Maybe I got it wrong.
Or maybe the person who explained it to me did.
But yesterday, I got clarification on what police can and can’t do in cases where they don’t witness a violation.
My understanding was that the police were prohibited from writing a ticket or filing misdemeanor charges unless they actually saw it happen. Which is why it’s so hard to get criminal charges in a harassment case, for instance, because few motorists are foolish enough to threaten a bike rider when a cop is watching.
However, it turns out that’s not quite right.
At Wednesday’s meeting of the LAPD bike task force, officers who work in traffic investigations explained that they actually can write tickets for traffic violations after the fact — if the evidence or witness testimony makes it clear that a driver broke the law.
For instance, if the evidence suggests that a collision occurred because someone ran a red light, they can ticket the responsible party even though they didn’t see it happen.
Criminal charges are another matter.
While police are free to make felony arrests whether they see the crime or not, state law prohibits them from making a misdemeanor arrest unless they see the violation.
However, the key word there is arrest; misdemeanor charges can be filed later if the evidence warrants, whether or not the officer was there when the crime was committed.
It seems like splitting hairs, but that’s the current state of the law here in the late, great Golden State.
The good news is, that means your bike cam video can be considered as evidence leading to a misdemeanor charge.
It can also lead to a traffic ticket after the fact, though that’s not likely in most cases. Particularly if the violation didn’t lead to a collision or injuries.
A couple other quick notes from the meeting:
- Police are seeing a number of bikes converted to use a small gas-powered engine. However, once you hit the gas, it’s no longer considered a bicycle. Anything with a motor over 150 cc’s is legally a motorcycle; anything below that is considered a moped. And both are subject to laws that bicycles aren’t, as well as licensing requirements. E-bikes are not subject to the same requirements and are still regarded as bicycles under state law.
- By far the leading cause of bicycling collisions in the Valley Traffic Division is riding against traffic. In fact, riding salmon resulted in nearly six times as many collisions reported to the police as dooring, the second leading cause. And not only does riding upstream dramatically increase your risk of getting hit, it also means you’re automatically considered at fault, at least in part, regardless of any other factors.
- Finally, those long-awaited stats on hit-and-run requested by the L.A. City Council are unlikely to be delivered before the end of the month. The LAPD still working on compiling detailed data breaking down just how prevalent the problem actually is. But it would be great if they could step it up just a little, since there are currently two state laws under consideration to address the problem, and a little solid data might help.