Philobiblon: London's under-employed police - warning to cyclists

Monday, November 28, 2005

London's under-employed police - warning to cyclists

Watch out if you are cycling in central London. This afternoon at about 3pm at Holborn Circus there were eight - count 'em eight - police standing around (well two of them were on bicycles). Terrorist scare? armed robbery? you are probably thinking.

No, they are cracking down on cyclists' behaviour on the road. Not other road-users, just cyclists.

Now there are undoubtedly some cyclists who do need to be penalised - one tore past me when I was stopped at lights in Whitechapel a little later, scattering pedestrians. If he was booked, I wouldn't complain at all, except that I doubt the cops could catch him.

But what did a police officer have cause to take me to task for at Holborn Circus? I drew up at a red light, and since a taxi was occupying all of the marked bicycle space on the road, at the front of the queue, I went forward of the bicycle stop line, although still back from the pedestrian crossing space. I took back about a third of the space to which I am entitled, to make sure the taxi couldn't suddenly decide to turn left across the front of me.

So a middle-aged policeman came bustling over and started to lecture me. I pointed out that he should have been lecturing the taxi-driver, he claimed I'd been there before the taxi, I suggested that I'd be happy to look at the CCTV, since I knew I hadn't. He started to bluster, then the lights changed and that was that. (Well the bike courier bloke said "good on you" to me as he left.)

As I've posted previously, my encounters with London police have given me a general view of incompetence, laziness and bullying - now that feeling has only been multiplied.

Oddly enough, the policeman didn't pick on the cyclist beside me - a large, young, male courier, and he didn't pick on the taxi driver, who'd broken the law first, forcing me to do likewise if I had concern for my own skin (perhaps because the taxi-driver was a middle-aged bloke like him with whom he identified). I, however, was the helmeted, well-dressed, middle-class cyclist - perfect target, he thought, for a bit of hectoring.

I should be, by class and social position, a natural supporter of the police, but I've now decided there is nothing about the London force that is worth supporting. (And that's without mentioning the crazy way they drive - I consider a speeding police car one of the greatest threats to cyclists in London. Yes ambulance drivers go fast too, but they seem to do so with a great deal more sense - and usually, I suspect, more reason.)


Blogger Ronnie Smartt said...

Do you remember a song "The Beaux Gendarmes"

WE're public guardians, bold yet wary
And of ourselves we take great care.
Didumdidumdidum we're chary.
When danger calls we're seldom there
But when we spy a helpless maiden
Or little boys who do no harm
We run them in. we run them in,
We run them in, we run them in,
We show them we're the beaux gendarmes.

11/28/2005 09:13:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Thanks Ronnie - I hadn't come across that before. It seems nothing has changed.

11/28/2005 10:10:00 pm  
Anonymous philip said...

Sadly your case is all too symptomatic of today's policing methods all over the country. There are countless examples regularly in the blogosphere and the dead tree press of the ever increasing tendency of the police to tackle "soft" targets. They tackle the middle class "offenders" as they will generally play the game by its rules. Therefore if they are caught breaking the law, e.g. speeding, they will pay their fines because that is what they are supposed to do and they can afford to do so. Your own link to (from your review of "2005: Blogged") has an interesting post on the fines aspect of this ("Fine and Dandy").

The difference in your case was that unlike most of the soft targets you were readily prepared to challenge the policeman as to the validity of his actions. As Corporal Jones in Dad's Army used to say "they don't like it up 'em". Good on yer!

11/29/2005 11:35:00 am  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Thanks Philip, and for the link. If you don't stand up to bullies, they win - always been my theory, got me in lots of trouble over the years!

11/29/2005 12:56:00 pm  
Blogger Edward said...

Excellent post. Apparently the police method of cornering cyclists who skip red lights (in order to give them a £30) is to walk out into the road and say 'stop!'. Imagine how safe that is.

So, not only do cyclists now have to put up with suicidal pedestrians, bendy buses and the variety of other horrors on London roads, but also police victimisation. I'm sure all this will contribute to the sustainable transport initiative...

11/30/2005 12:13:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Indeed - as do those pedestrian crossing places where they suddenly and drastically narrow the road, cutting off the cycle route - just so pedestrians will have to take six less steps crossing the road.

11/30/2005 06:37:00 pm  

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