Wednesday, September 1

Unsafe Police Order

Colleyville Police Patrol on a Nicer Day
In my last post, I related how I was ordered off the road and onto the sidewalk by a Colleyville Police Officer. The road was Hall Johnson. Hall Johnson is a four lane road with a 30mph speed limit, no shoulder, lanes about 12 feet in width, and great visibility. The incident occurred about three blocks east of Highway 26, a few minutes after 6PM. Eastbound traffic was fairly light, and it was raining. Soon, it'd turn into a lightning storm, but I'm getting ahead of myself. It was just one of those days when you get caught by the weather, and the weather keeps coming at you until there's nothing left to do but get the rest of the way home. Hall Johnson is somewhat unusual because it tends to be slightly downhill eastbound and, with a tail wind as today, I was able to average about 25mph on it, with a peak speed of an indicated 29mph. Normally, I don't travel that fast.

Lately, I've had a lot of cause to consider what I might do if I were pulled over by the police while riding safely and legally. Not having my legal and video tape team in place and ready to roll, and not particularly having any crusade or point I felt needed to be made today, I chose "Option A."

Option A consists of what I feel should most often be the cyclist's course of action in most encounters with the police, assuming the cyclist isn't actually doing anything wrong. I imagine some would advocate a different course of action. Here's what I did, including what I did WRONG.
  • The "contact" began when the officer, in the left lane, ordered me over his loudspeaker to "get on the sidewalk." Initially, I didn't comprehend what he was asking, (I suspect such an encounter is almost always a surprise so it takes a bit to register fully), but that was soon corrected.
  • I replied that it was unsafe to ride on the sidewalk. The officer repeated his order.
  • At that point, I pulled over (I admit I forgot to signal a stop and rightward movement in the ordering around). I stopped, dismounted the bike, and got on the sidewalk. I did not say anything further to the officer.
  • The officer was NOT inclined to stop in the RH lane to give me a lecture or get out of his car in the rain which was getting worse by the moment.
  • I stood on the sidewalk and the officer departed. While it would have been difficult to get his badge number, I confess that getting his car ID completely slipped my mind until he was gone. Me bad.
  • Determined that I was NOT going to ride my bike on the sidewalk, I began to walk toward home. Had the rain lightened enough to risk getting out the cell phone, I might have called for a ride home the rest of the way.
  • After about a minute, lightning began to strike close enough that I started counting the seconds between the lightning flash and the thunder.
  • At that point, I decided that walking home was no longer a good idea, and I rode like the wind - down Hall Johnson - arriving home without further incident, and without getting struck by lightning. Had I been struck by lightning and killed, I would have been VERY irritated with the officer. Had I complied with his order and been struck and killed in a right cross, I likewise would have been VERY irritated.
  • Anyway, having gotten out of the incident without either being cited or performing unsafe acts, I called the non-emergency police number. Unexpectedly, this shed some light on Reed Bates 911 calls. MY call was transferred to 911 where I, as had several of the Reed callers, noted this was NOT an emergency. Unlike them, I noted I had been transferred to them via the nonemergency phone operator despite clearly indicating it was NOT an emergency. Unlike the Bates callers, I called when I got home.
  • As it turns out, the 911 dispatchers were pretty busy and they said someone would call me back. I think they often get busy when it rains in the late afternoon.
  • About 8:30, Officer Terrell of the Colleyville PD called, and I explained the situation, how sidewalk riding is extremely dangerous, and how I just wanted things explained to the patrol officers so that I was not going to have to worry about being detained while riding safely and legally. I did not want to file a formal complaint, but only wanted to be able to ride safely. Officer Terrell was polite, and tried to explain that the officer probably felt I was in danger due to the rain and he'd done similar, though he wasn't saying it was right. I explained that I had two rear lights lit at the time, and a reflector. I did not mention that only two cars passed me the rest of the way along Hall Johnson and there was no drama in either case (they weren't really going much faster than I). It seemed pointless, because Officer Terrell indicated he would pass along my concerns to the patrol officers. It was pretty clear during the conversation that I was upset, but I was also polite. I tried to make it clear I have no wish to become a law enforcement target, nor to achieve any end other than to be allowed to ride without being directed to do unsafe stuff. I did not attempt to go into my cycling background or education at all, nor that I could provide references to the applicable statutes and at least some of the accident studies.
It's pretty clear about the biggest thing I did wrong - I did not get any way to ID the police officer, nor did I get the name of the 911 dispatcher. I DID get Officer Terrell's name so at least I was 1 for 3. Amazingly, after the fact, I can't even honestly recollect if the officer ever flipped on his lights or not. In the event, since I did not want to lodge a formal complaint against the officer, perhaps it was better that I was unable to provide his name. Who knows? In any event, it proves the value of surprise. In this case, I certainly WAS surprised.

