Friday, January 19, 2018

What You Missed: FCPD Presentation

At FABB’s January monthly meeting, we were honored to host two Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD) officers who shared information about how the department is handling bicycling- and pedestrian-related issues. FABB member Charlie Bobbish, who has been leading FABB efforts to build relations with the FCPD gave a brief history of these efforts, including the start of a dialogue in 2017 with the FCDP Traffic Division and its commander, Captain Bob Blakley. He then introduced the guest speakers, officers Shelia Ayers and Christina Gaizick. 

Both officers were from the Traffic Safety section of the Traffic Division. They began by discussing the division’s current areas of focus: school-crossings and crossing guards, police support to upcoming bike to school day events, and increased education and enforcement efforts against distracted driving. They reported that their unit’s officers regularly conduct community outreach and are available to support community initiatives. 

In response to a question about incident data, the officers reported that the FCPD uses the state-wide reporting system, TREDS (Traffic Records Electronic Data System). They looked at the county’s data in preparation for the meeting and reported that bicycle-related incidents were down since 2013 with only one fatality, which occurred in 2015. In contrast, pedestrian incidents are increasing and account for half of the traffic-related fatalities in Fairfax.  In 2017 there were 72 reportable bicycle incidents in the county. The threshold for reporting is $1,500 or more in property damage or an injury.  FCPD is taking action to deter reckless behavior with greater presence and visibility but recognizes that changing human behavior and local driving habits is difficult. 

The Traffic Safety section has plans to complement the police’s presence and warning activities with education events, using the the media and PSAs to promote general traffic safety. The officers requested that the bike community talk to each other, kids, and friends about traffic safety to help the education effort. FCPD is open to suggestions from the public and has a presence on Facebook and Twitter. They also can be contacted through the Media Relations office (703-246-2253). 

In response to questions about police training on bike laws, the officers said bike and pedestrian laws are covered at the Academy but not in as much detail as other traffic laws. Ongoing professional training relies on Motor Squad (motorcycle-borne) officers to teach traffic laws drawing from their experiences on the roads. FABB might have an opportunity to contribute to the FCPD’s instruction, perhaps by focusing on new laws when the come into force in July of each year. 

Another member asked about the process for dealing with aggressive drivers. The officers’ first emphasized that a cyclist’s initial action should be to first pull over and be safe. Then, a rider can call the FCPD’s non-emergency phone number (703-691-2131) and report the incident. [Note: According the FCPD’s Citizen Reporting System website, aggressive driving is not a reportable offense. The officers’ statements seemed to distinguish between witnessing unsafe behavior and an incident where a motorist’s actions appear to intentionally threaten a cyclist or run the cyclist off the road.] The officers told us that if the driver is reckless and a potential threat to others, calling 9-1-1 is acceptable. 

The key to helping the FCPD put a stop to the driver’s behavior is to be the best witness you can be. Get as much detailed information on the car as possible: make, model, color, full or partial license number, and direction of travel. The FCPD will alert patrol officers to this information with a “Look Out” notice. And, while the patrol officers cannot stop the driver without witnessing the reported incident, they can stop the car if they notice any other type of infraction (e.g., busted tail light). This will allow them to question the driver about the reported threatening driving, issuing a warning as appropriate. Our FCPD speakers confirmed that the department welcomes Go-Pro and other video evidence of this type of aggressive driving and hit-and-run incidents.  

FABB wants to again thank the FCPD and Officers Ayers and Gaizick for their work and for coming out to talk to our members. 

Our next monthly meeting is Wednesday, 21 February, at 7:30 pm at the Patrick Henry Library in Vienna. It will feature a speaker from The Rails to Trails Conservancy and a short segment on bicycle advocacy 101.  Mark your calendars and please join us. 

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