LAPD Task Force – My Take

If you’re dialed into bike blogs, you’ve probably read either Enci Box’s account or Stephen Box’s account of a recent meeting between LAPD and a swath of bike orgs.  For a review of the content of the meeting, I suggest either or both of their pieces.  I just thought I’d share my impression of the tone of the meeting.

To me, it was nearly a polar opposite of what I’ve encountered frequently in meetings on the street, or in the boardroom even, with police.  I can remember a meeting with Santa Monica Police Department years ago that foreshadowed all most of my encounters as a cyclist with police since.  This was the opposite.  The lines of communication were wide open and we had a free ranging discussion with authentic respect on all sides.  Commander Doan and his staff were gracious hosts.

That meeting with Santa Monica PD (yes, I know they’re not LAPD) was in September 2006, and it was the 2nd meeting with police about their, then recent, crackdown on Santa Monica Critical Mass.  Mike Feinstein arranged for a meeting with Chief Tim Jackman, a Captain of Operations, Lt Keene, and Sergeant Horn.  Jackman skipped out the meeting except to come in and shake Mike’s hand.  The Captain, whose name eludes me right now, spoke little, as did Keene.  In the end we ended up being lectured for nearly an hour by Sergeant Horn about traffic laws and public safety.  It was the ultimate sign of disrespect, to have a former Mayor (Feinstein) and allies lectured by a sergeant at length.  No two way discussion, just a Chief who made phone calls in the other room, and a Captain who let his blowhard subordinate do the talking.  Most interactions I’ve had with police since have been remixes of that meeting.

In this case Commander Doan and his staff engaged in a real discussion.  We had an agenda in front of us, but we went over time – a lot over time – and we went off topic in productive ways.  There were admissions from Doan and others that LAPD doesn’t always get it right, and there were some interesting disclosures about some of the bureaucratic problems at the department.  His staff were human beings after the meeting, before the meeting, and during it – we all discussed our personal lives and our neighborhoods as citizens – not just in our roles as activist & officer.

In short, an auspicious beginning to a new relationship.

That doesn’t mean I’ve suddenly gone soft on LAPD.  There are real, deep problems with how LAPD reacts to cyclists, not to mention the problems with how LAPD reacts to citizens.  The Ed Magos hit and run, in which the watch commander referred to the incident as an “accident”, is a palpable demonstration.  I will stay hard on those problems, in part because I think we may have some really good people in LAPD who are now professionally engaged in addressing cycling issues.

The famous negotiating tome, Getting To Yes, suggests that a powerful negotiator is “hard on the problem, soft on the people”.  I always thought that was good, but not good enough.  A good negotiator ought to improve the situation of his or her constituents, and therefore has a chance to be a hero to their own.  For LAPD, that would mean no more embarrassing bike incidents, and maybe a collaborative relationship with cyclists.  Any LAPD staff who are willing to get out in front of cycling issues and deliver solutions, will be heroes to the cycling community, and quite possibly, to LAPD.  In Commmander Doan, and his point man for cycling, Sergeant David Krumer, we might have two men willing to put on the form fitting spandex uniform of the bike-superhero, right leg rolled up of course.  So, if it makes sense, I hope I can be “hard on the problem, and lionize the people.”

Alex Thompson

Bikerowave co-founder, Cyclists' Bill of Rights co-author, President of Bikeside, and Math Phd. HULK SMASH straight from Michigan!

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