MT meets the Copsycles - Pt 2.
22.10.10 by Dazzler
Part two of our interview with the City of London police bike squad.
Having covered some good ground and received some nicely frank responses in the first half, we pressed on with the rest of our questions. There were unfortunately a few important points that time restraints didn’t allow us to cover such as ‘Do you bring sandwiches to work?’ and ‘Where do you disappear to when it rains?’, but now that communication lines are open perhaps we’ll be allowed another opportunity to pose some of these another time.
In fact we were very kindly invited (and we were definitely interested) to go along to take part in one of the cycle-police training courses that are offered as part of bike cop basic training. This might though hamper the ability to chase dockets and earn beer tokens in the short-term so maybe we’ll keep an out for an upcoming Bank Holiday and see what’s going on then.
Bike theft is obviously on the rise and more recently there have even been reports of bike-jacking in East London (although there have been arrests made around this) – what if anything is being done by you guys around bike theft?
Antony – A lot – we’ve had four arrests this week.
Is there a particular operation in place?
Antony – There is, it’s called Operation Relentless and it really is relentless. Across the whole week, with the cycle squad and the crime squad, we do plain clothes operations in the City of London where we put decoy bikes out and we watch those bikes all day long. This happens from 10 o’clock in the morning till 8 o’clock at night.
How long has that been going on for?
Adrian – This particular operation has been running for 6 months although I’ve been a policeman for seven and a half years and we’ve always done this, it’s just now the media have taken it on as a big problem and that has prompted us to assign a particular operation to it. We had three arrests on it yesterday. We also promote bike marking regularly so if we do recover any stolen bikes we can trace them back to people.
Antony – It is a very high priority to us. Also the other thing to bear in mind is, and this is only my own view, is that the cycles that people can buy now, for instance myself, I spent more money on my cycle than I did on my car. Cycles are a machine of high value and as people get more into it, there seems to be an ever bigger number of people who appear to want to rediscover their youth, going in and buying super carbon race bikes and all the rest of it in Condor as appose to pushing their noses against the window of Ferrari dealerships.
Thieves are starting to wake up to this, hence the arrival of bike-jacking. One of the things that occurred to me is that I’m vulnerable as a cyclist with my bike. If I’m stopped at traffic lights and I’m clipped into my bike, what’s stopping someone coming over and pushing me over and riding away on my bike?
Bill – Good reason not to stop at a red light!..
We talked about the rise of fixed gear bikes. The law states that a bicycle should have two working brakes. Do you recognise the fixed-wheel mechanism as a brake?
Yes, the fixed wheel works out as one of the brakes and you have to have a front brake as well.
OK, I don’t want to say the wrong thing here but it could be said that there may be a certain amount of animosity, or at least a somewhat strained relationship between the cycle police and couriers. What are your opinions on the courier community as a section of the London cycling community, in general?
Antony – OK, I’ll talk from my experience. I’ve dealt with couriers and I’ve dealt with all other cyclists and I’ve personally never had any problems from the courier community at all. I’ve had couriers frustrated and annoyed when I’ve stopped them, clearly trying to earn a living. I see them in the same way as I see the black cab drivers, I see them as professional road users, that’s how I deem them. So just like us on cycles, we’re professional road users and therefore between us we should be an example to other road users as to how to ride safely.
The problem we’ve got is, clearly, there are very highly skilled cyclists out there who are couriers, at the end of the day you guys are out there day in and day out, all the time and I’ve no doubt in my mind that you can judge situations fine and you can decide when you’re going to do this and when you’re going to do the other. Now there might be occasions when you guys do jump lights and you do it safely…
Not personally, I’ve never done it, but I have seen it done.
…but at the end of the day the law is the law and we aren’t allowed to have the discretion to choose to stop at the lights or not. More importantly than that, and this is only my personal opinion, if one of you guys happens to go through a light because of time pressures or whatever, there are a load of other cyclists who gather round the junction who haven’t got the skills that you guys have got, once one person goes – I’ve seen it myself – somebody else is sitting there thinking ‘why the hell should I wait?’ so it drags other people, like the ‘lemming effect’, it drags other people across junctions and they don’t have the same level of experience.
That’s what can cause a) animosity amongst other road users because drivers see this and have to stop there and watch cyclists speed through and b) it can cause serious injury and death to other people. I’ve often said to cyclists when choosing to issue a ticket, how would you feel if you’ve gone through a light and someone behind you has thought, well it’s ok for them to do it and they’ve done it and they’ve been killed. You have to take into consideration their family. So, that’s the issue I think, it’s how it affects us as a rider community, a cycling community.
Bill – I’m not a courier anymore so I don’t ride through red lights because I’m not being paid for it. The irony is that I’ve been at junctions where I’m the only one left standing at a junction.
Adrian – It seems cyclist behave differently in the City of London because they know we’re about. You go into the city, Ludgate Hill for instance, you probably only get one or two that will do it. But you can look elsewhere where everybody just streams through..
Antony – It intrigues me because I don’t think it’s the same in other countries. When I’ve been to Europe, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam for instance, the cycling culture seems to be more impregnated in people. Culturally, everybody cycling does it and seems to understand it whereas over here I don’t feel like we’ve got that background of being brought up with the culture. There is a lot of animosity over here, a lot of anger.
Even in New York, where I’ve been recently, it doesn’t seem so bad, with only one or two people jumping through the lights, although this could be put down to the fact there are more traffic cops directing the traffic over there.
Bill – Last time I was in New York it was rife with people flying through junctions although this was before Giuliani was mayor. Manhattan is a changed place now.
Antony – Another thing we do, just to mention on that, as part of operation Atrium/Sharing the Roads is that we give vouchers out. What we do is we give a ticket to someone jumping a red light but we also give them a voucher and we will rip the ticket up if you bring the voucher along to one of our roadshows.
Bill- When that was set up originally it was a major bone of contention between the courier community and the police because one of the things that was being used as part of that roadshow was Seb’s bike and Seb stopped at the junction. If he hadn’t stopped, he would still be alive.
Antony – Yes, we’ve heard about that and it was bad, unfortunate. I’d like to think that we’ve moved forward since that.
Bill – Well, just to say, whoever was in charge of that roadshow, once they were spoken to about it by the couriers, Seb’s bike was removed.
Antony – Well, overall, part and parcel of the way we’re pushing it all forward now is to give as much education as we can. I mean genuinely, professionally and also from a personal point of view, we’re very passionate about reaching out to all sections of the cycling community. I’m talking at a debate next week, as part of Transport for London, I’m on the panel for that and that’s about debating where cycling in London goes going into the future and planning issues around that. That’ll be an interesting debate…