Hotline Shows Police Bias vs. Cyclists By Leah Shahum

It's bad enough being hit and injured by a careless motorist while biking. Now imagine the insult added to that injury if you were denied your legal rights by an officer of the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) who told you that you couldn't file an incident report on the collision. Why not? No good reasons are usually given, but we have a pretty good guess based on the data collected so far through the SFBC's Bicyclists' Rights Hotline.

The Hotline was set up last Fall to advise bicyclists involved in traffic collisions of their legal rights and to gather better data on the SFPD's handling of bike-related incidents and the District Attorney's Office (DA) prosecution rates of motorists who injure cyclists.

We have received dozens of calls from people so far. Between November 10th and February 11th alone, 12 of the incidents caused injuries to bicyclists that they considered the fault of the motorists. In at least four of these 12 cases, the bicyclists asked police to take a report and were denied that right. In one situation, a hit-and-run in which the bicyclist succeeded in recording the driver's license plate number, the bicyclist tried on three separate occasions to file an incident report, and was denied all three times. In another case, the police officer did not believe the bicyclist was hurt badly enough, whatever that means.

According to a memo released by SF Police Chief Fred Lau in 1998 at the SFBC's request (and hopefully to be re-released soon): "Officers may receive complaints by bicyclists about motorists who run a bicyclist off the road or actually try to commit an assault. Officers shall prepare incident reports in all such cases." So much for that directive. In none of the 12 cases in which bicyclists were injured were any charges filed against the motorists involved. In fact, in two of those cases, the cyclists were cited.

The SFBC has been meeting with representatives of the SFPD and DA's office regularly, hoping to improve this asinine and downright prejudiced situation. To report an incident to the Bicyclists' Rights Hotline, see www.sfbike.org or call 431-BIKE, x-7.

Bar graph by Allison Howard