San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury Confirms Systemic Anti-Cyclist Bias Across Law Enforcement and the Legal System

By Craig Davis
Founder
CyclistVideoEvidence.com

  • A ground breaking San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury (SMCCGJ) report confirms that cyclists’ criminal near miss incidents reports, i.e. assault and reckless driving, that endangered cyclists’ lives, have been deemed not worthy of law enforcement. This confirms our members’ lived experience that traffic violence is ignored, and cyclists’ lives are not valued, in San Mateo County. This is the definition of systemic anti-cyclist bias across law enforcement and the legal system.

  • The SMCCGJ report states that “San Mateo County, and its cities and towns have a responsibility to make it safe for drivers and pedestrians, as well as bicyclists,” and “without greater focus on bike safety, the number of riders will remain low, because people will avoid bicycling when they don’t feel safe.”

  • San Mateo County cyclists will never feel safe, and the cycling population will never increase, if traffic violence and cyclists’ lives are not given the same priority as other “calls for service,” and taken deadly seriously. Especially when cycling in San Mateo County is like Russian roulette.

  • As the report states “The most comprehensive study of bicycle and road safety to date finds that building safe facilities for cyclists is one of the biggest factors in road safety for everyone.”

  • The San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury is composed of 19 citizens who selflessly serve for the greater good of the community. We thank them for this report, and their service for all vulnerable road users in San Mateo County.

Twenty years ago, the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury (SMCCGJ) released their report, Bike Safety in San Mateo County, that found “throughout SMC, bicycle safety was not a high priority,” and “commuting by bicycle was less than 1% in the County.”  Twenty years, and millions of dollars in road infrastructure investments later, last week’s new SMCCGJ report stated “the number of bicyclists in San Mateo County has not increased since 2002.” It further states that “San Mateo County, and its cities and towns have a responsibility to make it safe for drivers and pedestrians, as well as bicyclists,” and “without greater focus on bike safety, the number of riders will remain low, because people will avoid bicycling when they don’t feel safe.”  

In stark contrast, the report stated that minimal officer resources are dedicated to bicycle safety because “calls for service are always prioritized.”  And, “the amount of enforcement of laws, as they pertain to bicyclists and how motorists and bicyclists interact, is inconsistent due to other priorities (e.g., criminal enforcement and general automobile traffic).”  It’s a jarring admission that all other law enforcement, including general automobile traffic, is a priority, but cyclists’ lives and cycling safety are not.

My 2/10/22 article, CHP: “Riding a bike on the road is like riding a bike in a shooting range,” documented the complete lack of enforcement of existing laws for cycling safety across San Mateo County.  The title quoted the CHP Redwood City Commander’s statement to one of our members while they reviewed the cyclist’s egregious near miss incident video.  The article explained that law enforcement’s dismissal of traffic violence, and lack of enforcement, made his statement a self-fulfilling reality.  The article concluded that we at Cyclist Video Evidence (CVE) were being forced to request a SMCCGJ investigation into systemic anti-cyclist bias across law enforcement and the legal system, which we did by requesting this year’s SMCCGJ investigation. 

Tragically, last week’s SMCCGJ report perpetuates the fallacy that law enforcement cannot use cyclists’ video evidence to cite drivers unless they personally witness every incident, referred to as “On View.”  That effectively means that existing laws for cycling safety will never be enforced.  The report states this even though CVE provided the SMCCGJ with multiple cases where law enforcement cited, charged and prosecuted drivers, based on cyclists’ video evidence, for infractions, misdemeanors and felonies.  We also shared one of our precedent setting cases where CHP agreed they had the authority to use cyclists’ video evidence to cite drivers: nine years ago!

We also shared a quote from the Los Angeles District Attorney who successfully prosecuted our Glendale assault precedent case, based on the cyclist’s video evidence:

“It is astounding to me that any prosecutor in 2022 is questioning the ability to use video evidence in a criminal prosecution. Virtually every case we have includes some sort of video evidence – from Ring camera surveillance, FLOCK cameras or law enforcement body worn cameras.”

