Police Work with Bicycle Community: An Update by Joe Speaks

Since the SFBC started gathering statistics on police conduct in response to bike/car accidents, it's become clear to us that there is a problem. The SF Police Department (SFPD) is teaming up with the Bike Coalition to make sure that known problems are addressed immediately.

A series of meetings in recent weeks between the SFPD and representatives of the bike community has jumpstarted several projects. We are working on a Roll-Call training video that will show every officer on the force exactly how bicycles belong in traffic. In addition, the SFPD has agreed to clarify its policy on the need for accident reports and ensure that all officers are well aware of that policy. The police have also agreed to address each inquiry alleging police misconduct that comes to the SFBC's accident hotline. These are good first steps toward building a police force that will understand traffic from a cyclist's perspective.

GETTING A POLICE REPORT
Unless you have been involved in an injury collision, current SFPD policy is that officers will not prepare a police report at the scene. (This policy applies no matter what type of vehicle you have.) The SFBC intends to work with the police on the need for reports in non-injury collisions involving bikes. For a cyclist, a police report can be a key tool in getting the driver's insurance company to pay up.

Following an injury accident, if you can't wait for an officer to come to the scene, you can go to any police district station and ask for a counter report. Be sure to exchange contact information with the other party prior to leaving the scene. You can get this report prepared at any time, but it makes sense to do it within the first few days after the incident. There will not be an investigation at the scene, and the report simply documents your statement in a report.

The Bike Coalition is still working to clarify police policy that police reports are to be prepared for injury collisions, regardless of the extent of injury. So don't be discouraged from getting a report just because your injuries are minor.

If an officer refuses to take a police report in an injury accident, either at the scene or at the counter, call the Bike Coalition's Incident Hotline at 431-BIKE, x-7. Get the officer's badge number and let him or her know they'll be getting a call.

KNOWING YOUR RIGHTS
We want to help ensure that individual cyclists are prepared and aware of their rights if they're involved in a collision. Some tips:

  1. Safety first! Make sure you are out of the road way and safe.
  2. Get a license plate, in case the car decides to leave the scene.
  3. Ask the driver and any witnesses to remain on the scene. Do not tell the driver you are O.K., or that he or she can leave until you have taken a few minutes to calm down, check your body, and your bike.
  4. If you are involved in an injury accident, even just bumps and scrapes, call the police. For injury accidents, call 911 (if there are serious injuries) or 553-1023 (if minor injuries) to request police response to the scene. In SF, and most other large cities, assignments are prioritized. If your injuries are not serious you may have to wait.
  5. For injury accidents, a police report can be taken at the scene. Remember that even simple injuries can become complicated days or weeks after an accident - get a report linking your injuries to the incident.
  6. If you are not injured, but your bike is damaged, the SFPD says you should simply exchange contact information with the other party, including: name, address, phone number, driver's license (for automobile drivers), license plate and description of involved automobile, and insurance information (though insurance information is not required for a bicycle).If the other party refuses to provide identifying information, or an altercation results, call the police to facilitate the exchange. If the other party leaves the scene, go to a district police station and file a counter report (a report prepared at the counter). Leaving the scene of an accident is a crime.

Thanks to Captain Richard Hom and Deputy Chief Heather Fong for advising on this article.