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Thursday, July 31 2014 @ 01:16 AM UTC

With Rapid Response Grant, WABA Improves Police Enforcement for Bicyclists in DC

Biking ElsewhereBy Mary Lauran Hall, Alliance for Biking and Walking

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What should advocates do when bicyclists are consistently incorrectly cited by local police? The Washington Area Bicyclist Association has a pretty good answer.

For the past several years, Shane Farthing, WABA’s executive director, had been aware of a disturbing pattern. Advocates consistently heard accounts from bicyclists who had been injured in crashes and had received citations that just didn’t make sense from Metropolitan Police Department officers. Many said they had been fined for breaking a law that was not applicable to the incident. In some cases, officers had assigned blame to an injured cyclist based only on a driver’s statement, without actually interviewing the bicyclist or witnesses. Some had even been cited for violating laws that did not exist.

These accounts led Shane and his employees to believe that MPD officers were not receiving adequate training on enforcing laws pertinent to bicyclists. In response, WABA launched a campaign “to advocate for and secure funding for the holistic training of MPD officers of the application of the law to bicyclists.”

The enforcement campaign kicked off in February of 2011, when WABA requested and received a DC Council Committee on the Judiciary hearing to assess MPD’s enforcement of laws pertaining to bicyclists. In response to the advocates’ testimony, the DC Office of Police Complaints issued a report confirming poor work by the Police Department. The report prompted several councilmembers and staffers to request that WABA provide better documentation of the types of incidents cyclists described in testimony.
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Despite egregious errors, the police department did not indicate willingness to make meaningful changes.

“Every time we would go to testify, the MPD would say that they already had these trainings in place and there was no problem,” said Shane. “We were in a he-said-she-said situation.”

WABA’s biggest challenge was furnishing solid evidence. “The limitation we faced at every stage was a lack of data,” Shane recalled. “Our crash tracker had a small sample size.”

“So we decided to put together good FOIA requests to analyze these crash reports.” Using the Freedom of Information Act, WABA would obtain the actual police reports that were relevant to the trends advocates had spotted in Crash Tracker responses.
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http://www.peoplepoweredmovement.org/site/index.php/site/blog/4354/

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