Tuesday, June 01, 2010

CityWatchLA - YouTube Vid Rocks the LAPD

CityWatch, June 1, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 43  

A 91 second YouTube video of the LAPD responding to Hollywood Boulevard cyclists riding on Friday night’s Critical Mass ride has stirred charges of excessive force and calls for an investigation of the LAPD’s deployment, making a simple bike ride the most significant traffic incident of the Memporial Day Weekend.

Cyclists gathered early on Friday evening for the traditional monthly Critical Mass ride,  riding the streets of LA in a “We Are Traffic” celebration that took them to the BP Gas Station on Beverly for a Gulf Oil Spill protest and then on a meandering ride through the streets of Los Angeles.

As the cyclists rode through different LAPD jurisdictions, they encountered different responses from the LAPD patrol officers, ranging from hoots and honks of support to indifference to their experience on Hollywood Boulevard which resulted in the YouTube video documenting the tail end of an incident that is positioned to rock the LAPD and the progress that has been made by the Cyclists/LAPD Task Force.

According to cyclists on the ride, as they came through the Hollywood & Highland intersection they encountered LAPD officers who pushed and tackled cyclists off their bikes and in one instance, stuck a baton in the spokes of a bike, flipping the cyclist to the ground. One cyclist stopped and used his iPhone to videotape the LAPD arresting another cyclist capturing what appears to be an LAPD Bicycle Officer kicking at a passing cyclist, then the video goes black as the photographer is apparently tackled and given conflicting instructions of “Get down!” and “Get up!”

*On Saturday morning a Commander with the LAPD confirmed that there were three issues under investigation:

The LAPD response and actions on Hollywood Boulevard as the cyclists rode through the area.

The LAPD response and actions on Hollywood Boulevard as the photographer documented the arrest of a cyclist.

The failure of the Hollywood LAPD Watch Commander to take a telephonic request for an investigation or to take a complaint.

*This incident and the resulting investigation is a defining moment for the LAPD. It comes on the heels of significant progress and in the midst of challenging times.

Chief Charlie Beck made LAPD's relationship with the cycling community a priority when he was confirmed, forming the Cyclists/LAPD Task Force to take on policy and speaking affirmatively of the rights of cyclists.

The Cyclists/LAPD Task Force has worked hard to develop training materials and policies that clearly articulate the rights of cyclists on the streets of LA.

While great progress has been made on many issues, two of the key cyclist proposed policies that were rejected addressed the handcuffing of cyclists for infractions and the LAPD’s policy for pursuing and subduing cyclists for traffic violations.

*This incident is unique in that it was captured on an iPhone and immediately posted to YouTube, drawing tens of thousand of hits, but it is much more common than the press would represent or that the LAPD would acknowledge. As for handcuffing:

Late at night, a cyclist and his girlfriend stop to witness another cyclist getting handcuffed and that prompts the LAPD to give the witness a pair of cuffs. His offense? Stopping to watch.

Early in the morning, a cyclist on a tandem drops his boy off at school and then rides home, getting pulled over for a traffic violation and ending up in cuffs. His offense? Denying a traffic violation?

*The larger issue it this; when the LAPD encounters a large number of cyclists on the streets of Los Angeles, they are charged with judging the individuals for the behavior of the group. In other words, if a cyclist runs a red at the beginning of the ride and draws the attention of the LAPD, it's the cyclists who arrive late that get the tickets.

Consider the cyclists who were riding north on La Brea drawing the attention of the LAPD who arrived late but not too late to greet the straggling cyclists who ended up in handcuffs and with citations that were later withdrawn. They drew the wrath of the LAPD and were punished because they were apprehendible. Their crime? Not having bike licenses!

Consider the cyclists riding through the Downtown area three months ago on a Critical Mass ride were enjoying the evening air and streets free of motor vehicles, save for the LAPD patrol car that came driving directly at them, scattering the cyclists and then using the fact that they were riding past the patrol car with open doors as justification for charges of disobeying a command. When did driving a patrol car toward oncoming traffic and endangering cyclists become a command? Their crime? Being large in number. The LAPD response? Threaten safety with motor vehicle.

Look at Friday’s Critical Mass incident that reportedly had hundreds of participants yet it is apparent in the video that it was the stragglers that drew the wrath of the LAPD, ending up tackled, handcuffed and cited because they were...available?

*As for the cycling community, the apparent distrust of the LAPD or lack of faith in the complaint process has resulted in a scattering of witnesses and victims but there are three opportunities for the community to engage in a dialogue on this and related issues.

LA Bike Map is an online crowd sourcing tool that allows members of the community the opportunity to simply log on and record incidents on the streets of Los Angeles, from hit-and-runs to road rage incidents to road conditions that need attention.

The Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee meets on the Tuesday evening at 7pm and the LAPD will be there to discuss the Friday night Critical Mass incident with the public.

Bikeside is LA’s only 501(c)4 Bike Lobby in Los Angeles. BikesideSPEAKS addressed many of the issues that have been raised during this Cyclists/LAPD incident on Hollywood Boulevard and cyclists can join Bikeside in lobbying for the rights of cyclists on the streets of LA.

*The Cyclists/LAPD Task Force has met five times since Chief Beck was confirmed and at the first meeting the LAPD was presented with a call to action on several issues including the cuffing policy and the pursuit policy. Now is the time to firmly address not just the incident that took place on Friday evening on Hollywood Boulevard but to address the larger opportunity to establish a policy on cuffing and pursuit of cyclists.

The LAPD must establish clear guidelines and a policy on the use of handcuffs when stopping a pedestrian, a cyclist, or a motorist on the streets of Los Angeles for minor infractions such as crosswalk violations, lights, rolling reds, and for simple interviews.

The LAPD must document the use of handcuffs, demonstrating that the use of handcuffs is based on clear criteria, not on bias-based policing.

The LAPD must establish clear guidelines on the LAPD pursuit of cyclists on the streets of Los Angeles. The LAPD would never use a patrol vehicle to ram a motorist for a burned out tail light or to address traffic congestion. Why would the LAPD use force to push cyclists when responding to a complaint of “Cyclists on the Street!”

The LAPD must clearly establish and implement a policy on addressing public assemblies, one that purportedly exists but that seems to disappear when the assembly consists of cyclists.

For the cycling community and for the LAPD, the bottom line is simple:

To judge individuals based on the behavior of others is bias-based policing and it has no place on the streets of Los Angeles. If an LAPD Officer witnesses a motorist running a red light and speeding away, that does not give the LAPD the right to stay at the intersection, using force to detain the next motorist he sees.

Further, to suggest that cyclists were violating the law will never be an acceptable argument or a justification for LAPD actions that violate the law. To examine LAPD behavior in the context of “The cyclists started it!” is a non-starter. The LAPD is here to hold us all accountable to the law but they aren't above the law and they are never in a position to violate the 1st and 4th Amendments.

(Stephen Box is a cycling advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net)

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