, you're traffic. That standard must change.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that four times as many people die from motor vehicle collisions than from war and conflict.
In Beverly Hills, hardly a war zone but definitely the location for conflict, a cyclist was recently hit by a motorist and knocked to the ground. (early December '09) It was a hit-and-run crime. A witness in another vehicle chased the motorist and returned with the license plate information which was presented to the Beverly Hills Police Department. The BHPD investigated the incident, taking the post-it with the license plate information from the victim, never to return it, going so far as to say they couldn't release the license information or the vehicle owner's information to the victim. The post-it and the license information were in the victim's possession until the Beverly Hills Police Department collected it for their report.
Five weeks after the hit-and-run crime, the Beverly Hills Police Department invited the victim to the police station to identify the suspected hit-and-run criminal. The victim looked at photos of six people and he indicated that they "all looked similar."
Since the victim was busy getting knocked to the ground and then was busy trying to deal with the shock and the fact that his bike was under the motorist's car and that the motorist then backed up and took off, all as he dragged himself and the bike to the curb, it makes sense that he didn't get a good look at the motorist, a look that would linger in his consciousness for five weeks waiting for the opportunity to identify the perpetrator of the crime from a half dozen lookalikes. On top of that, who looks like their photos?
But the police had the license plate and they had a witness and they had two merchants who saw the vehicle back up and drive away leaving the victim on the street.
What the Beverly Hills Police Department doesn't have is the moral conviction that when a person hits another human with a motor vehicle and then leaves them lying in the street, that a serious crime has been committed, that a weapon has been used in a violent assault on another human being, one that warrants a full investigation and that treats the incident as a crime, a real crime with a real victim and a real criminal.
The Cyclists' Bill of Rights states "Cyclists have the right to the full support of our judicial system and the right to expect that those who endanger, injure or kill cyclists be dealt with to the full extent of the law."
The Beverly Hills Police Department has failed the victim in this incident and in doing so, they have failed the community as a whole.
For more information on the Cyclists' Bill of Rights visit http://BikeWritersCollective.com
To contact the Beverly Hills City Manager, Jeff Kolin, call 310-285-1012
To contact the Beverly Hills Police Chief, David L. Snowden, call 310-285-2100 or 310-285-2125
To visit the City Council, consider riding as a group on Tuesday February 16, 2010 to the 7:00 pm City Council meeting.
"See you on the Streets!"