As a volunteer for the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, I recently attended two meetings of the Enforcement, Education, and Encouragement subcommittee of the Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC).
The December meeting was at the 1st precinct, where the committee heard from police officers from both Minneapolis and Metro Transit. Both the police and the committee discussed what could be done beyond issuing citations for violations. Ticketing doesn’t necessarily change behavior and does not address the education component.
One barrier to enforcing the law appears to be disagreements beat officers have with bicycle-related infrastructure and traffic statutes. Also, officers have discretion on when to ticket (for example, they may choose not to cite a first time tourist parked in a First Avenue bike lane). Officers also lack confidence that citations will be upheld by the courts; although research not available during the meeting revealed that half of all citations go uncontested, and beat officers are likely only exposed to contested citations, which may impact their perception of the judiciary.
After hearing challenges of the beat officers in the field, the idea of a diversion program surfaced. To help shed light on this idea, the subcommittee invited Mary Ellen Heng, from the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office, and DeAnn Halberg, from the 4th Judicial District Hearing Office, to discuss how bicycle-related infractions are handled in court and how a diversion program might work.
The path of a traffic ticket
Typically people who wish to contest their ticket—whether bicycle or car head to the hearing office. Depending on the case, the fine may be reduced, paid in full, or moved forward to the attorney’s office. In the court setting, sometimes the defendant agrees to a diversion program or the case may get sent to a referee like Linda Gallant, who eventually rules on the matter.
Mary Ellen and DeAnn helped the committee better understand diversion programs and Rebecca Gomez, with the Bike/Walk Ambassadors, provided information regarding programs in other parts of the country. Bend, OR and Tucson, AZ have designed diversion programs with their county attorneys and local judiciary that are specifically targeted toward bicyclists. Bicyclists charged with a traffic infraction are able to take a safety education class rather than pay a fine for their offense. The programs often work when a person can’t afford the fine. but others will simply pay the fine instead.
Non-certifiable and certifiable citations
Certifiable offenses go on your driving record and non-certifiable offenses do not go on your driving record. Most bicycle-related infractions for bicyclists are non-certifiable and although they still require a fine (roughly $100 depending on the offense) they do not carry the same “stick” as a certifiable offense. It is unknown whether or not diversion programs would be popular for those dealing with non-certifiable offenses.
Meeting leader Jim Skoog asked the two: “What do you need from us if we were to move this forward?” Mary Ellen asked for a more concrete proposal and then envisioned the city and county meeting with MPD to get their buy in and then get a judge on board.
“We’re open to this under the right circumstances. The best idea is to deliver the choice pre-court to give the individual their option. And remember, we have a model for this. You don’t have to reinvent it.” –Mary Ellen Heng
Other ideas surfaced:
Someone at the table floated the idea of giving an officer the power to give a ticket and the diversion class at the time of citation.
To keep costs down, could the Minnesota bicycle coalition help carry out the execution of the program?
Minneapolis Bike Coordinator Shaun Murphy felt the diversion idea is worth exploring and plans to draft an enforcement/education plan and review it with Sergeant Nelson of the MPD. He envisioned a small scale enforcement operation, It would be positioned as providing information and public safety—not about issuing tickets.
Whenever a bicycle related story hits the news, he noted, it stirs great passion on both sides, which hinders Minneapolis’ ability to move biking forward as a city initiative. The idea is to help educate, not penalize. Lastly, Sean mentioned that a crash report involving cyclists and cars is in process. When completed, this could be the targeted location for the enforcement campaign.