Cuffed and Ticketed for No Front Light, 2010 Edition

By Alex Thompson

“I turned left on to a one way street (the correct way) and a cop started yelling at me while I was catching up to the ride. He drove over, started yelling, didn’t allow me to say anything really and then handcuffed me.” – Chris

That’s what you get for riding bikes Chris.

“When I got to the scene I jumped off and asked why my friend was being detained. I asked twice more and the officer told me to come over and then hand cuffed me and put me against the wall.” – Justin

That’s what you get for mouthing off Justin.

Chris's ticket.  Note the "PED".  Ignore the $ signs - someone used a scanner running on a software trial.

Chris's ticket. Note the "PED". Ignore the $ signs - someone used a scanner running on a software trial.

In the early morning of July 7th two men were cuffed and searched at 8th & Main in Downtown Los Angeles – detained for more than half an hour by the rank and file of LAPD Central Traffic. When all was said and done they were released with tickets for “no front light”, citations issued by Officer Townsend. A “no front light” citation is correctable – if you put a front light on your bike and present it to a officer of the California Highway Patrol, he or she can sign off on it, at which point the fine drops from about $100 to $10. It’s a fix-it ticket!

So why were these two detained for the better part of the hour and released with slap on the wrist tickets? Put another way, why were two officers and a police cruiser preoccupied for half an hour by such a triviality?  Is that an reasonable use of police resources?

Don’t ask that of Officer Townsend. It wasn’t her, but her partner Officer Sanchez who initiated the detention, and insisted on citing Justin and Chris. It was Sanchez who told witnesses that they didn’t have a right to know why he cuffed Justin and Chris, because “they weren’t the ones arrested.” It was Sanchez who allegedly turned off the front light mounted clearly on Justin’s handle bars. It was Sanchez who told Chris that he was ticketing him for running a red light, in contradiction to the citation Chris received.

Sanchez might say that Justin was argumentative – it’s remarkable how often reasonable inquiry is construed as argumentative (and what is cite worthy about argumentative?) by overzealous officers.  Even so, even if Justin was, why did Sanchez cuff Chris before Justin even arrived, particularly when by all accounts Chris was quiet and the picture of compliance?

On the other hand, it’s Townsend who could use a refresher on California law. In both citations Townsend wrote “PED” in the vehicle information field, indicating that the recipients were not motorists, but pedestrians. As you might know, pedestrians are not required to have front headlights. So you could question why Townsend wrote citations which apply to cyclists to pedestrians. The citations are, to borrow a phrase of Stephen Box, self contradicting!

Justin's ticket.  Note the "PED".  Ignore the $ signs - someone used a scanner running on a software trial.

Justin's ticket. Note the "PED". Ignore the $ signs - someone used a scanner running on a software trial.

This happens again and again. It happened to Paul ages ago in Hollywood.  It happened to me, and three others last March.  It happened and then some at LA Critical Mass in May.  It happens countless times when we don’t know or hear about it.  And I mean “countless”; LAPD does not record handcuffings, so we have no sense for how often they occur, or who gets cuffed.

Every person who is cuffed by LAPD becomes a detractor for life of the department. If they’re cuffed for thirty minutes and released with a petty fix-it ticket, that’s an detractor for life who has a convincing story to tell their peers. If they’re cuffed for thirty minutes and released with a petty fix-it ticket which involves potential police misconduct – Officer Sanchez turning off Justin’s light – that’s a detractor life with a convincing story, one that might eventually be told to a jury.

This is all alarming. It all detracts from real police work. And all of it convinces me that it is past time for LAPD to address when cuffing is appropriate.

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11 Responses to “Cuffed and Ticketed for No Front Light, 2010 Edition”

  1. It really ticks me off that they are wasting time handcuffing cyclists when they could be actually fighting crime. I had to call the LAPD last night, and they called me 2 hours after I reported the incident that nothing was happening. Well, of course, you came 2 hours late! I guess they were busy cuffing cyclists for next to nothing.

