19 February 2010

City police meeting that takes the biscuit

We had a minor success yesterday. Very minor, like, A-flat-locrian. It was the last in a series of tedious community meetings to help the City police set their priorities.

All we wanted to do was change the current City priority of 'targeting nuisance cyclists' to 'targeting nuisance road users'. We got our minor success. So now police in the City are free to go about their business enforcing the law without silly, artificial, irrelevant and divisive priorities. They can concentrate on targeting any nuisance road use, by cars or lorries or taxis or pedestrians or whoever, where appropriate.

(Maybe Lambeth police - right, on Kennington Lane - could take up the idea to target ASL infringements at dangerous junctions.)

Anyway, getting these priorities changed is boring and simple stuff. First, you turn up to the meeting. They hold them at times like 10am on a Thursday, when only mad retired locals and unemployable cycle bloggers are likely to turn up.

Then, you let the Thick Shouty People rant against pavement cyclists, red-light jumpers, bankers, paedophiles, foreigners etc. Every few seconds they run out of ideas and stop, clearly waiting for a whoop from the audience like on daytime TV. When none comes, they repeat what they've just said verbatim.

You swop long-suffering, knowing glances with the presiding copper, who listens with weary politeness. Eventually the Thick Shouty People stop, having forgotten what their point was.

Then, you suggest broadening the priorities to enable more flexible police response, or some other phrase that the TSP won't understand. The new priorities quickly get passed before the TSP realise what's going on, everyone escapes for a cup of tea and a biscuit, and there you are, job done.

Actually, the cyclists' case was made most effectively by a guy called Joe. He hadn't come to represent cyclists at all, but was there to talk involvingly about his work with the organisation Broadway, which tackles the problems of homelessness on behalf of the City.

Joe looked a bit like me - an amiably scruffy cyclist in jeans and fleece with an approachable northern accent and very good looks - but where I get snippy and irritated by the deranged interventions of the TSP, Joe is canny and calm. He smiles, gets on their side, sympathises, then smartly turns things round to make the positive case. Well, he presumably has useful experience with these sort of people.

Joe and I shared a laugh over coffee about the way you get treated when you turn up at some places by bike. The meeting was in Tower West, a fishbowl office block just by the Tower.

Wheel your bike within a hundred metres of its concourse, thronged by sharp-suited financial types, and the security guys (?Gurkhas) swoop on you. They don't believe a rainy cyclist might have proper business there. They keep trying to direct you to the postroom. And while you're waiting in the reception area reading the paper, they keep checking on you with that rude politeness particular to men with earphone spirals and walkie-talkies, and eyeing your panniers as if expecting you to whip out a dirty bomb.

And the smiling-aggressive security goons are not quite sure what to suggest about bike parking. Of course there's none outside - it might have compromised the architect's vision - so you end up being directed down a snailshell concrete helix into the basement car park, pretending that you work there. It's all rather exciting, the sort of place shootouts happen at the climax of a cliched heist movie.

Was it worth it, all this effort on a miserable wet February morning? On balance, yes: the coffee wasn't great, but the biscuits were nice.


  1. "Thick Shouty People". Like it! You meet a lot of those on online newspaper comment pages. Scarily, there seems to be a lot of them about.
    That's the second new phrase or neologism I've learned this week.
    Chris Hutt coined "Institutional Motorism", described as
    "...a deep rooted prejudice in favour of motorised traffic at the expense even of the safety ... of those that dare to travel on foot or bicycle..." http://bit.ly/aRPntG .
    Anyway, well done on your minor victory.

  2. " very minor like A flat locrian". I'm sorry - that really brought a smile to my face - a bike geek, a maths geek *and* a music geek! You make the internet seem such a nice place ...

  3. Beautifully crafted blog post, Rob (A flat locrian made me laugh too), as did the reference to the Thick Shouty People - you are right, they are always there at those meetings aren't they? Getting their money's worth out of the Police and hating them at the same time, no doubt.

    Well done on your victory, and rightly so!

  4. Excellent result. There is a quote (nabbed from the West Wing if I remember correctly) which I think sums it up.
    "Decisions are made by those who turn up"

    I think I'll take your victory as motivation to go along to my own local meetings. Similar TSP at this one (see section 5 for the 'Thorny Issue') http://tinyurl.com/y9448ud

  5. *blushes* Thank you.

    In case anyone's wondering, A flat locrian mode is a minor scale on A flat, where you have additionally flattened the second and the fifth.

    The notes of A flat locrian are A flat, B double flat, C flat, D flat, E double flat, F flat, G flat, A flat. That's about as flat as it gets, though you could argue that it's really A major in a bout of depression, because (on a piano, anyway) it has all the same notes, but just starts from a different, twisted viewpoint.

    Maybe I should get out more...

  6. (Though if you *were* pulling some kind of compositional shape-shifting trick between A major and its locrian alter ego, as suggested above, you'd probably score it as G sharp locrian, of course.)

  7. Firstly well done for going and representing a sensible point of view.
    However, what a terrible choice of time for a meeting like this (and not in the city either!).

    I can't believe that the city police were 'targeting nuisance cyclists' rather than 'targeting nuisance road users' to start with. Its not like the City of London is a haven of good driving, with all the HVGs, white vans and Taxi about.

  8. The phot of the Police van is at a junction (A23/A202) with a very high number of cyclist deaths and serious injuries:
    Not a great hope of the Police enforcing ASLs when they don't obey them themselves.

  9. Good work. Back when I was an unemployable cyclist in the very recent past (but not motivated or skilled enough to be a cycle blogger) I caught myself become a TSP very quickly.

    Your inspirational example has inspired me to write to my council, which (according to the most recent Cambridge News) is apparently considering banning parking on my local cycle route at a meeting next Tuesday. Woohoo.

  10. Thanks for your work on this. I have always wondered why the City Police regularly uses police time to entrap cyclists but they do diddly squat about motorists.

    I recently received an email from the London Assembly with a response from the Mayor highlighting that a recent police operation had "resulted in over 900 Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) issued to drivers and motorcyclists and over 400 FPNs to cyclists." The fact that cyclists make up what? 10%? of the road going population yet seem to have been awarded almost 50% of the FPNs seems to have passed everyone by.

    I recently asked a PCSO why they do nothing about, for example, cars in ASLs, she blatantly said it's too difficult to stop car drivers when she is on foot. So cyclists are a soft target. I also sent an email to the City Police, their response was that they do not believe that the sanctions for a driver entering an ASL (£60 and a number of pionts on license) is fair given that cyclists only pay £30. So ultimately this means that the City Police will not target anyone other than cyclists and things like ASLs and cycle lanes may as well not exist.

    I'm afraid that since you published this in Feb I have continued to see police cyclist entrapment patrols yet still have NEVER seen an officer enforce an ASL or a cycle lane.

    Is the police's job not to prevent crime rather than allow it to happen and then fine the perpetrators? In which case, instead of positioning officers on the far side of a red light junction, could they not position them at the light itself? Their presence would most likely put RLJ-ing cyclists off jumping the red and it would also allow the officer to police the ASL effectively.

    However the City Police are clearly more interested in catching cyclists once the crime has been committed and generating revenue.