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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