Today’s story has two heroes.
Both wear blue. And both reflect the courtesy, support and responsiveness this city deserves from its police department. Yet which so many cyclists have learned not to expect, based on their own experiences.
Both are unidentified here, after requesting anonymity — something I will honor to keep them from getting swamped by cyclists seeking high-level help. And to keep that channel open for the next time.
The story begins last week, when I got a second-hand report that a local cyclist had been threatened in a road rage incident, and that the LAPD had refused to take a report about it.
By itself, that would be disturbing enough.
Too many cyclists encounter angry drivers on the roads as it is; if we can’t count on police protection, they might as well declare open season on anyone on two wheels. But it was especially troubling in light of the Mandeville Canyon case, in which prior incidents involving Dr. Christopher Thompson established the pattern of behavior that led to his conviction.
Even if there’s nothing the police can do, having a record of such complaints could establish a paper trail that might eventually lead to another prosecution. Because chance are, Thompson isn’t the only driver willing to use a car to threaten, intimidate or injure another human being.
As a result, I wanted to find if it really was LAPD policy not to take road rage reports from cyclists. So I reached out to Bicycle Advisory Committee Chairman Glenn Bailey, who suggested that I contact one of the top commanders at the new police headquarters downtown.
I sent an email explaining who I was, what I had heard, and asking for clarification about the department’s policies regarding road rage incidents. And then I moved on with my day, assuming I’d be lucky to get a response within a week. Or ever.
To my surprise, though, I received an email half an hour later asking for more information. And within two hours, I had phone messages waiting for me from the Commander, as well as a Lieutenant he had asked to look into the matter.
Both were very helpful when I returned their calls. The Commander, especially, was surprisingly friendly for such a high-ranking officer. Unfortunately, they both agreed that there was nothing they could tell me without more information.
I told them I was trying to get in touch with the rider involved, and would get back to them as soon as I knew more. And hung up the phone, fully expecting to never hear from either of them again.
A few days later, though, I got an email from the cyclist, who confirmed much of what I’d heard and agreed to talk with the Lieutenant.
(In light of the Thompson case, in which Patrick Watson’s emails were subpoenaed by the defense, I agreed not to disclose his name or any details of the incident.)
I forwarded his phone number to the Lieutenant. Later that day, I heard back from both of them that they had spoken, and the matter had been satisfactorily resolved.
The Lieutenant went on to explain that no one at the department had refused to take a report, and that it is police policy to take any road rage case seriously — but that what constitutes road rage can be subject to interpretation.
For instance, if a driver yells at a cyclist to get off the road, it probably wouldn’t merit police involvement. But if the driver uses his vehicle to threaten or attack a rider, they want to know about it.
And he assured me that they will take it very seriously.
Without going into specific detail on this case, he added that miscommunication sometimes occurs because the people involved are highly excited in the heat of the moment, and may have trouble communicating exactly what happened. Police officers are trained to calm them down and get the information they need, he said — but some officers are better at it than others.
When this rider was able to explain more clearly what had happened, it was clear that a crime may have occurred. As a result, the case will be investigated by a detective as an Assault with a Deadly Weapon.
He also gave me some advice on what to do if you find yourself in a situation like this — which I’ll try to get to in another post next week.
Bottom line, the cyclist was satisfied with the result. And I was pleasantly surprised, not only that such high-ranking officers would respond, but that they would take the time to investigate the situation and keep me in the loop every step of the way.
The Lieutenant also added one final thought, which I’ll let him explain in his own words from a follow-up email:
Finally, the Department is continuously evaluating its operations in our attempts to improve. We are looking at ways to better educate the community and the Department employees on bike safety issues and traffic accident prevention. In order to develop a comprehensive plan to minimize to the risks to bicyclists we will need their input and cooperation.
Maybe things really are getting better.
On a related note, Asst. D.A. Mary Stone, prosecutor in the Thompson case, has requested letters from cyclists to present to the judge next Monday prior to Thompson’s sentencing. Will Campbell offers his letter as an example; you can see additional letters on Streetsblog, as well as Damien Newton’s advice on how to structure your letter.