May 26, 2016 § 59 Comments
You’ve been buzzed. Worse, you’ve been buzzed and honked at. Worse, you’ve been buzzed and honked at and screamed at. Worse, you’ve been buzzed and honked at and screamed at and flipped off. Worse, you’ve been buzzed and honked at and screamed at and flipped off and had shit thrown at you. Worse, you’ve been buzzed and honked at and screamed at and flipped off and had shit thrown at you and veered into.
“At least I didn’t get hit,” you tell yourself, shaking with terror and rage. “At least I’m still alive.”
You, my friend, are a victim. And not just any old victim. You’re the victim of a crime. In California, what happened to you is a felony and is proscribed by California Penal Code Sec. 245(a)1.
If you’re like me, after the assault you keep riding your bike — occasionally you may go into the police station and try to get them to write a report. They won’t and they don’t. Have you ever wondered why? Have you ever wondered to yourself, “Can I make law enforcement to take me seriously?”
The answer is yes. Before I tell you how to do it, I’m first going to explain why it’s so important that we begin reporting violent crime perpetrated against bicycle riders. This is going to be a long read. I hope you’ve got a comfortable toilet seat.
Reporting is key
The first reason that reporting is crucial is because regardless of what happens when you’ve been assaulted in terms of prosecution, your report may later serve to apprehend, charge, and convict the perpetrator when he does it again. So let’s say it’s your civic duty.
The second reason is that only by reporting violent crime will law enforcement and the communities that employ them begin taking felony assault seriously. Currently it is regarded as “buzzing” or “asshat drivers” or some other mild term of pseudo-endearment that doesn’t have the jail bell ring of “felony,” “crime,” and my personal favorite, “prison.” Words matter. As law enforcement, media, lawyers, and pedal pushers begin dispensing with the word “accident” to describe volitional acts by motorists to harm bicycle riders, we begin to see those acts for what they are: Choices with consequences. And guess what, Mr. Assault With A Deadly Weapon? The consequences for you are not going to be pleasant.
In the same way, by using the language of felony assault, the criminal behavior no longer sounds innocuous. “Some punks buzzed me and hit me with a sandwich” sounds almost funny, especially if you were hungry at the time and it was organic peanut butter. “Some minors committed felony assault” sounds like a very premature end to the college application process.
This shift in seriousness only happens when we use the right words. And the right words must be used where they have to be taken at face value: On a police report. This means that a jurisdiction such as Palos Verdes Estates, which prides itself on its safety — a marketing pitch to rich white and rich Asian families to justify the high real estate prices and to encourage the “right” people to live here — reported only six felony assaults with a deadly weapon in 2015. If a fraction of the cyclists assaulted in 2016 report the crimes committed against them, the number of reports will triple, quadruple, or increase by a factor of ten or more.
Which means you get this headline: “Violent Crime in Palos Verdes Estates Increases 1000% in 2016.”
Nice. Now the city manager and police chief are spending a lot of time networking on Linked-In, Monster, and the Help Wanted section of the classifieds.
Suddenly everyone is paying attention, even the crotchety old shits at the council meetings who think that PVE was invented for them alone and that the public roads are private. Another way of saying it is that we have to play the long game. By piling up the reports we create a history, a record, a stack of statistics. Bureaucrats and politicians may not care about dead and maimed people, but they live and die by statistics.
The third reason is that reporting violent crimes will absolutely result in a handful of prosecutions. It already has. Two specific cases, one of which involved a road-raging cager who hit and beat up a cyclist, and another which involved a pickup trucker who swerved and tried to hit two riders, are currently on the criminal docket in Torrance. As reports continue to be made, some will be referred to prosecution, and prosecuted, and some of those will result in convictions.
You may not like the pace, but that’s called justice. And as word gets out and law enforcement gets more adept at dealing with felony assault with a deadly weapon, i.e. car-on-bike, people will change their behavior. Mrs. Gottaget Juniortoschool will compare how she looked at the PV Pageant of Homes in her Yves-St. Laurent with how she’s going to look in a bright orange jumpsuit and a set of used manacles, and she’s gonna yield.
Finally, a successful prosecution sets you up for civil damages. When someone commits a felony and is convicted, you get to sue them for damages. The cager’s moment of rage becomes years of misery, and at the end of the whole sad story you might even get paid for what you were put through.
So the rationale is simple: Civic duty, engaging law enforcement so that they enforce the law, prosecution of bad people, and money in your pocket (maybe).
Forcing the sluggish hand of the bureaucracy
Most people think that the police are the only ones who can write a police report. They’re wrong. What the police are expert at is NOT writing police reports. The police don’t write thousands of reports a year. Why? Because it’s a lot of work and it leads to more work, which leads to even more work, resulting in the worst of all outcomes, more work.