We further explained to the SMCCGJ, that if a misdemeanor does not occur in the officer's presence, the officer can submit a written statement under oath (an "affidavit") to a judge that sets forth what he knows or heard from witnesses, including cyclists’ video evidence. If the judge determines the affidavit establishes probable cause that the suspect committed a misdemeanor, she will sign the arrest warrant.

A cyclist can also demand that the case is sent to the District Attorney, as in our San Bruno case, that was sent to the San Mateo County District Attorney “at the request of Kirby,” our member cyclist. 

All of our San Mateo County members’ assault and reckless driving incidents, reported to law enforcement with irrefutable video evidence, were reflexively rejected for fallacious reasons, including “On View.”  That includes the San Bruno case where our member had to demand four times that the case be sent to the District Attorney.

We further shared that last summer we facilitated meetings with the top injury data people from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which concluded that over 70% of cyclists that end up in the emergency room after being hit in a motor-vehicle collision, do not report their incident to law enforcement.  Our members have said for years that they do not report to law enforcement because they do not believe law enforcement will do anything.  This lived experience and conclusion is substantiated by the SMCCGJ report’s finding that cyclists’ incident reports are not “prioritized.”

The SMCCGJ report further states:

  • “SMC law enforcement organizations are concerned that there is currently no way for them to track bicycle, pedestrian, and vehicle accidents, from near misses to actual contact, that did not require police involvement. And, even if an incident or infraction is reported, an officer may or may not go out to speak with the complainant.”
  • “Cyclists that have an incident that does not involve either the police or the fire department do not have a consistent means to log their experience. That data goes unreported.”
  • “Other than the initial report, there is no single repository in SMC to store and retrieve information regarding bicycle-related citations or enforcement of bicycle law so it can be used in the future.”

All three of these statements contain misinformation.

San Mateo County cyclists use CVE’s free Incident Management System to:

  • Submit their near miss and collision incident reports
  • Sort and analyze by date, time and location
  • Edit and update their incident reports
  • Search all data fields such as vehicle make, model and color
  • Search all text fields including the incident description
  • Map all of their incidents to see where they occurred
  • Identify dangerous incident location clusters

The system also allows cyclists to search for repeat offenders, establish potential patterns of dangerous driver behavior, and generate near miss data to map dangerous locations - before collisions occur! 

This is the most proactive, community driven, collision prevention system, powered by the most invested stakeholders: cyclists concerned about their own safe active transportation.

Our free Incident Management System always accepts all cyclist near miss and collision incident reports, provides powerful online tools for cyclists to manage and analyze their incident reports, and generates objective near miss data for law enforcement, traffic planners, public works and other government departments and agencies.

One year ago, we recommended several county-wide best practices during our presentation to the San Mateo County Police Chiefs and Sheriffs Association.  One of those recommendations was to create consistent online near miss incident reporting across all twenty-three San Mateo County jurisdictions.  We pointed out that, at the time, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office (SMCSO) website had online reporting for 8 crimes, but did not accept cyclists’ near miss and collision incident reports. 

The SMCSO recently started accepting online reporting for “cycling complaints,” but it’s unclear how they define complaints.  The SMCCGJ report implies they only accept three-foot violations, and send the hand signed three-foot warning letter that we helped CHP create eight years ago.  Will they also accept the far more dangerous criminal near miss incidents, including assault and reckless driving?

After a complaint is submitted, the SMCSO does not provide any online access for cyclists to determine the status of their “complaint,” or any of the other tools and capabilities provided by our free Incident Management System.

The SMCCGJ report states that the County cannot improve what they cannot measure.  The SMCSO does not provide any online performance metrics such as how many near miss and collision incident reports have been submitted, their status and outcome, a map detailing where they occurred, and whether they are increasing or decreasing.

The SMCSO has stated that they do not accept the most important and objective evidence: cyclists’ video evidence.  The SMCCGJ report also notes that the SMCSO’s online reporting only accepts complaints for six of the twenty-three San Mateo County jurisdictions: unincorporated San Mateo County, Woodside, Portola Valley, San Carlos, Half Moon Bay, and Millbrae.

