Monday, December 26, 2011

BAC following up on the Office of Police Complaints Report with MPD

The BAC Safety, Education, and Enforcment Committee met on Tuesday, December 13. Thanks to Ellen Jones, Lt. Nick Breul of MPD, and Daniel Hoagland of WABA for coming. I think it marks a productive beginning to a working relationship between BAC and MPD.

1) Street Smart Campaign Activities. Lt. Breul provided an overview of activities in the recent round of Street Smart Campaign enforcement. It covered enforcement against pedestrians endangering themselves, motorists endangering pedestrians (not respecting pedestrians in crosswalks with flashing lights) and bicyclists riding in an unsafe manner. The Street Smart Campaign is organized by Lt. Breul using officers being paid for working overtime. It is paid for with special funds from NHTSA. Several of the activities involve teams of officers, thus the type of activities which wouldn’t be happening normally. They also involve a lot of education. Dan Hoagland of WABA got all the numbers in his recap:

2) Follow-up from Office of Police Complaints report. (available here) The OPC report had a number of important recommendations, and the Committee is focused on making sure we follow-up on those recommendations. The fact that MPD has appointed a representative to the BAC is an important success of the report. From a substantive perpsective, there were three big recommendations in the report:
  • OPC Recommendation A: Change general order 401.03 to allow officers to leave reports pending until all statements are obtained.
    • MPD action so far: MPD has sent out several teletypes reinforcing that in the case where a crash participant is not at the scene (because they are at the hospital) it is the officer’s responsibility to go to the hospital to interview them. It is not clear how the general order should be changed, as it is important that police reports not be left perpetually incomplete. A change to the general order is in process, but changed language is not yet available.
  • OPC Recommendation B: Include a bicycle-specific field on the PD Form 10. (crash report form)
    • MPD action so far: At the hearing, Assistant Chief Burke expressed willingness to look at changes to the PD Form 10. However, the form was recently changed, and it takes a long time, so its unlikely that further changes would happen soon. Lt. Breul has committed to bringing copies of the form so that BAC can examine the extent to which bicycles are already covered in the fields.
  • OPC Recommendation C: Continue training officers on bicycle safety.
    • MPD action so far: Along with DDOT, MPD has rolled out a bicycle and pedestrian training module to officers, and by the end of the year, all officers will have gotten the training (electronically). However, the module has not yet been provided to WABA or BAC. This is important so that we know there are no inconsistencies between our understanding of the law and how officers are being trained. Lt Breul has committed to bringing a copy of the module to a future meeting for review by WABA and BAC.
  • OPC Recommendation D: MPD should strengthen involvement in the BAC.
    • MPD action: Done!
On the whole, MPD has been extremely responsive to the recommendations in the Office of Police Complaints report. The BAC will continue to follow up on these issues as there are chances to make progress to ensure that cyclists involved in crashes have a chance to tell their side of the story and are treated appropriately.

3) More robust traffic enforcment. Everyone knows that traffic in DC is extremely dangerous. However, MPD has so many different priorities to pursue, that traffic enforcement is not prioritized. There is no specific traffic enforcement division. All officers have a responsibility to do traffic enforcement in the case of egregious violations and all police districts should be doing specific traffic enforcement. In addition, there are the Street Smart Campaign activities, which generate large numbers of contacts but only in a few locations on a very limited number of days each year. Lastly, automated cameras enforce of speed limits (plus 10) and red light violations in specific locations around the city. I believe that BAC should continue to investigate traffic enforcement and pursue ways of implementing a more robust effort at traffic enforcement, including the possibility of reconstituting a traffic enforcement division.

4) Tidbits. We covered a lot of ground. A few interesting points here on the finer points.
  • Three foot passing law enforcement. No one at the meeting knew of any instances where the 3-foot passing law had been enforced. A ticket could be given for violating the law under a broader “unsafe passing” violation code, but it remains a question whether this has been used.
  • When is a police report required? A police officer is only obligated to take a police report after a crash in cases where there are either injuries or significant damage. It seems that significant damage would be high enough (maybe > $500 or $1,000) that even a totalled bicycle might not always be significant enough to take a report. This is a somewhat subjective area that BAC will continue to pursue to ensure that cyclists whose bicycles are damaged in crashes where the other driver is at fault are able to recover repair costs.
  • Recovering a stolen bike. If your bike is stolen, if you are able to call 911 within a few minutes of the theft, there is a chance of recovery, as nearby officers will be alerted. Turnover is extremely fast, so a good description of both bicycle and perpetrator, and speed are key.
  • Safe and non-hazardous manner. Changes to the DC code related to bicycles says: “A person shall operate a a safe and non-hazardous manner so as not to endanger himself or herself or any other person.” We don’t know what this means, but hope that riding in the middle of a lane or other safe and legal forms of cycling would never be penalized under this vague language. We found out at the meeting that MPD has no official interpretation of what this language means, so it is up to individual officers to use their judgement. BAC will continue to investigate how the language is being used.
The next BAC Safety, Education, and Enforcement Committee meeting will be Tuesday, February 14 at 6:30pm at Teasim at 400 8th St. NW Washington DC. Please let me know if you are interested in attending, or have suggestions for future agenda items at . Best, Jameel.