Monday, 25 February 2013

Dear Police...

Dear Police,

Like most people, I admire you for the often tough job you do and I understand that you are under-resourced, and your budgets are being squeezed from all sides. Yet despite this, you continue to do the job, and I'd like you to know we're grateful for that.

Since they were small, I've raised my kids to respect the law and the police, and I have consistently told them the police are to be trusted and not feared.

Having lived in a police state, where people were beaten up and even murdered by police for simply having a differing political view, I absolutely love the fact that in the UK most officers don't carry firearms, and have no need to travel in convoys inside heavily armed armoured vehicles.

Given the above, please accept my assurances that I am supportive of the UK police.

However (and you knew this was coming, didn't you?) that doesn't mean I automatically agree with everything you do, nor does it mean that you don't make mistakes.

Ian Tomlinson was a mistake, but a bigger mistake was how the police closed ranks, instead of trying to pinpoint, isolate and rid themselves of the small amount of rot that was in their midst.
When you have a boil, you have to lance it. Simply covering it up will NOT make it go away and indeed often will simply cause the rot to grow and spread. Owning up to mistakes will raise the trust in and respect for the police.

There are other mistakes, too, some of which I don't think you're consciously aware of. Allow me to elaborate: Nowadays, most police officers are drivers, either at work, or in their private lives. That is quite understandable, as driving is seen as the "normal" way of getting around in the UK, as well as further afield.

It is therefore quite easy, and rather predictable, that many (most?) police officers fall prey to the mental attitude that drivers are somehow elevated above all other road users. More important in some way, and that their time is more valuable than that of any other road users.

It is a well-established fact that most police forces won't act on reports of drivers overtaking cyclists without giving sufficient space, as the police feel such a measure is subjective, and consequently hard to enforce. Even when cyclists provide video evidence, the typical response from police is that since no actual collision occurred, the matter is best ignored.

Two things immediately follow from this: cyclists, on the one hand, report fewer and fewer incidents to the police, as they know it will only result in a complete waste of their own time, while drivers, on the other hand, learn through experience that they can overtake cyclists dangerously closely with impunity.

Neither of these are conducive of safe and fair road usage or policing. And yet the police appears appalingly blind to this.

I therefore have a challenge for you.

I would like ALL senior officers, from Superintendent upwards, to commute by bicycle every day for a minimum of one month, and NOT in police uniform.

During that time, I'd like such officers to cycle on the road whenever reasonably possible, with the acid test being what the majority of other cyclists are opting for. In other words, if there is a traffic-free cycle path, yet most cyclists avoid using it, then these officers should also avoid using it.

Specifically, I'd like them to NOT use crap "cycle infrastructure" that serves no purpose other than removing cyclists from the road and in doing so, allowing drivers yet more freedom.

I have done a small social media experiment, asking people on Twitter to let me know of a single instance where a driver has been ticketed for violating an Advanced Stop Line, or ASL. That tweet received a great many re-tweets, several bemused replies, and not ONE known instance of such an event taking place.

I have asked some police forces directly, as have others via Freedom of Information requests, and I can now say that to the absolute best of my knowledge, no driver in the UK has ever been fined for violating an ASL.

As a result, surely you can see why cyclists believe police all over the UK don't particularly care about cyclists on the roads and instead only prefer to become involved after an actual collision. And sadly, when cars, vans, or trucks collide with cyclists, the end result is often fatal.

And where is the preventative policing? Where are the warning letters sent out to drivers for having overtaken cyclists at speed, narrowly missing them? Why are police vehicles still involved in such behaviour themselves?

So come on, all you senior police officers. When you've commuted by bicycle, when you have first-hand experience of how a minority of drivers intimidate and bully cyclists on a daily basis, perhaps then you would start prioritising this matter.

And by prioritising this, maybe, just maybe, you can save some of your officers from the heart-breaking task of having to inform some cyclist's loved ones that the cyclist won't be coming home anymore.

Update:
Dear Senior Police Officers, please add a comment to indicate that you (and hopefully your team) will accept the challenge. If you haven't cycled for many years, please indicate so and let us know roughly which areas your commute may take you through and we'll see if we can get local cyclists to ride along with you. 

Update 2:
This post was published on 25 February 2013. Not one single police force, nor individual senior police officer, has agreed to try this out. In fact, they've not even responded with a "Go away". Their silence is overwhelming and rather indicative of the level of support cyclists in general receive from police.