San Francisco police look to improve relations with cyclists 

click to enlarge Folsom and Sixth streets
  • Evan DuCharme/S.F. Examiner file photo
  • The SFPD has been criticized for its probe of a bike death at Folsom and Sixth streets.
The clash between cyclists and the Police Department after the August death of a 24-year-old woman who was biking to work has reached City Hall, and it appears police are ready to acknowledge and move past the tension.

“People are pissed over the supposed investigation,” said Supervisor Eric Mar, who suggested there is an anti-bicycle, “blame-the-victim” culture among police officers.

In the investigation of the Aug. 14 death of Amelie Le Moullac, it took a member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition to find pivotal video footage from a nearby business that shifted blame from the cyclist to the driver of the truck that struck her while trying to make a right turn from Folsom Street onto Sixth Street. To exacerbate the tension, a police sergeant showed up at a Le Moullac memorial held by the coalition and suggested cyclists were to blame for collisions.

“I myself am pissed about that video not being found,” Deputy Police Chief Michael Biel said. “We should have been better.”

However, Biel said there is no “bias” against bicyclists. “We enforce the laws evenly for everyone,” he said.

Police Chief Greg Suhr has apologized for the sergeant’s behavior.

But Leah Shahum, head of the influential coalition, said, “There is a systemic problem among the Police Department officers when it comes to treating people fairly and equally, particularly people biking and walking.” She said at least 60 bicyclists came forward in recent weeks with stories of being treated unfairly by police.

“What we want to see is not special treatment,” Shahum said. “It’s just fair and equal treatment.”

Le Moullac’s death was among 60 pedestrian and seven cyclist fatalities on San Francisco streets since 2010.

“These numbers are unacceptable,” said Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the Tenderloin and South of Market neighborhoods, which rank among The City’s most unsafe. She said improvements are needed in road design, traffic enforcement and police investigations.

The SFPD’s motorcycle unit is slated to increase from 42 to 60, according to Biel, although no timeline for that change was given.

Penalizing those responsible for collisions with cyclists or pedestrians also is seen as a large component of improving road safety. The District Attorney’s Office reported that charges were filed in 12 of the 38 cycling and pedestrian deaths in 2011 and 2012.

The Police Commission and a Board of Supervisors committee are expected to hold a joint hearing in the coming weeks to further discuss the relationship between police and bicyclists.

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