Developing Partnerships With Law Enforcement

Local agencies, community members and groups (including bicycle advocates), law enforcement agencies, public health/injury prevention professionals, and traffic safety organizations can all have a role in enforcement programs. This section focuses specifically on things to do and to consider when developing partnerships with law enforcement agencies.

Common challenges in partnering with law enforcement groups

As important as it is for agencies and communities to develop strong partnerships with law enforcement groups, there are bound to be challenges. An understanding of common challenges can help communities to begin addressing them through training programs, grant support, and other ways.

Misperceptions about bicyclists

Many law enforcement officers perceive that the bicyclist is at fault in most cases, because the bicyclist should have been more careful, or due to a misunderstanding about the traffic laws, etc. This is most obvious when it comes to investigating and reporting crashes, but law enforcement officers can also have a similar attitude when it comes to enforcing the law. Without some training, many law enforcement officers believe that the best (or only) way to protect bicyclists is to write bicyclists tickets. This type of unbalanced enforcement may be ineffective or even harmful in promoting a safe bicycling environment.

Training programs that address other ways to enforce bicycle laws and incorporate research findings related to bicycle crashes and effective programs can help change these perceptions and attitudes. Courses on crash investigation can be useful for changing officer's perceptions about bicyclists. The training should be given to the officers who enforce the traffic laws as well as those who investigate bicycle crashes.

Lack of interest in bicycle enforcement

Some-not all-officers have little interest in any bicycle issues, let alone traffic enforcement. Many officers are reluctant to stop a bicyclist because it "looks bad" or could result in bad public relations. Some officers lose interest in ticketing motorists or bicyclists if there is no judicial support and a high likelihood that the ticket will be dismissed. Thus, an effective enforcement program needs judicial support as well as support and incentives from within the law enforcement agency to motivate and engage officers in bicycle safety issues.

Limited resources

Demands on a law enforcement agency and the level of support they can offer vary from community to community. They are stretched thin in most communities, and the typical response to requests for bicycle enforcement support is "we don't have enough officers." However, there are ways to make the most of limited resources. The first step is to understand what local law enforcement resources exist. State police or highway patrols, sheriff departments, and local law enforcement agencies all may be able to provide resources and contribute to the enforcement program. Consider the following general types of law enforcement officers:

  • Traffic Enforcement Specialists—These officers specialize in traffic enforcement. They respond quickly to traffic safety hot-spots, but may be called away to respond to crashes.
  • Community Action Officers (CAOs)/Precinct Officers—These officers are generally assigned to a specific portion of the city and work on problem areas. While they do not specialize in traffic enforcement, they can be called in for enforcement activities or to help coordinate with motor officers.
  • School Resource Officers (SROs)—Some law enforcement officers are assigned to schools and concentrate on special problems such as drugs, gangs, and other on-campus problems. They can also be used to help solve special traffic problems on or near the campus and can coordinate with the motor officers and CAOs.

Lack of long-term commitment

Many officers enjoy talking to people of all ages about safety, and they may be happy to take part in bicycle safety speaking engagements at schools, offices, or other locations. However, these brief, one-time lectures or events are usually not enough to generate permanent changes in people's attitudes or behaviors related to pedestrian safety, and they are no substitute for concentrated and sustained enforcement. Those involved in an enforcement program must be aware of the importance of long-term commitment in order for the enforcement to be effective and successful.