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.