3 Things We Learned from the Ask an Officer Discussion

This article is cross-posted from the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition blog.

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On Monday night, law enforcement officers, bicycle attorney Jim Pocrass, and audience members gathered for Ask an Officer, a panel discussion on biking, walking, and traffic laws. The event was sponsored by Pocrass & De Los ReyesLos Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC), Los Angeles Walks, and the Los Angeles Vision Zero Alliance.

The night started with pizza and drinks provided by Pocrass & De Los Reyes. Emilia Crotty of Los Angeles Walks kicked off the night by welcoming everyone to the space, which was intended to be one of respect where everyone involved learned from one another and about one another. Colin Bogart of LACBC introduced the panel.

The panel included:

  • Bicycle Attorney Jim Pocrass of Pocrass & De Los Reyes
  • Officer Andrew Cullen of the LAPD Traffic Division
  • Officer Leland Tang of the California Highway Patrol (CHP)
  • Officer Carl Lurvey of the LAPD Emergency Operations Division
  • Sergeant Robert Hill of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department

Questions from the panel included those from the organizers and those from the crowd in attendance. Here are three key takeaways we learned from the event and what they mean for Vision Zero.

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1. Law enforcement is understaffed and lacks resources.

A common theme that was brought up from the different agencies was that there was a lack of capacity to handle all cases and all situations. Officer Tang noted that it has been difficult to recruit people to join the CHP. Officer Lurvey also pointed to the LAPD database that is outdated and does not properly track bicycle collisions.

Data collection is one of the key components of Vision Zero, and data is important in determining what corridors need to be prioritized. Better resources and better data are needed to make our streets safe.

2. Most law enforcement officers do not receive the proper training due to lack of prioritization of traffic enforcement.

Several times, panelists noted that many law enforcement officers do not receive appropriate training. Officer Lurvey of the LAPD noted that 40% of officers taking calls haven’t received traffic training to write a report and as a result, might make mistakes. Officer Cullen gave some background on why so many officers don’t receive the training to handle collisions and traffic laws: prioritization. Both officers Cullen and Lurvey expressed a strong desire for improved traffic enforcement training, to which officers Tang and Hill concurred.

If law enforcement is meant to play a role in achieving Vision Zero and helping to make streets safer, more comprehensive training is needed to better handle traffic safety. If most law enforcement personnel cannot even be trained on the basics of writing up a collision report, it becomes that much harder to properly integrate enforcement into the Vision Zero mission.   

3. CHP is leading the way on community education.

Officer Tang noted that CHP was moving away from enforcement and writing tickets and moving towards education and issuing warnings only. He points out that CHP has the opportunity to influence more people if he is out in the community than if he is out writing tickets to individuals. CHP also tracks the race of any person being stopped or being contacted, and CHP is changing the way in which officers are evaluated. He added that the CHP wants the community to call them out when they do something wrong, and if they do something wrong, they will 1) own it, and 2) fix it.

LAPD has been tracking ethnicity as part of a statewide mandate, and the public can download reports on who is getting stopped and ticketed by LAPD by going to http://data.lacity.org and searching for LAPD data. Both Cullen and Lurvey stressed that the data is rough and not easy to read or understand.

One of the major concerns of  the Los Angeles Vision Zero Alliance, as a diverse alliance consisting of community groups, is with the enforcement piece to make streets safer because that might lead to unequal enforcement in communities and communities of color. LACBC noted this in a statement on the Vision Zero Action Plan. If law enforcement is to address racial profiling, they need to track data, make that data easy to understand and obtain, and need work within the communities that they serve to build trust.

We’d like to thank all of our panelists, our sponsors, all the event organizers, and the audience for participating. We plan to host another Ask an Officer later this year. Sign up for the LACBC or LA Walks email lists to get updates and sign the Vision Zero pledge.