The SMCCGJ report recommends that, “by June 3, 2024, all law enforcement agencies should provide a means for citizens to report bicycle-related incidents that are not currently reported to law enforcement, similar to the SMC Sheriff’s Department Online Crime Reporting portal.”

We applaud the SMCSO for being the first to provide basic online reporting but as the SMCCGJ report states, “law enforcement agencies in the County submit their bicycle accident data to SWITRS based on incidents that result in fatality or injury.”  That means the statewide system to which law enforcement submits all of their incident reports SWITRS (California Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System), will never accept, nor be capable of providing, near miss data.

Ironically, the SMCCGJ report states ““SMC law enforcement organizations are concerned that there is currently no way for them to track bicycle, pedestrian, and vehicle accidents, from near misses to actual contact, that did not require police involvement.“

San Mateo County cyclists have been using our free Incident Management System to great effect as documented in the previously linked articles. 

To resolve many of the issues raised in the SMCCGJ report, we propose an innovative community led partnership with law enforcement, public works, and county agencies, that:

  1.  Empowers cyclists with agency in their own safe active transportation by objectively documenting all of their near miss incidents in CVE’s free Incident Management System, and by submitting their near miss incident reports to law enforcement.
  2.  Creates an innovative community partnership between cyclists and law enforcement that provides a critical opportunity for law enforcement to change dangerous drivers’ behavior, via education or citation, based on the violation, before collisions occur.
  3.  Generates accurate, objective, authenticated, high resolution, and first hand near miss incident data, documenting the actual threats and risks that are limiting San Mateo County’s potential cycling population. This creates the opportunity for an innovative community partnership with San Mateo County Public Works to leverage high resolution near miss incident data to help the County identify dangerous areas, before collisions occur, and secure road safety improvement funding.

All of this could be accomplished immediately, without each jurisdiction having to replicate the SMCSO’s basic online complaint reporting.

If you support our work to help create safe, shared streets, please add your thoughts and comments below and donate to help sustain our self-funded organization.

11 Comments

  1. Matt Turner on July 21, 2023 at 4:10 pm

    This is some hard hitting truth. The wall we’ve been hammering all along is a systemic one. In account after account across many jurisdictions, the response has been to reflexively reject video evidence, even when the case is overwhelmingly obvious. Violence is being committed against cyclists without recourse and it is extremely rare that meaningful action is taken. This should be a wakeup call for elected officials in a position to provide accountability. NOTHING has changed in 20 years of advocacy.
    Infrastructure is underfunded because the perceived demand for it is low when potential cyclists are not out on the street because it is too dangerous. A big part of the reason it is dangerous is that law enforcement will not take action when cyclists are threatened, hit, and even killed. The situation must change! Please share this article widely.

  2. Keith Devlin on July 21, 2023 at 4:18 pm

    All over the Peninsula, local police spend hours at cross roads with stop signs in order to cite cyclists who do not come to a complete stop. I have seen it multiple times, and was stopped once myself. While the officer took my details, two cars sped through the junction at speeds at least three times the speed I had been going — it was a “rolling stop” where I stopped pedaling and braked almost to a stop in order to check that the crossing was clear, then when I could see it was safe I resumed pedaling. Yes, technically I did not come to a complete stop; I did not dispute the citation. But in essentially wasting his time citing me, the officer missed two motorists at the wheels of vehicles that can inflict lethal damage. On my 18lb road bike, I’d be the one injured in a collision with a car! In my experience, some (many?) local police are antagonistic to cyclists. Whether they are a majority I have no way of knowing; for sure many I come across are friendly and supportive. It should be all. We cyclists need protection from police on the roads, not persecution.

  3. Tim Ryan on July 21, 2023 at 6:12 pm

    I’m sorry if I missed a provided link to the actual report which I would find helpful. The 3 foot law is better than nothing but it’s weak and largely unenforceable.

  4. Bruce Dughi on July 24, 2023 at 12:31 pm

    Great to hear of some good to come of the San Mateo Civil Grand Jury investigation. I certainly hope this will incentivize law enforcement to protect our most vulnerable road users. Extremely disappointing that the Grand Jury perpetuates the “on view” myth, especially as they were presented with specific examples that destroy that myth.