Things I think I did right. I did NOT agree to operate in an unsafe manner and I did NOT operate in an unsafe manner. (IMO, a twelve foot lane is not safe to "share," and especially not in wet conditions. Besides the danger of a right cross on the sidewalk, I have fallen on similar corner ramps in the past because they tend to be slick. A fall crossing a street could easily have ended very badly, especially if I tumbled into Hall Johnson as a car was passing.) I did NOT argue with the officer or, once I protested he was asking me to do something unsafe, say anything at all. For all I knew, initially, there might have been some danger ahead of which I was unaware (it turned out there was no danger at all other than the weather). Importantly, I did not attempt to argue cycling law with an officer in a law enforcement situation. I DID follow up. To Colleyville's credit, unlike Fort Worth, the police DID return my call.

I Can Empathize With his Emotion


whareagle said...

Steve - solid, honest, good post. I'd add that what you did right was you followed police orders to "get on the sidewalk". He didn't say "ride on the sidewalk." so you rightfully got on the sidewalk.... and awaited further instructions. Then the guy left. So, you waited to see if he was going to come back after pulling a widow out of a burning car somewhere. When the officer did not return, you RIGHTFULLY and LEGALLY and SAFELY returned to the lane and hustled home. You then followed up. I have no problem with your actions whatsoever, and applaud your calm demeanor. Thank you for being a great ambassador!

PM Summer said...

Drip, drip, drip... and I don't mean the rain.

Anonymous said...

Time for civil disobedience yet?
As Summer has pointed to several times, this is war and we are soldiers. A well armed, and legged, militia can gain respect.

Steve A said...

Riding safely and according to law is not civil disobedience. It appears we have not educated our police well about that law and their sworn duty to uphold it.

Steve A said...

PM. I hope my shoes are dry by Monday.

Velouria said...

Wow, what the ... !

And yes to this:
"Riding safely and according to law is not civil disobedience. It appears we have not educated our police well about that law and their sworn duty to uphold it."

That should be engraved somewhere.

KD5NRH said...

I'd recommend following up the phone call with a letter to the police chief and a copy to the city administrator describing exactly what happened, and citing sources as to the danger of sidewalk riding. That way, it's all on record if there's another problem later. The copy to the city administrator should also become public record, so anyone doing a FOIA request regarding cyclist issues would get it as proof that they had been informed of the problem.

danc said...

The police officer should of stop and discuss the order. It did not appear to be an emergency irregardless of rain.

Steve A said...

Danc, the police officer SHOULD have not stopped me at all because stopping safely and legally operating civilians is not part of his job! Which is exactly why I followed up afterwards the way I did. A cyclist has more than one option as to how to assert his/her rights, as you well know.

I'm not sure I would have agreed about it not being an emergency once the first lightning strike hit nearby, but the officer's order surely did not help THAT.

danc said...

I totally agree the police officer was wrong in his order.

Police officer approach "shouting from a loudspeaker" and more or less keep rolling on is not correct either.

I'm glad you did the right thing, follow up the Chief of Police. It's rare that cyclist questions a dubious police order or feels comfortable to call law enforcement about a road problem, see: LAPD intervenes to fight anti-bike harassment at a highly personal level.

Steve A said...

I think the fact that I called Colleyville PD speaks highly for the chances of obtaining a good result without going to extremes.

danc said...

Re: "fact that I called Colleyville PD speaks highly for the chances of obtaining a good result"

Agree, your phone and letter show a calm approach.

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