  2. Really? So what we have here are two tickets from kids that were trying to keep up with a large group ride. Not one stretch of information comes directly from the police department other than the tickets. If you really want to make action and not just useless noise, try getting these amended to some sort of standard that is acceptable by the bicycling community. I would love to see you get some comments from the officers themselves or the LAPD regarding this incident.

  3. Same crap the SMPD was doing to Santa Monica critical mass riders. They don’t care if the citations they write make any sense, or if they are relevant to laws broken, if any laws were actually broken by the rider they cite. Typical harassment of cyclists.

  4. I would have NO PROBLEM with cyclists being cuffed if every other vehicle was cuffed as a matter of standard practice. I imagine the LAPD would have a very big problem if they enacted a policy like that.

  5. It’s not argumentative to ask why your friend is being detained, this officer needs a vacation without pay. A.S.A.P.!

    I don’t like that Police State mentality some police officers have, that does not sit well with me at all.

    How dare he cuff him for asking a reasonable question about his friend.

    They are not superior to us, they are our paid servants, they need to remember that and check their “macho attitudes” at the door.

  6. LAPD officers regularly treat people like crap, then they feel threatened, so they cuff them as if they were children being given a “time-out.”

    Screw the damn cops. Will they never learn?

  7. “On the other hand, it’s Townsend who could use a refresher on California law. In both citations Townsend wrote “PED” in the vehicle information field, indicating that the recipients were not motorists, but pedestrians. As you might know, pedestrians are not required to have front headlights. So you could question why Townsend wrote citations which apply to cyclists to pedestrians.”

    You know, it’s a nice story and all about how the officer doesn’t know the law in this regard, but a more plausible explanation would be that either 1) the officer made a mistake, or 2) this is the procedure on how they document violations on a bicycle. (Does California explicitly define bicycles as vehicles in the law? Some states do, some don’t.)

    Ultimately, harping on that one minor item detracts from the real point, which is that LAPD is handcuffing cyclists for incredibly minor code violations.

    (Though it is also possible that cops feel less threatened by people in cars. If you’re in a car, you can’t leap out and attack a cop without warning. A person just standing there gives the cop less time to react when he does something suddenly. Do the cops regularly handcuff pedestrians while they write them tickets?)

  8. Thanks for the writing advice Doug. I would suggest to you that the answers to your questions are known by this blogger. For instance, the writing of “PED” is incorrect – LAPD indicates as does my experience that it should be written as “BIKE”. Re definition of bike in the law – bikes are considered a device but not a vehicle in the California Vehicle Code.

    If the officer made a mistake then she made it twice. That fact lends itself to the interpretation that this was not mistake so much as it’s a misunderstanding of CVC by an officer working for the Central Traffic Division of LAPD. They deal only with traffic, so they ought to know better when it comes to the CVC. The failures in this aspect add to a pattern of failed professionalism that includes the handcuffing.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Friday’s ride, in which I dodge cars, prevent a collision and thank a bus driver « BikingInLA - July 24th, 2010

    [...] cyclists are cuffed and one ticketed for not having a headlight — even though the officer himself had turned it off. More fallout [...]

  2. Streetsblog Los Angeles » Past Weekend’s Headlines - July 26th, 2010

    [...] LAPD/Cyclist Relationship Not Perfect Yet, Cyclist cuffed and Ticketed for Nothing (Bikeside) [...]

  3. LAPD still hates bikes | Blogging.la - July 26th, 2010

    [...] What does someone have to do to get handcuffed and detained by the LAPD? Regardless of how you might have answered those questions, the real answers seem to be that the LAPD feels spending a half an hour detaining and handcuffing a cyclist for riding a bike without a headlight (or with a headlight that was turned off by the officers in question, depending on who you believe) and then giving them a $10 fix it ticket is all it takes. Or handcuffing and detaining someone who simply approached the first scene and asked what was happening. That’s exactly what is happening. [...]

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