    Enforcement of existing laws is more critical than ever as our various Public Works Agencies resist safe and convenient bicycle infrastructure. Public Works forces us into the streets and then Law Enforcement leaves us there to perish.

    This is particularly frustrating as I teach my young children to ride their bikes as a way to reduce green house gases. It appears most decision makers, including elected officials, do not take our Climate Crisis seriously–it is business as usual. I am very concerned about our future as the world continues to fry.

  5. George Burkhard on July 24, 2023 at 7:25 pm

    Increasing awareness of the systemic bias is super important, and I’m glad this site exists to do it at the local level! You wouldn’t believe (actually, I’m sure you would!) the number of times I mention incidents in a public forum, and some idiot says that bikes should be illegal to ride on roads, and unsafe passing is perfectly okay because they shouldn’t be there, etc. There are several levels of issues, here, and fixing bias in enforcement will go a long way to fixing the others. E.g. if the aforementioned person is fined for close passing, he’ll at least understand that the state (police) very much disagree with his opinions. Furthermore, if it becomes ubiquitous enough that it’s assumed that cyclists are recording you and that law enforcement takes this seriously, it will greatly reduce the number of road-rage type incidents. I really hope this catches on for those reasons (among others)

  6. Glenn Kirby on July 24, 2023 at 8:50 pm

    This report acknowledges what many us have experienced; resistance within the law enforcement culture to enforce certain laws. Change is not easy, and advances in technology are happening very rapidly. Video of an incident is, by definition, more reliable than witness accounts, which have been shown to not be reliable in studies. And yet, as we have seen, police officers responding to incidents involving motor vehicles and bicycles are often not willing to accept video evidence and in many cases are reluctant to even write a report. In my San Bruno incident while the responding officer did review the video and the audio from my camera, his report was very weak and, only after continued questioning by me, was the driver eventually charged with only an infraction for a close pass. Even though both the video and audio, as well as statements by witnesses and the driver himself showed that he intentionally forced me off the road and allowed his truck mirror hit me, what should have been a clear case of aggressive, malicious assault was excused due to what this Grand Jury finding has shown, is a clear pattern of institutional bias.

  7. Robert on July 25, 2023 at 9:48 pm

    I don’t ride without a helmet, and I don’t ride without video cameras front and rear. It’s small comfort, given the scary incidents I experience from the carelessness and hostility of some motorists. I so wish law enforcement behaved as they do in England, where they use video evidence from cyclists and motorists to issue citations for moving violations. As the Grand Jury report says, it appears that San Mateo County is not interested in encouraging cycling.

  8. Elaine Salinger on July 25, 2023 at 10:35 pm

    The recent Civil Grand Jury Report states that law enforcement has been doing a poor job enforcing existing laws to protect cyclists, that the different law enforcement agencies need to share information county wide, and that they should all provide an online portal similar to the one the SMC Sheriff’s Department is using. Agreed. But it is disappointing that there is a lot they got wrong. And The article nails these inaccuracies.
    We have got to do everything possible to protect the lives of cyclists! In addition to educating and changing law enforcement, we need to cycle with video cameras and use the evidence, and we also need protected bike lanes and connectivity!
    It is so aggravating that our community just spent over $500M building a 5th lane on 101 when all the research shows that building extra lanes on freeways reduces traffic congestion for 6 months because it encourages more driving. Had our elected officials shown better judgment, that money could have been spent on bike infrastructure (and public transit). This would have provided long lasting improvement in traffic congestion, and it would be better for our health and the health of our planet. Now our elected officials are talking about continuing the 5th lane from 380 up to San Francisco! Can all of us please reach out to Diane Papan, our Board of Supervisors, and all of our elected officials to ask them to stop this travesty and build protected bike lanes with infrastructure money?

  9. Robert Zhou on July 25, 2023 at 10:49 pm

    On my first night ride, a reckless driver screamed at me while I was struggling to climb up the bridge above US 101. Because of this incident, I don’t know how often I’ll ride my bike.

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