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Cyclists, LAPD -- even Chief Beck -- Meet to Discuss Use of Force Caught on Video

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If there was any theme to last night's large meeting between cyclists and the LAPD, it was that there is a growing distrust of the police force. Nonetheless, officers and leadership vowed that a recent use of force incident that's made headlines this week will only make the their relationship stronger. About 75 people showed up to the city's Bicycle Advisory Committee at the Hollywood city hall for a three-hour meeting that ranged from emotions to explanations to next steps.

"I think that the true measure of [the relationship between the LAPD and cyclists is] how we work together on this incident or any other," said Chief Beck, who made a surprise appearance. "What I tell people all the time is that, police work by nature will have conflict, and it's not whether they occur or not, it's how you resolve them -- that is the test: how a police department works with its community."

Commander Jorge Villegas, who is assigned to work on cycling issues, said four officers have been put on inside duty without public contact after an incident last Friday night was caught on video and posted to YouTube. In it, it appears an officer is kicking towards, but misses, a cyclist riding with hundreds of others during a Critical Mass ride on Hollywood Boulevard. The videographer, who then screams at the officer, is tackled to the ground by other officers. Public outcry began immediately the next morning when Internal Affairs, which has taken over the investigation, was called out.

"This is one of those high priority cases," said Commander Andrew Smith, an Assistant Commanding Officer. "Don't give up on the LAPD because we're going to make this LAPD even better than this is right now. We're going to learn from mistakes in the past and do a better job."

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Earlier this year, Beck assigned one of his deputy chiefs to head up a Bicycle Task Force to improve policing issues surrounding cycling. One component already launched has been an e-learning course that 6,000 officers have already taken. Another 1,000 are currently working towards completion of the training. Villegas said a couple special orders coming down the line include having officers on the street enforce vehicle violations that endanger cyclists and assigning traffic investigators instead of regular officers to collisions or incidents.

Although Friday's incident was caught on tape, cyclists stood up to tell more stories that were not documented on video. Amanda Lipsey said she was in a group that broke off from the larger group. They were riding on Yucca and about to go through a green light when two patrol units all of the sudden cut them off before grabbing a few cyclists and throwing them to the ground. "There was no command to stop," she said. "This was brutal, it was dangerous to those cyclists who were thrown to the ground, it was violent and it was scary, we were terrified... I don't want to be terrified every time I see the police."

Jennifer Beatty said she was still nursing bruises from that incident. A Burbank resident, she explained that once she was pulled over for running a stop sign near her home and the officer put up his hand to stop, but didn't tackle her.

Force against cyclists for minor infractions was a mantra throughout the night. "We need to work on policy on how to stop a cyclist," urged Jeremy Grant of BikesideLA. "We need to work on a policy of handcuffing -- they do not handcuff motorists who cruise through a red light making a left turn. Do they flip their car over? No they don't."

Andres Tena, the cyclist involved in last year's infamous "Hummer incident" said he was once handcuffed for not having a front light on his bicycle. A 15-year-old on Friday's ride was also handcuffed for 40-minutes for not having a light. He was also told he could go to jail for not having an drivers license, even though he was 15.

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Villegas said he hopes Friday night's incident will help improve the future of cycling and police issues, but he said they haven't quite figured out how to appropriately handle large group rides. "We do have an issue with this Critical Mass riding, any thoughts that there isn't, is not correct," he said. "It's something that we haven't fully grasped: how we're going to address and how we're going to reslove enforcement of it... There's criminality involved in the Crictical Mass itself, not as a group, but individuals within the group, so there are things that we need to resolve and we're not going to shy away from addressing those needs."

Deputy Chief Debra McCarthy said the investigation could be short or long, depending on witnesses, evidence, officers seeking representation, among other factors. "We're human. You have people that don't go along with the program, we obviously occassionaly have people that don't go along with the program and I think by working to together we can definitely be better," she said in closing.

One other item repeatedly heard was the need for infrastructure. "The way to remedy this is not just for the city to open an investigation into the incidents, but for the city of Los Angeles to commit to re-working its roadways to better accommodate bicycling," said committee member Joe Linton in an open letter.

The general sense of the meeting's outcome was positive. Afterwards, Internal Affairs and the Inspector General took complaints to aid in the investigation or to start new investigations for other incidents.

Beck said he needed to make his attendance to the committee meeting more frequent. "My attendance at these things should not be issue driven, it should be relationship driven. We'll always have issues that we have to resolve, that's the nature of any group of folks, but it's how you do it," he said. "The thing that kills relationships are rumors, are not being forthright with each other and this [meeting] is a perfect way to keep those things from happening."