Cyclists testify to SFPD bias as supervisors call for reforms

SFPD disdain for cyclists came to a head on Aug. 21 when Sgt. Richard Ernst confronted a memorial for a dead cyclist.
KRON 4 News

The cyclists of San Francisco were angry. Sup. Jane Kim was skeptical. Sup. Scott Wiener was unconvinced. Sup. Eric Mar said bikers were "pissed." Deputy Chief of Police Mike Biel said he was too, but his anger could have just as easily been attributed to the 35 minutes he spent at the stand, acting as a whipping post for frustrations with the SFPD, as it could be to the department's mistreatment of San Francisco cyclists.

Either way, the cyclists ruled the day.

During Thursday's (10/3) Board of Supervisors Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee, Sup. David Campos called for a joint Board of Supervisors-Police Commission hearing regarding SFPD investigation protocol for bike accidents, but no immediate timetable has been set for the matter.

Without Police Chief Greg Suhr in attendance — his chiefly presence was required "reading to the children," as Biel noted multiple times — Biel was left to stand solo in front of both frustrated supervisors and an incensed public.

At one point, following a particularly ambiguous response from Biel regarding accident checklists, Wiener asked bluntly, "Do you think there's enough traffic cops in San Francisco? I don't see bike cops, personally."

To which Biel responded, "I'd like to see more."

In fact, there was little defense on the part of Biel — and by extension, the Police Department — when it came to the seemingly lax (at best, malicious at worst) approach the SFPD has taken toward bike accidents in the past four years.

He even echoed Mar's "pissed" comment, saying, "I was pissed too," in regards to both what Mar called the "supposed investigation" of the Aug. 14 death of 24-year-old Amelie Le Moullac and the flippant attitude some in the department had taken towards cyclists in the days and weeks following. But he also stated that he didn't think there was a negative bias in the SFPD.

The board's decision to continue the conversation was bolstered by nearly 40 often-horrific testimonials regarding police treatment of cyclists in the City. And nearly all the stories could make the average person cring with the frustration, anger, and outrage they had the power to illicit.

Leah Shahum, executive director for the San Francisco Bike Coalition, told a story of a woman who was unable to make it to the hearing due to the injuries sustained in an April accident.

The woman, whom she didn't identify, was biking in Golden Gate Park with her husband and son — the son was on the back of the woman's bike — when she was hit from behind by a car, while she was stopped in the designated bike lane.

Witnesses stated that the driver was at fault. Her husband said the same thing. The police insisted on questioning the two of them more about their helmet usage — "which they were wearing," according to Shahum — than they did about the actual events of the accident. Incidentally, adults aren’t required to wear bike helmets in California.

Robin Levitt, a Hayes Valley resident, talked about the strange "culture of blaming the victim" that has seemingly been propagated in the City, and how "in Germany, it's immediately assumed that the vehicle is at fault, so drivers are safer."

(And for what it's worth, when Biel denied that same sentiment's existence earlier with the committee, supervisors didn't seem too convinced either. Mar even asked Biel, "Is there a bias or blame-the-victim attitude in the San Francisco Police Department?" which Biel promptly denied.)

And then there was Edward Hasbrouk, a former professional cyclist who has "never owned a motor vehicle." He was biking home from work one evening when his progress in a Valencia Street bike line was impeded by a double-parked car in line for a valet service.

(Wiener has called for increased police enforcement of laws against double-parking. During today’s (Tues/8) Board of Supervisors meeting, he asked Mayor Ed Lee to support the effort, noting that SFPD rarely issues tickets to double-parkers despite “its impacts on traffic, Muni, cycling, and pedestrians.”)

Hasbrouk said that after a somewhat heated back-and-forth between the valet drivers, he flagged down a police officer to help him resolve the dispute, but the officer instead made Hasbrouk "carry [his] bicycle to the sidewalk." Hasbrouk then said, "What would I have to do to get you to ticket these cars double-parked?" That comment got him arrested for felony vandalism, according to Hasbrouk. Expunging the arrest cost him nearly $3,000 and a night in jail.

But given the SFPD's lack of pragmatism when it comes to investigating these accidents (for instance, Biel said SFPD doesn't require a continuing education for officers assigned to traffic enforcement, despite what Shahum says are complex issues surrounding a rapidly growing population of cyclists), and it's boorish behavior following the Le Moullac tragedy in August, it's high time for change.

