Close overtakes and police response
Two things almost any cyclist will tell you is that they’ve had dangerous, close overtakes from drivers, and that reporting it to police more often than not results in nothing being done.
As a result, many (most?) cyclists have very little faith in police actually enforcing the law and taking action against drivers, when the person on the receiving end was a cyclist.
Certain police officers, like Devon and Cornwall Police’s Sgt Harry Tangye (now retired from police, thankfully) work very hard to build up a significant social media profile, then tweet utter rubbish about cyclists, like saying he can’t understand why cyclists ride on the road when “there’s a perfectly good cycle path”. Bad police attitudes like that actively endanger cyclists, as the incorrect information they give is accepted by drivers as the gospel truth, and subsequently used to justify such drivers’ poor driving around cyclists.
This needs to change, and police officers throughout the country need to drag themselves into this millennium, with regards to their attitude towards cyclists.
If you’re a cyclist, you will probably have experienced first hand what a monumental waste of time and effort it is to try and report a close overtake to police. You may have been given rubbish reasons for police not acting on your report, such as “But you were riding too far out”, “You were cycling two abreast” or many more equally ridiculous excuses.
The purpose of this post is help you understand why that happens, and what you can do about it. Oh, and believe me, there is a great deal you can do about it.
I’m not proud of admitting this, but before I got back into cycling, I know I’d given some cyclists close overtakes. I didn’t do so because I was spiteful, nor malicious, but because I didn’t understand. Well, the blunt truth is that I was pig-ignorant, and there simply is no excuse I can ever offer to make up for it.
Most drivers are the same, even if they’re police officers. They simply do not understand how scary, nor how dangerous a close overtake is, especially one received at speed. Moreover, they will most probably never believe you if you tried to tell them.
Police officers are actually usually worse than normal drivers in this respect, as they will think you’re wasting their time with your complaint of a close pass, and will try to do as little as possible, and get rid of you as quick as possible, to crack on with other more important tasks.
And from a cop’s perspective, there ARE more important tasks. You see, police forces around the UK are judged by their respective crime stats, and “Number of cyclists receiving close overtakes” is not one of those stats they are judged on.
As a result, with slashed budgets and decimated numbers of officers, cops will try to solve those crimes that they are measured on, leaving you and your report of a close pass by the wayside.
What can be done?
There are a number of ways this can be changed. For starters, we can campaign for close overtakes to be considered under their stats. Or we can campaign for additional resources for police, Or we can do any one of a myriad other things that stand an equally unlikely chance of ever happening.
Sadly, that means the door is firmly shut in your face. Except for one more option:
You can (and should!) submit a formal complaint to police. Not a complaint about the close overtake, which you will already have reported, but rather a formal complaint about how police handled that report.
When you make a formal complaint to police about the handling of a report you’d made, that complaint is automatically elevated to Inspector level. The Inspector dealing with your complaint may well delegate it to someone of lower rank, but ultimately they are in charge of it.
Crucially, this also means they carry responsibility for it.
Expect to be fobbed off
In all likelihood, your complaint will be investigated by the same group of officers you complained about. Just accept this as standard (if exceedingly poor, in my opinion) practice, and wait for the conclusion of the investigation. Police almost always will try to get you to settle for something they call “Local resolution”. Local resolution pretty much means the matter is resolved, never to be mentioned again.
In my view, local resolution will often be a thinly veiled attempt of sweeping the matter under the rug, although there will always be cases where local resolution is indeed the correct outcome.
But here’s the thing: regardless of what any police officer may say (or allude to), you don’t have to accept the outcome of a local resolution. Now it may well be that such an outcome is absolutely fair and reasonable, in which case I’d suggest you accept it, but if it is not, then you can appeal that outcome.
Appeal the outcome
An appeal is automatically escalated to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), removing the investigation completely from your local police’s hands. And yes, not accepting the outcome of local resolution is indeed one of the reasons officially listed as grounds to escalate an appeal to the IPCC: https://www.ipcc.gov.uk/appeals
Formal complaints made against police counts against their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and police quite understandable want as few of those as they can. Force-wide KPIs impact on the career of the Chief Constable, and is a very effective way of raising the profile of an issue.
Officers found to have bungled reports made by cyclists may find their own careers have been harmed through such poor decisions, and Inspectors overseeing formal complaints about police handling of such reports stand to potentially suffer considerable career harm should they be found to have tried to sweep a bungled report under the rug.
They pay attention when it can harm careers
When a local force has been the subject of a formal complaint, especially one escalated to the IPCC, police officers start waking up to the fact that it is very much in their own best interests to stop simply dismissing reports from cyclists as not worth acting on, and that is a game-changer. After all, this means it is no longer necessary for you to convince them that this is a matter that needs to be taken seriously, but instead it has become a matter they know they need to take seriously, even if only for reasons of self-interest.
Some may object to me advocating a strategy that can harm police officers’ careers, and in answer to that I will simply point out that only officers who didn’t act correctly will be impacted by that.
Ride with a camera!
I would strongly urge you, and every single other cyclist, to follow the procedures I’ve detailed above, and to always report close overtakes, or any other driving that endangered you. It would greatly help if you had video of the incident, as quite rightly, police will be forced to say they cannot act if it’s simply your word against that of the driver.
At the same time, I would suggest you should be reasonable in your expectations of the outcome of reports made. In my experience, only a few reports will actually be acted on by the driver being prosecuted.
Finally, you need to email your Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) with details of each such formal complaint. PCCs are heavily involved in setting the priorities of local police forces, and are usually blissfully unaware of the scale of the road violence cyclists are faced with.