What’s your view of selective enforcement of bike laws?
My dad is a retired detective. In college, I somehow hung out with all of the Criminal Justice majors, some of whom are friends to this day. Because those in law enforcement deal with bad guys and their victims on a daily basis, they have an interestingly skewed perspective on society, risk, and people. Many of my friends in law enforcement think I’m insane that (a) I ride my bike through ‘crime infested’ parts of cities and (b) I don’t carry a gun with me. Seriously.
My dad’s Master’s thesis was, in a nutshell, criminals get caught because they’re stupid. Consider Byron Williams last weekend in Oakland: He strapped body armor on himself and loaded up his mother’s pickup truck with guns and ammo, intending to start a revolution by murdering the staff at the ACLU and the Tides Foundation in San Francisco. As he drove towards San Francisco, the CHP pulled Williams over for speeding and erratic driving. After the stop, he started firing at the CHP officers with his handgun, a rifle and shotgun. That was the end of Williams’ weekend plans.
Maybe I’m just a little smarter than the average criminal, but something occurs to me: If I’m gonna pull something really really big, maybe I shouldn’t drive like an idiot on my way to the crime scene?
How to avoid arrest
Dale Carson is a former police officer and the son of an FBI special agent. Carson now runs a law firm in Jacksonville, Florida. He defends the criminal dirtbags that he and his dad used to arrest. It’s his firm belief that the majority of criminals are not people like Williams who plan major mayhem, but people who commit petty offenses who then get caught in the system with no real way out. Once you have an arrest record, with modern electronic bookkeeping that record stays with you for life, even if you’re acquitted.
Carson wrote his book Arrest-Proof Yourself to prevent that from happening to you. His thesis: most people are arrested or cited because they do something stupid and avoidable in front of the police.
Much of the advice is similar to what you’ll see in an ACLU “Know your rights” brochure, but Carson does it in a frank, no nonsense manner. If you want to avoid arrest, it’s not about being right, or correct – it’s about keeping your trap shut and dealing with any fine or court appearance later.
Bikes and law enforcement
Carson devotes a couple of pages in his books on bikes and the law. “One of the advancements in law enforcement that truly disgusts me,” he writes, “is the extension of vehicle laws to bicycles and the use of proactive policing techniques to pile felony charges onto children. Every criminal attorny in my city has cases of children arrested and jailed for such crimes as riding a bicycle at night without a light, riding without a helmet, and riding with their buddies on the handlebars. This enforcement is highly selective and never, ever occurs in wealthy neighborhoods. Poor kids are just Hoovered up into the system.”
Carson then mentions that these children are likely to mouth off at police, to flee the police and to flail around while being taken into custody. “This will get them charged with battery on top of the usual charges of fleeing and resisting.”
Carson’s advice: obey the law! But he notes: “This takes much of the fun out of riding bikes, which for most kids is their first taste of freedom from parents and an important stage in growing up. These bicycle laws were by passed to protect children’s safety. Unfortunately, the welfare state has an unfortunate tendency to morph into the police state. For police, bicycle safety laws have become another means of making more arrests.”
I believe we should ride lawfully and safely, but I’ve hinted before that I believe some bike safety and equipment laws are used in a discriminatory way to selectively harass certain segments of the population from using the public right of way.
Your thoughts on this and how to fix it?
Via a discussion about police and selective enforcement of bicycle laws over at BikeForums.net.