It seemed black and white.
A cyclist is critically injured in a collision with an underage drunk drunk driver. And the very next day, a story appears in the local paper clearly suggesting that the cyclist could have been at fault.
He added that it’s not clear if the driver swerved or what led to the accident.
“It’s kind of a residential street, so we’re not sure if the bicyclists were staying on their side of the road or taking up more of the road,” Chase said.
I responded to it almost immediately, as did thousands of other cyclists.
After all, it fit with the long-standing pattern of police bias against cyclists that we’ve been battling for decades.
But over the past few days, as the story unfolded, it became clear that there was more to the story. Riders who were on the scene reported that the police conducted a fair and complete investigation, while others stressed that the officer who made the statement was not involved in the case.
Lately, though, I’ve been receiving messages suggesting that the officer had been misquoted, and that as a cyclist himself, would never have made such a statement.
I usually take such things with a grain — if not a 10 pound bag — of salt. After all, blaming the press is usually the first response when it all hits the fan.
It’s clearly nothing new. Way back in the last century that Groucho Marx once quipped “Quote me as saying I was misquoted.”
And it wouldn’t be the first time someone claiming to be a cyclist attacked other riders.
This time, though, there may be some truth to it.
A reader named JA reached out to the officer in question, Lt. Devin Chase, and received the following response:
I wanted to thank you for taking the time to share your concerns. I am a bicyclist who rides at least two to three times per week, so I share your concerns and believe me as a bicyclist I do not have any anti-cyclist bias.
I am not sure if you have ever been interviewed by the media, but they never quote you fully and often don’t quote you completely accurately. Unfortunately the ten minute conversation that I had with the Daily Breeze reporter was reduced to the short statement in the article; which was not quoted in context, nor did it clearly indicate that we were only interested in gathering all the available facts in this case.
My actual statement was that the Torrance Police Department was conducting a major investigation into this accident and our major accident investigators had been called out and that they would be looking at all aspects of the collision in order to determine exactly what occurred.
I then gave an example of one aspect that would be looked at, which was where in the roadway was the driver and where in the roadway were the bicyclists prior to the collision. The importance of this level of investigation is that the point of rest for the vehicle and the bicyclist was against the west curb with the vehicle facing west, possibly indicating the vehicle was taking evasive action from their side of the roadway and away from the bicyclists. To a non-trained investigator or to a citizen this might lead one to believe that based solely on those facts the bicyclist was riding on the wrong side of the street at the time of the collision; however our trained accident investigators will be able to reconstruct what occurred prior to the point of rest.
I felt this was important to point out to the reporter because if a picture of the accident scene were published it would portray the above information; which would look bad for the bicyclist. This was all shared with the reporter, it just wasn’t printed.
I want to assure you that the Torrance Police Department conducts very thorough, bias-free investigations of all aspects of a significant incident like this and this case is no different.
Lieutenant Devin Chase
Watch Commander – Torrance Police Department
If we take Lt. Chase at his word — and frankly, I see no reason not to, having been in the same situation myself — he is guilty, at most, of talking a little too freely to a reporter, without consider the damage his words could do if taken out of context.
As I’ve learned over the past few years, it’s not easy talking to a reporter. You have to respond to questions off the top of your head, with no time to edit your response. I’ve often found myself walking away hoping they don’t use a well-intended comment that would sound entirely wrong out of context.
Even when you have time to carefully craft your words, you have no control over how they’re eventually used, as Bike Snob lately learned.
So maybe he’s right.
Maybe the press is to blame this time. Maybe the reporter got careless in trying to meet a deadline, and didn’t consider how that quote would be read. Maybe, as some have suggested, it’s the paper itself that is biased against cyclists.
Or maybe, in retrospect, the local police are just trying to scrape the shit back off the fan.
Personally, I’m inclined to give Lt. Devin the benefit of the doubt. And to take a little more time to calm down before I write in response to something I’ve read.
I’d also say I’d make more of an effort to reach out to the police for clarification before I write something. But I’ve found that, with the notable exception of the LAPD, my emails to the CHP, L.A. Sheriff’s Department and various local police departments have been almost universally ignored.
But I suppose past results are no indication of future performance, as they say on the investment ads.
And let’s give credit to the Torrance department for being the exception, as they have clearly shown in responding to cyclist complaints this week.
But maybe this is an opportunity.
Maybe the Torrance police and South Bay cyclists should take the anger this story has aroused, and use it as an opportunity start a real, ongoing dialogue like LAPD Chief Beck and Sgt. Krumer have done with the Bike Task Force.
Because it sounds like they may have a lot to talk about.