Although it takes a surprising amount of effort to deter victims from reporting felonies, it takes even more effort to take out a piece of paper, ask a few questions, and then write a comprehensive narrative that addresses the statute of limitations, jurisdiction, criminal intent, the other elements of the crime, and identification of the applicable section(s) of the penal code.
However, not only can you write the police report, you should. No one knows what happened better than you. No one can articulate it better than you. No one remembers the details better than you. And best of all, seated at your computer with plenty of time to think and reconstruct and revise and use the dogdamned spell-check for fuck’s sake, no one can write it better than you.
Procedurally, it’s very simple.
- Write what happened.
- Take it to the police station that has jurisdiction where the assault occurred.
- Tell them you want report a crime and you’ve already written it up for them.
- Have them review it, answer their questions, and hand over the physical evidence (video, photos).
- Make sure they assign a DR Number or a file number and they give it to you.
- Get the name and email and phone number of the detective assigned to the case.
- Go home and email the report to the detective so that you have an electronic trail of having submitted the report.
- You’re done. You’ve just reported your first felony. And now someone is gonna have to work.
Practically, there are a number of obstacles you can run into. The desk officer may say it’s a traffic issue. Politely tell him you’re there to report a crime. Emphasize that it concerns an assault with a deadly weapon. If he resists, ask to speak with the watch commander. The police are obligated by law to take your report. Whether they investigate it, or think it has merit, or plan to refer it for prosecution are wholly unrelated issues. You’re there to report a crime and you’ve done their work for them.
Another issue you may run into is that you didn’t get any identifying information other than a description of the vehicle, i.e. “white pick-up.” Didn’t see the driver, don’t have a license plate number. You can still, and you should still, make a report. Why? Because that driver may be a repeat offender and your record of where-and-what could become evidence at a later date.
You may also think that because it happened last month or last year that it’s too late. There’s often a feeling that if you don’t get the cops there immediately the opportunity is lost. Not so. There’s a three-year statute of limitations in California for felony assault. If you have video of numerous assaults, you can write a report and submit each one, along with copies of the video. Of course this also brings up an important point — your case is much more likely to be investigated if you have video or witness testimony. Still, we reported a felony assault last week with only the victim’s testimony. It may not go far, but the Torrance PD now has a record of this clown and the detective has interviewed the suspects. If they ever kill or maims a bicycle rider, it’s been reported that they have already committed assault with a deadly weapon in the past.
Murders don’t require witnesses and video testimony to be reported as crimes. In fact, lots and lots of crimes never get investigated, much less solved. They are still reported as crimes, though, and they still go on the books. A community drowning in reports of violent crime suddenly comes under the microscope … everyone’s microscope.
You and your club should start thinking about how to formalize a procedure for reporting felony assault committed against cyclists, such as by developing a club clearinghouse for crime reports. Better yet, go through your video archives and pick a few cherries from PV and environs, write up a report or three with video clips, and go submit your reports.
If you do, reports of violent crime on our beloved hill are going to spike quicker than Rubbermaid punch at a frat party.
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April 30, 2016 § 33 Comments
There was much joy and happypantsing when laist.com reported that Douchey McDouchebag a/k/a Dennis Reed finally got his comeuppance for trying to kill a pair of cyclists, then compounded murderous intent with suicidal stupidity by dancing a jig of “They punched my car first!” in front of the TV cameras and following it up with a fresh sprig of perjury by filing a false complaint with the police.
Douchey’s fancy driving video and his performance on the small screen earned him a walk down the perp carpet and a “Misdy Award” in the form of an arraignment set for May 11. The charges? Misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon and filing a false report. Whether anything will come of it remains to be seen. My advice to Douchey is that he mortgage his apartment, return his keys to the Audi leasing office, and lawyer fucking up.
But what about you? What about me?
We get buzzed all the time. Mostly people are trying to kill us through benign neglect. They have pressing updates to like on Facegag, or they’re responding to a crucial text message about how Pooky told Dipsy that Donkey wasn’t going to be the third starting pitcher in next Saturday’s Little League game, and bam! They *accidentally* whack us and it’s an *accident* and we’re *accidentally* on life support for a year or five. Oh, well.
Other times, though, there is evil, bad, life-taking intent. You know the drivers. They target you. And they either miss, or they pull out at the last minute, or you pull off the escape of your life, or you get flat fucking lucky, and after the exchange of a few middle fingers everyone goes on with his life until the next time, when someone doesn’t. And the someone who doesn’t is always the cyclist, never the cager.
For most riders, there is a fairly good roadmap for what to do when you get hit, and by now we all know that it’s usually a very good idea to call a lawyer. Me, for example.
But what about when you don’t get hit? What about those times when the driver tries to hit you but fails? Is there anything you can do about it?
The short answer is “yes,” but it’s not easy. Sometimes you’re really angry and then the anger recedes and you feel lucky to have survived. But other times the anger doesn’t go away, or you’re reminded of the rider who took the time to file a complaint against the infamous Dr. Thompson. Dr. Thompson intentionally hit Ron Peterson while descending Mandeville, and the doc got jail time because of the prior report.
