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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fort Collins Police Respond to Complaints of Lack of Enforcement for Bicycle Scofflaws

One big happy family?!
The image shows CSU Corporal Scott Anthony with Chris Gaughan (Vice Chair of the City's Bicycle Advisory Committee), and Colin Pinney (Bike Co-op volunteer and former Co-op board member) on the CSU campus.


In response to a recent citizen cyclist's complaint about Fort Collins police officers not stopping and ticketing local cyclists for breaking the law City Manager Darin Atteberry shared the following response from Police Services staff member Lieutenant Szakmeister.

"Thank you for taking the time and making the effort regarding your observations on the enforcement of bicycle laws by Fort Collins Police Services. You are 100 per cent correct in that these actions by bicyclists are a violation of traffic safety law.

You ask, “Why do Fort Collins police officers treat bicyclists differently?” It is not a matter of treating individuals differently but rather enforcing laws that could have a greater impact on the public good. Just last week an officer stopped and cited two bicyclists for their bicycle violations. The officer made an observation that their actions constituted a greater danger. By the way, the officer’s sergeant received an angry phone call complaining that the police are “picking” on bicyclists.

While I may not be able to satisfy your concerns, I can tell you that police officers are entitled to exercise discretion with regard to the many traffic violations they see in the course of their duties everyday. For instance, when an officer is working a speed zone with radar, the officer many times chooses to take enforcement action when the driver exceeds ten or more miles over the speed limit. From reading your message, this may be considered dishonest or corrupt. If an officer stopped you for going over the speed limit by 1 mile per hour, he would be justified in doing so according to the letter of the law. But is it the right or ethical thing to do? I would propose to you that it would not be right or nor ethical as a general rule. Nor would it be practical.

Officers throughout their work day attempt to stop people for what they consider to be serious violations that might lead to dire consequences, similar to what Officer Deyen told you. If officers stopped everyone for every violation they see and write tickets to each violator, let alone bicyclists, it would not be reasonable or practical.

That is why the law allows officers to exercise discretion in the exercise of their duties to enforce the law. The courts have long held to this as well. It is not a matter of being dishonest or corrupt, but ethical and correct. Being sworn to uphold the law does not mean that each and every observable violation must be acted upon.

I would agree with you that if the officers are not busy taking care of other matters, officers should enforce bicycle laws as well as other laws. A discussion will take place with these officers, not as a matter of discipline, but as a reminder that citizens like you are cognizant of what’s going on out there and that there is an expectation that officers take action when possible or expedient.

Thanks again for your inquiry."

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