Harassment Law Passes in Columbia

I just received an e-mail from Missouri Bicycle Federation Executive Director Brent Hugh saying that the Columbia bicyclist harassment ordinance passed unanimously in the city council yesterday. Here is the text of the ordinance:

Sec. 16-145. Harassment of a bicyclist.

(a) A person commits the offense of harassment of a bicyclist if the
person:

(1) Knowingly throws an object at or in the direction of any person riding a bicycle; or

(2) Threatens any person riding a bicycle for the purpose of frightening or disturbing the person riding the bicycle; or

(3) Sounds a horn, shouts or otherwise directs sound toward any person riding a bicycle for the purpose of frightening or disturbing the person riding the bicycle; or

(4) Knowingly places a person riding a bicycle in apprehension of immediate physical injury; or

(5) Knowingly engages in conduct that creates a risk of death or serious physical injury to the person riding a bicycle.

(b) Harassment of a bicyclist is a Class A misdemeanor.

A Class A misdemeanor carries a penalty of up to $1000 fine and up to one
year imprisonment.

I am glad to see the City of Columbia pass this ordinance. Perhaps we can convince a councilman here in Springfield to introduce one like it.

I’m good with all of these provisions except #3. How can intent be determined? Who gets to determine it? And by what criteria? I’m certainly not suggesting that bicyclists are not victims of exactly this kind of intentional harassment sometimes. I just wonder what kind of a mess it will be trying to convince a police officer (and a judge) that a honk was harassment. The verbal part may be easier to prove depending upon the rhetoric.

I’m also wondering about the laws already on the books in the State of Missouri re #1:

Assault in the First Degree

Assault in the Second Degree

Assault in the Third Degree

Here are some more resources provided by Hugh:

See media coverage from around the state:

http://www.komu.com/satellite/SatelliteRender/KOMU.com/ba8a4513-c0a8-2f11-0063-9bd94c70b769/e7201319-80ce-0971-0121-42613453c842
http://voices.kansascity.com/node/4830
http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/missouristatenews/story/EE85C8A573141C8C862575D7004604BF?OpenDocument
http://www.stjoenews.net/news/2009/jun/16/peddling-new-law-pedaling/?opinion
http://www.columbiamissourian.com/stories/2009/06/12/ordinance-would-make-bicyclist-harassment-misdemeanor/

Video of the city council meeting (debate on the bicycle harassment
ordinance went on for about 90 minutes):

http://gocolumbiamo.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=60

You might spend some time reading the comments to some of these articles and columns. Scary stuff.

I’ll say it again: Road users are human beings, not objects.

The Sustainable Transporation Committee of Ozark Greenways meets tomorrow night. I’ll bring this up unless someone beats me to it.

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Comments 10

  1. Jack wrote:

    Andy,

    Clear something up for me. You often state that bicycling is very safe. But then we have this law.

    Is there a significant problem with bicycle harassment to the point of warranting a law? How often is a bicycler harassed?

    Why would people do that anyway? I don’t need clarification on that last one. People are ignorant and cruel.

    Posted 16 Jun 2009 at 2:00 pm
  2. Andy Cline wrote:

    Jack… I think bicycling is very safe and pleasant in Springfield. I rarely encounter any problems with drivers. I think there are two reasons for this:

    1. Most of the places I go are frequented by bicyclists (e.g. downtown) where drivers are used to seeing us. I stay off roads such as Sunshine, National, Battlefield, and Glenstone — the roads that raise blood pressures the most in Springfield.

    2. I obey the law to the letter.

    I like the idea of this law because it might encourage more people to ride their bicycles for short trips as I describe in the 1-mile Solution.

    Posted 16 Jun 2009 at 3:11 pm
  3. robert wrote:

    Andy,

    That is very common language for nearly any law. The intent is going to come down to this.

    The officer calls the motorist and I’m 99% sure the “offender” will lie and say they never even saw a bicyclist that day. My hope is that the police officer will then say, “well just in case you did see one you should know……..”

    That is a HUGE WIN because right now the police do not follow up at all. Every officer has to be 100% confident in what is legal/not legal and exactly what law is being broken before they call a motorist.

    If the motorist says, “your god damn right…that son of a bitch should not have been on rangeline!!!” Now you have your “knowingly”

    It’s a minority of people in Columbia who are doing this but they are not going to stop until law enforcement makes contact with them.

    Just this being in the news helped…I guarantee you that.

    Posted 17 Jun 2009 at 9:26 am
  4. robert wrote:

    Oh and I might add that the “throwing” of an object was pretty well covered under 3rd degree assault.

    The honking, yelling etc probably was not. You could make a case for it but I know from experience that the average officer thinks that is a stretch.

    Oddly enough, 3rd degree assault is also a class A misdemeanor although it sounds much worse.

    For over a year I’ve been working with the police trying to figure out what would give them the tool needed to contact these motorists. This is a good law and one that was desperately needed.

    Posted 17 Jun 2009 at 9:28 am
  5. robert wrote:

    Getting national coverage now.

    http://tinyurl.com/nw74v9

    Posted 17 Jun 2009 at 12:19 pm
  6. Kelly Dowman wrote:

    I’m pretty sure assault only applies if the thrown object actually makes contact. This law goes farther and prevents (punishes, really) throwing of objects AT bicyclists which endangers the safety of someone on a bike, EVEN if they are not hit.

    Good law. Scary, scary comments (not these, the ones on the articles you linked to).

    Posted 17 Jun 2009 at 12:34 pm
  7. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert and Kelly… I’ll be bringing this up at our advocacy meeting tonight. Thanks for your thoughts.

    Posted 17 Jun 2009 at 1:44 pm
  8. Alexander wrote:

    Good law. The issue of honking for fright is vague, I agree. It will probably be refined in the court system (if it’s ever really tested).

    While you would think that assault laws would suffice, they don’t. These kinds of laws are necessary and good for two reasons.

    1) they focus attention on the issue and they arm the bureaucracy (i.e. the police, justice system) with a specific directive that indicates support for enforcing and prosecuting these types of offenses.

    If the general community sees this behavior as funny or “no big deal” they will not classify it as assault and as such not submit to its enforcement.

    Which is part two 2) these kinds of laws help us to conceptualize behavior as a problem.

    By establishing legal language and categories we help shift people’s conceptions of right and wrong. A classic example is civil rights legislation, government’s redefinition of behaviors through legal language mandating an eventual change in social norms.

    I guess the key question now, is will the police enforce this regularly and systematically?

    Posted 17 Jun 2009 at 2:23 pm
  9. robert wrote:

    Alexander,

    I think the police will. We conduct yearly training of the police department on bicycle issues.

    I just sent my new two-hour curriculum titled: Rights and Duties: a law enforcement officers guide to bicycling issues off to get POST certified.

    That is the certification process for police officers continuing education credit.

    My hope is that it will give our training instant credibility outside of Columbia.

    Our police department blows my mind with their professionalism. We have fostered a relationship built upon trust and mutual respect.

    Posted 17 Jun 2009 at 2:43 pm
  10. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert… We need to talk about your police training program. I’d like to see us do something similar.

    Posted 17 Jun 2009 at 3:40 pm