Thursday, July 3, 2014

Last class

Interesting (meaning far more sucky than necessary) commute in this morning. Glad to see the six plus months of pavement work on the east side of the Capitol has wrapped up and we can make full use of the path. Frustrated that all sorts of temporary barriers are up in strange places in preparation for the 4th of July concert and I probably can't go the way I usually do to get where I usually go.

Completely without surprise to find the DDOT potato wagon pre-staged for the concert and parked in an unregulated area not quite off the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes.

This is not a big problem, of course. I'd be trying even harder than usual to make trouble if I pretended nobody can see it and nobody can go around it - though the cone on the far side was actually in front of the hitch and not readily visible to a bike lane user coming from that direction. I went ahead and adjusted its position to where I'm sure DDOT would have put it if they were thinking.

That IS a problem though, thinking beyond the immediate present concerns. Despite DC's growing reputation as a bike and pedestrian friendly city, it's nearly impossible to see support for that permeating the entire agency. Bike and pedestrian concerns are only being addressed by the sub-department with that specific responsibility. It could be a full time task for them to police and support the rest of the giant agency - and maybe it should be. Maybe the best use of that talent would be as internal subject matter experts solely tasked with keeping everybody else on track for bike / ped greatness. Everyone sees that the current approach fails more often than not - which doesn't mean we don't get good things, just that we don't get enough of them across the whole system.

Anyway.  I'm only half way to work at this point. Onward!

I had a green light at 7th & Pa Ave. That's my sign to continue at least to 9th, if not all the way to 11th, so I did. There's quite often some police vehicle stopped in front of the Navy Memorial, and today it was an MPD SUV. I watch that closely because I've been surprised more than once by a quick departure from that spot into a fast U-turn across the bike lanes, so today when it happened I was ready and not surprised at all.

The timing was such that the officer hadn't really looked at traffic on the other side, so he had to pause directly in front of me. Which I took as an invitation to have a chat, so I waved to him.

He rolled down his window and I approached politely. I said I understand he's driving an emergency vehicle and may need to make maneuvers in traffic that would be otherwise disallowed, and explained that it would be a big help if he signaled that, when possible, by using that big bar of bright flashing lights atop his vehicle. Which he then turned on, while telling me that in the first place I need to slow down when I'm riding.

I could tell at that point this was not going to go well. I was not speeding by any definition - firstly, I'm just not that fast, but secondly I was moving at a leisurely pace on my slacker commuting bike and watching for crazy traffic moves so I wasn't even pushing my usual 12-15 mph scorcher speed.

He then turned off his flashing lights and told me he had eight hours to spend discussing this if I wanted to. Which, coincidentally, I did. And I, also coincidentally, have enough flexibility today to spend eight hours having such a discussion, if I want - heck, I could go into enough detail in the right circumstances that eight hours would barely get the discussion started.

But it didn't take that long. I asserted that he has a responsibility to use the tools he's given and the training and experience he has to look out for the safety of other road users. He started to cite the municipal code that says he isn't required to, but I reiterated that I was simply making a request. He then started to lie act confused about whether his lights had been on before his U-turn or not. I started to say that perhaps it was a training issue and suggested that I could recommend him for further training if necessary, mentioning that I've had success in such offers before. I also mentioned I've had some degree of success in getting responses from the Chief and the Mayor on bike safety issues before as well. (It's a stretch to say they responded directly to me, I know, but not a vast one.)

This is all kinda standard, but then it took a really wacky turn.

He asked me "Which Mayor? WHICH Mayor?" Our Mayor, of course, DC's Mayor, Mayor Gray. His response almost left me speechless:

"Well, he's not gonna be the Mayor any longer and I don't give a damn about what he says. You better pick another."

Almost speechless, but not quite, I stated that regardless of his feelings or who made what orders the fact is that they are now DC's laws and we all have a responsibility to abide by them - there's no reason to have an argument about facts like that. Then it got even more interesting, by which I mean worse, when he started to tell me there was no argument because if there was I'd lose, it didn't matter if it was the Mayor, the Chief, the Army, or the damn President on my side, I'd lose. (All paraphrased here, of course. I'm omitting stuff like the construction worker reporting a domestic at the Metro - a mom close to abusing her child - and the officer replying that he had already responded to that call there and determined there was nothing he could do about it. As boring as this stuff is it would be even more boring as a transcript - but he did say exactly "the damn President on your side".)

I'm pretty good at recognizing desperation in street discussions now. I'm also good at giving belligerent people a way out of escalation, though I don't back down. I went back to my original point, that I was not trying to argue anything, simply requesting that he take additional care and use the tools and powers at hand to help create safer streets. He agreed (hollowly, I'm sure) that he would try to do better and asked if he could please go now. I couldn't resist reminding he he offered me the next eight hours, but he said he had to respond to another call so could I please let him go.

So I did. No name, no badge number, no car IDs. While MPD is quite responsive to citizen complaints, singling out an individual officer really isn't an effective approach to the systemic changes we actually need.

Common theme? These are the tails of bigger problems that are going to take a generation or more to fix.

1 comment :

  1. There are three problems with this LEO. The essence of his job is public safety. It doesn't matter what he thinks of the police chief, politicians or sun spots. If he fails at ensuring public safety, he fails as a LEO. Second, all the nonsense about the mayor is just plain unprofessional. Third, the follow-up call about the mother and her child was something he should have acted on, especially since he had already talked to her. I hope he was just having a bad day. If he wasn't I hope he finds another line of work before his attitude causes somebody to get hurt or worse.