D.C. Office of Police Complaints Issues Follow-Up on Police Enforcement of Biking Laws

Biking Police

The DC Office of Police Complaints has issued a follow-up report on the Metropolitan Police Department’s efforts to improve in the enforcement of laws related to bicycling. You can find a bit of background and the original 2011 OPC report here.

The report has an excessive focus on the single “riding abreast” citation, rather than general issues related to wrongful citations and officer knowledge of biking laws. But it also contains a number of further findings,

The OPC finds that “there is no evidence of any widespread problem with officers erroneously issuing riding abreast tickets within the past few years.”  We agree that there is no “widespread” problem, because the issuance of this citation is not “widespread.”  However, there is a high likelihood of the citation lacking proper basis if it is issued. However, we do not want to over-emphasize this particular issue. Our choice of the “riding abreast” citation to conduct our own analysis was based on two factors: (1) The ability to get a manageable sample size to analyze given limited resources, and (2) conditions that do not require a significant judgment call to determine whether the issuing officer was mistaken about the fundamental meaning of the law.  Our goal was to use evidence of officers’ lack of understanding of this law to show the overall need for better training—not to overemphasize the importance of this relatively minor regulation. The report seems to recognize this need for better overall training, stating “there are additional measures that can be taken to ensure both that patrol officers are properly enforcing the regulations and that MPD supervisors are quickly identifying areas of the law where offices need more training.” We appreciate OPC’s recognition that the concerns with the “riding abreast” citation are indicative of a larger concern, and we look forward to MPD’s response for this call for improvements.

OPC requested three years of crash reports from MPD and was provided with just shy of two years of data, from January 2011 through November 2012. Based on a random sampling of 120 reports, OPC found that cyclists involved in crashes were interviewed at the scene only 63 percent of the time, with only one report including the interview of a cyclist subsequently at a hospital. OPC recommends that MPD improve its reporting by including the narrative each party told the officer rather than an unattributed synopsis. Additionally, OPC encourages MPD to better use its system of receiving supplemental information after the investigating officer’s shift ends and of recording witness statements.

In addition to these investigative findings, OPC reviewed MPD’s performance in implementing the original reports’s four recommendations, which were:

  1. Change its method of investigating bicycle-motor vehicle crashes in order to provide appropriate safeguards for bicyclists and revise General Order 401.03 to allow officers to keep reports open until necessary statements are received;
  2. Include a bicycle-specific field on the PD-10 crash report form;
  3. Better train officers on the applicable bicycling laws to ensure that they are properly enforcing bike regulations; and
  4. Increase participation in the DC Bicycle Advisory Council (BAC).

OPC found that (1) MPD had amended its General Order, but had not allowed reports to remain pending until all necessary statements were taken; (2) rejected the OPC’s suggestion to include a field for bicycles on the crash report form; (3) taken some steps to improve training including roll call training and the provision of WABA booklets; and (4) improved its engagement with the BAC.

We agree with the fourth finding and appreciate the involvement of the officers who routinely attend the BAC and its Safety Committee, and who often work with WABA on safety initiatives. However, the other three findings are unacceptable. The only two structural recommendations of the OPC—to allow crash reports to be left open to allow time for injured witness statements and to include bicycles on crash report forms as an available type of vehicle for data tracking and consistency—were both rejected. The recommendation for further training has simply not been implemented at a scale commensurate with the need.

We will continue to review the report and determine next steps to ensure that the flaws still highlighted by this follow-up report are addressed, and we look forward to the opportunity to raise these issues again before the Public Safety Committee.

Photo by Flickr user rho-bin