In other words, when the violation is egregious enough, it really does make sense – sometimes – to not simply roll over and get on with your life because the person who tried to kill you may well kill or injure someone else.
What follows is a rough re-wording of a very excellent email I received from a cop who’s been in law enforcement for over twenty years, and it’s well worth filing this away if you ever find yourself the victim of some jerk who thinks that your life is as disposable as a candy wrapper. As a lifelong adherent of plagiarism and stealing the good work of others, I’ve taken his email and changed it enough to avoid a cease-and-desist letter but not enough to take away from his excellent work.
“If it’s so excellent,” he even asked me, “why the hell’d you rewrite it?”
“Sorry, dude,” I told him. “If Homer sent me his final draft of the Iliad and the Odyssey, I’d rewrite that, too.”
So the first question you have to ask yourself regarding any buzzing incident is this: Was the act of “buzzing” intentional? This is key because with few exceptions only intentional acts are crimes.
If you have video or solid witness testimony that shows the driver really did intend to buzz you, then that constitutes assault with a deadly weapon, and it’s a violation of California Penal Code Section 245(a)(1). In your case, the deadly weapon is the car.
Based on many descriptions of such events, not to mention my own close shaves with cager crazies, it is often clear that the answer is “yes, the action was intentional.” But you have to be sure of that on your own, and it’s extremely beneficial to have witnesses or video. Once you’ve concluded that the driver intentionally tried to hit you, go to the police station whose jurisdiction includes the location of the incident and file a report.
- Do not call.
- Go there in person.
- Be prepared to wait.
- Be prepared for them to do everything in their power NOT to file a report.
If you’re at the station, you have decided that you want to involve the police. It’s not easy and it’s a hassle; despite constantly telling people to contact the police, few do. But ask yourself this: How are you going to feel if you read an article a week from now that a cyclist was mowed down by the same driver who buzzed you? If you believe that society is only safe when we look out for each other, then you have a duty to do this.
Once you have decided to do this, don’t waver. Do, however, be nice. And most of all don’t try to cut any slack for this unknown driver who almost killed you. Stop feeling like a bad person because you are calling out someone else’s conduct, and don’t feel bad about the negative consequences that will occur to the driver of the car. The driver was a big enough boy or girl to try and kill you, now he or she will be big enough to deal with the fallout.
If you begin to waver, the police will immediately detect this and do everything they can to avoid taking a police report. Face them firmly, politely, and with the same calm resolution that you’d defend your spouse or child. If you have to, hum a few lines to yourself of “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty.
So now you’re in the station and you have to demand a report. Not ask for one. Not suggest they write one. Not beg for one. You have to demand it. And you have to demand it politely and without hesitation. Do not leave the station without what is called a DR number for the report. Statements by the police such as, “We will keep an eye out for the guy,” or “I will give you an incident number” are unacceptable. You’ve gone to this much trouble to get a DR number and you owe it to yourself and everyone else not to leave without one.
*Important note: The term “DR number” is a term specific to the Los Angeles Police Department. The LA Sheriff’s Department calls the same number a “URN number.” Other police agencies call them varying things. What you need to do is get assurance that the officer handling your complaint is going to provide you with a police report and you should probably get the name of a detective or detective supervisor who is going to follow up on the police report.
When you demand the DR number, it’s practically guaranteed that you will be told one of several things, all well-practiced moves by the police to send you home and keep them from having to do their job.
#1. “Why didn’t you report the crime at the time it occurred?” Your answer should immediately be, “Can I speak to your watch commander? I won’t allow you to blame me, the victim of a crime, for my conduct, when it is clear that a crime occurred.” Do not engage any further with a police officer who asks you questions like this. It is inappropriate. When you do speak with the watch commander, make sure you tell the boss about the conduct. And remember, you’re in a police station. Any escalation of tone or hint of violence or threats on your part will wreck your endeavor.
#2. “This is not an assault with a deadly weapon, you need to report this to the Traffic Division as it is a traffic matter.” Your answer should immediately be, “Can I speak to your watch commander? You are incorrect, but I do not want to argue with you about the law.” Do not engage any further with a police officer that asks you questions like this. It is inappropriate. It is also abundantly clear that he does not know the law. When you do speak with the watch commander, make sure you tell him about the conduct. Direct the watch commander to the following case: People v. Wright, 100 Cal.App.4th 703. If the watch commander doesn’t understand what that is, you are going to have to insist on talking with his boss.
If all of that fails and you’re here in LA, call me. I’ll go with you to the station and we can jointly explain the basics of PC245(a)(1) as interpreted by People v. Wright, 100 Cal.App.4th 703. We’ll get the DR number and we’ll get the wheels of justice turning.
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