And a joint hearing could be just the place to start.


no matter how many times you keep typing it.

if a cop sees you roll though a stop sign in the avenues somewhere when there are no cars/peds around and lets that slide, what does that have anything to do with not properly investigating an incident when you are stopped at a stop sign and some dude just crashes his car into you?

Posted by Guest on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 1:58 pm

But the article Steven wrote about crackdowns on the Wiggle imply that cops are making a nexus out of it.

Posted by Greg on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 8:04 pm

Crack down on cycling misdemeanors and, eventually, there is no Chris Bucchere slaughtering pedestrians on his bike.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 10, 2013 @ 6:46 am

The SFBC picked a fight that they cannot fight.

Posted by marcos on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 5:04 pm

In the end, they can never win.

If SFBG beats me, I lose only a debate. I Still win in life.

If I win the debate, I win both.

For Steven, this is life and death, For the rest of us, it's merely a pastime.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 5:19 pm

fyi, newcomer: SFBC and SFBG are two different entities.

Posted by Greg on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 8:17 pm

SFBG is a propaganda vehicle for SFBC, at least since Steven took over anyway.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 10, 2013 @ 6:45 am

The key is to get bike riders to put their feet on the ground, either at stop signs, or when they ride on the sidewalks. That really pisses them off.

Posted by Richmondman on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 9:34 am

Great public policy objective there: pissing off bicyclists.

Posted by Greg on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 8:14 pm

The only people that "pisses off" are the law breakers. Ask me if I care about that.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 10, 2013 @ 6:43 am

How often do you see a cop walking a beat? Or riding a bike? I thought so.

The problem is that too many cops are isolated inside their steel cages driving around the city. If they got out of their cars more often and actually walked -and biked- around the different neighborhoods, chatting with residents and getting to know them, they'd be much more effective.

This isn't rocket science. Police cars are good for getting to crime scenes quickly, but they shouldn't be used for routine patrolling. Bring back the cop walking the beat!

Posted by Guest on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 11:50 am

Most cops are in cars because most criminals are in cars.

That said, I do see cops on bikes, mostly in the recreational parts of the city e.g. GGPark, Pier 39 etc.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 12:23 pm

They'd instituted a ban on biking along a major pedestrian thoroughfare on campus. But biking remained the best way to get around, so many of us routinely flouted the law, including myself. So once in a while they'd have a campus cop patrolling the area, stopping bikes and giving them tickets. Problem was, he was on foot. So a common story was, "I was riding my bike on the way to class. I saw pig. Pig saw me. Pig moved to intercept. So I just turned right around to evade the pig." Did the same thing myself on a number of occasions. Good thing they weren't on bikes.

'Course now... they'd be armed with tasers and pepper spray, and probably wouldn't be afraid to shoot either.

Posted by Greg on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 8:13 pm

you and your friends doing it, and getting away with it.

No wonder you have a pathological hatred of cops.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 10, 2013 @ 6:43 am

I recently returned from a trip in Seattle [Labor Day week] and was amazed with the courtesy shown by the bike riders. They stopped at ALL stop signs and lights. I was there for 5 days and not once remember seeing a violation. Never seen it done in SF. In SF it's more the exception than the rule. Riders in SF are rude. If you say anything to them they give you the middle finger, spit at you or they kick your vehicle or rub their bike against it. They break all the rules and now want driver rules enforced. You can't have it both ways. The theme is share the road but when bikes may illegal turns it prevents vehicles from making right hand turns. Just like when pedestrians cross against red lights or the don't walk signal. It's a drivers only opportunity to make a turn before the opposite traffic light changes. Excellent example of this is on 4th and Mission. People cross until the light turns yellow and meanwhile cars are backing-up on 4th St. going South and Mission headed West. Same kind of people, only care about themselves.

Go to Powell and Market and watch all the bike-riders run the lights, damn the pedestrians. Sure wish I could start crossing a red light just because there isn't any cross traffic coming. Fat chance of that happening. But bikes, yeah no problem.

Ride safe, be courteous and truly share the road and stop being DICKs

Posted by Guest sf9erbob on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 2:05 pm

Those are the cities always cited by bike activists as places where biking is fully accepted, safe and a way of life.

Fair enough, but go there and you see how polite, civil and reasonable those cyclists are. They got that infrastructure because they earned respect.

SF cyclists don't want to obey the rules or earn respect. They want to take everything, give nothing, and break all the rules while being arrogant assholes.

Then they wonder why they cannot catch a break.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

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