A Fair Cop - MT meets the Copsycles - Pt. 1
15.10.10 by Dazzler
As a courier in London you’d have to be pretty blinkered not to have noticed the steep rise in the number of bike cops on the streets in recent years, whether it be patrolling city junctions for red light jumpers, offering anti-theft bike marking services about the town or just cruising around looking ominous. So when we were granted an interview with Sergeant Antony Wolfson and Constable Adrian Davies of the City of London Cycle Patrol Team down at Snow Hill it felt like the perfect opportunity to go along and pose some prescient questions.
It became clear pretty much straight away on meeting that our shared concerns were going to be road safety and the prevention of injury and so to put our meeting into some context we began by talking about the LCEF and how this came about as a reaction to the HGV-related collisions suffered by Ephraim and Chewy back in 2008. We talked around Moving Target’s influential role in highlighting the problem of HGV’s in London, in particular since the tragic death of courier Sebastian Lukomski in 2003. Antony and Adrian explained that they were both directly involved with this issue though ‘Operation Atrium’, a program of presentations aimed at cyclists delivered through businesses and public roadshows. Now called ‘Sharing the Roads’, the scheme highlights the dangers HGV’s pose to cyclists and offers training and tips on how best to deal with the ever-present threat they pose.
With this, we started off the formal interview with some nice, easy ones before moving onto the nitty-gritty..
What bikes do you ride?
Specialized Stumpjumpers – they’re a bit heavy and we carry a lot of equipment but they’re good for things such as riding down steps. We used to ride Smith & Wesson bikes and yes, they were actually made by Smith & Wesson but they’ve since been replaced by the lighter and better Specialized bike.
Can you fix a puncture?
Antony – Yes. People are very surprised when they hear that we all take part in a comprehensive 4-day long course that includes bike maintenance. As bike cops, we too are very vulnerable as cyclists and road users in London but at the end of the day we are still police, we’re still cops on bikes, we have to respond, move at reasonable speeds and we may have to chase people, ride down steps and the like and our training has to reflect that higher degree of skills.
What is your remit as bike cops? Are your responsibilities any different from say, officers in cars for instance? Are you concentrating on traffic offences or do you have wider responsibilities?
Antony – First and foremost we are cops, we just happen to get around on bikes. We are ‘response front line police officers’. We take any emergency calls that come over the radio and respond to those. In addition to that we are part of ward’s policing, or neighbourhood policing which means that a certain percentage of the work that we do is community-based. By that we essentially mean that the community vote as to what their priorities are and what the police should be focusing on. That could be anything from cyclists going through red lights and ‘we want something done about it’ through to people drinking in the local area. Part of the pledge or promise that the police give is that we have to take some of these issues on, the requirements and needs that the community put forward. We do our very best to manage these community meetings so that it’s not just one person with their own personal agenda but that we take on a range of views that represent the whole community.
Bill – The reason we ask that question is that there is a perception amongst the cycling community that you are just there to nick cyclists, so it seems that this isn’t true?
Adrian – That really isn’t true, I guarantee it. If you come along to any of our community panel meetings, you’ll see that the community set the priorities. Without fail, at every meeting the community in the city will say ‘cyclists running red lights’ is top of the agenda. We all have different priorities in our lives but for the people who turn up to these meetings, this is there number one thing. Our remit though is all road users, but it’s the community who want cyclists as the priority. Our input into these meetings however has been to change the priorities towards all road users who are doing things wrong.
Antony – At the end of the day we respond to emergency calls but we are about positive road behaviour from all road users. All this week and all last week we have been present at all major junctions around the city enforcing the ASL (Advanced Stop Lines) and all of the work that we’ve been doing there has involved talking to scooter riders, motorcyclists and car users.
ASL’s have been introduced for a few years now and we notice that no driver ever seems to get a ticket for crossing over the line, even when there’s been a police officer present. Why don’t motorists get tickets for crossing the ASL’s and taking up space in the box? What’s the story?
Motorists do get tickets for this, but maybe not as often as they should. We’ve got a couple of issues there. The first thing is that you’ve got to have a police officer there to see the offence, but not just see the vehicle in the box because a driver could use the defence that the lights changed really quickly and they didn’t have time to stop.
But they could use that defence every time, no?
Adrian – No. If a police officer witnesses the lights change, sees that the driver has time to stop and then the driver rolls over the ASL and into the box, then that’s an offence.
The actual penalty for going into one of those boxes is 3 points and a £60 fine but there seems to be a lot of motorists who aren’t aware, or say they aren’t aware of this. When we are at junctions, more often that not vehicles do stop,
Yes, when you’re there?
Yes, which tells me that they do know about the offence and they’re just making out that they don’t know. So, we’ve got discretion as police officers which means we can choose to give a ticket or not. Now with pedal cyclists and red lights and all the rest of it, I know in my heart that I balance up the number of discretionary times that I will turn round to a cyclist and say “You shouldn’t have done that, I don’t think it was necessarily appropriate” and a word of advice will have more of an effect on them. Unless I see something that might be a bit more blatant, then we’ve all got the choice to deal with different offences in different ways but it’s a very difficult one to do with the advanced stop boxes. Motorists have been given tickets for them, I can’t tell you how many but it does happen.
I’d love to be able to stand here and say we’ve got zero tolerance on this and that we give a ticket every time.. I personally think the penalty for motorists crossing over the ASL is a very stiff, strong one because the penalty is exactly the same as if you had carried on and crashed through the red light…
Bill – But they are essentially going through a red light, once they’ve crossed that white line?
Adrian – Yes and I agree with what you’re saying, like, for every cyclist that goes just in front of the pedestrian crossing, we don’t stop them and give them a £30 ticket, they’d be up in arms about that as well wouldn’t they?
Bill – One funny story is I was in a car being driven by my girlfriend and she drove into the box. I said ‘Anna, you’re in the ASL’. She said ‘But I’m a cyclist!’..
I’ve been stopped for riding on the pavement by a bike cop and at the time I cheekily suggested that I pose less of a risk to pedestrians by riding on the pavement than a pedestrian poses to me by stepping out into the road without looking, perhaps one of the biggest risks to me as a courier. The Americans call it ‘jaywalking’. Is there anything being done by the police in London in terms of raising awareness of what is essentially the ‘Green Cross Code’?.
Antony – Well, I cycle, I commute and obviously people stepping out listening to music or on their phone is a huge problem and pedestrian casualties are high, but people tend to behave very differently when you put on that uniform. The issue is that we have not got the law in this country; there is no law against jaywalking, so there is no law against pedestrians stepping out into the road. They should be aware of the Highway Code and their own common sense around it. In terms of what we do, whenever we’re in the sharing the roads presentations that we give we make it very clear about the casualties, that pedestrians are road users too and to be careful stepping out and all the rest of it. Other than that, other than just bringing it up to just awareness levels, I’m not really sure there’s much else we can do…
So that’s STOP, LOOK and LISTEN
To be continued.