This evening I spent 15 minutes in the company of Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire's Police Crime Commissioner. You can read all about who he is and what he does here, but in a nutshell his job is to hold our police force to account - and as far as cycling goes he has some work to do.
If you talk to Leeds' cyclists about their experience of police it usually ends up with an anecdote (often several) about how someone was almost, or actually, knocked off, or verbally abused, bullied, intimidated, had coins or muffins (seriously!) thrown at them by drivers, who might also have jumped a red light, been speeding, passed too close etc. And in most cases reporting this to police has got nowhere. Police are also noticable by their absence around Leeds and motorists habitually break traffic laws and endanger themselves and other road users.
Now before Jeremey Clarkson writes in and starts harping on that cyclists also cycle badly, jump red lights, go the wrong way up one way streets etc, let's put all that to bed. A proportion of all road users drive, ride (or possibly even canter), anti-socially or illegally. The problem is that drivers of large, heavy and fast motor vehicles cause a great deal more damage when they screw up. There is also a pervading sense from some motorists that cyclists don't belong on the roads, that somehow we don't pay enough to erode the tarmac.
I put all this to Mark, and also asked him to consider an incident I was personally invovled in as an exemplar of what's wrong. To summarise, I was overtaken whilst turning right at some traffic lights and almost knocked off. The driver ad I then argued, increasingly pointlessly, as to who was at fault. The police response was baffling. The focussed entirely on something I said to the driver after the incident, totally ignoring the incident itself saying 'it can't have been that close because you didn't swerve'. Anyway, make up your own mind, the video is here.
So, what did Mark have to say? Well, he doesn't think the police have a bias against cyclists and cited new police cycle officers as an example. He did though acknowledge there was a 'training issue for officers' and said the 'council and police needed to work closer together to support cyclists', specifically through Neighbourhood Policing Teams. He also noted that the police are under considerable financial pressure currently and all areas of policing are suffering cuts.
I suggested that it might be a useful exercise to get together members of Leeds Cycling Campaign and representatives of the police in order to discuss and understand both positions and to develop a way forward. Hopefully cyclists would get a picture of the processes police use to deal with reported incidents, what sort of information and evidence they need etc, and the police might understand how vulnerable and unsupported cyclists feel when threatened by dangerous driving and aggressive drivers.
As to my specific incident, Mark agreed to watch the video, make up his own mind and get back to me. He said the police response sounded 'disappointing and not good enough' and felt there was a need to 'turn things around'. He is well aware of how levels of cycling and general interest is going increase dramatically in the coming years and seemed genuinely interested and supportive.
What next? Mark will be speaking to the Chief Constable and talking about the issues I raised, and has promised to get back to me once he has some feedback. I'll post updates as and when I have them.