Years ago in London, I often sat across from Oxbridge-educated investment bankers whose veins (I swear) coursed with ice. Some were ruthless. For many, their motivation was greed born of insecurity. A close second to this was a desire for power and recognition. Some could be charming when in full pursuit and many ferocious in their aggression. Two were screamers in the office. A handful were cold and dismissive. A few made their female assistants and junior bankers cry. I remember being frightened and intimidated initially when I joined this part of the bank. I adjusted to their ways over time. Eventually, I found the bankers who could see reason, had a healthy degree of confidence, a genuine interested in the markets and the people that they managed, which tempered their greed. They were the ones upon whom I could rely to get things done. And most were men.
At the recent Bicycle NSW conference in Newcastle, I sat across from the NSW Police at a conference table out of curiosity and also because there were no other available seats, as I was late for the start. However, I prefer to sit with people who I don’t know at conferences. Why? There is ample opportunity to learn from people I haven’t met. Unfortunately, I felt the same degree of intimidation as I did during my banking days in London. Why? Because all of my interactions with the NSW Police have been negative. One was traumatic with my four-year-old son sitting in the cargo bike.
I introduced myself and we shook hands during the break. I noted the gun in its holster, the police blue shorts and collared short-sleeve shirt, the gear belt, the flak-jacket, short socks and clip-less bicycle shoes. I had on a lovely dress and tall black boots, my usual winter outfit for bicycling into the city. I would be presenting in the conference later that afternoon.
After the presentations finished but before heading out for a group ride, we saw each other again. One smiled and commented on the stylishness of my Yakkay helmet.
It wasn’t until the gala dinner that evening that I had a chance to speak at length with Sergeant Brett Barnes and Senior Constable Leah Childs. Armed with a bottle of champagne and black cocktail dress, I discovered that they train all of the bicycle police for New South Wales. They examined my Yakkay helmet and asked if I had been pulled over because of it. “Yes. All the time. Twice in one week last October.” And we began a long conversation about the negative interactions I have had with the NSW Police in Sydney. Both were sympathetic and reasonable. I was pleasantly surprised.
We discussed “Operation Pedro” within the context of many operations having specific targets and legislative focus. Police “Operations” focus on a type of vehicles e.g. Light trucks, heavy vehicles, motorcycles, pedestrians and bicycles. It’s clear that the police have a job to do like everyone.
Unfortunately, the root cause of the problems between bicyclists and police is the NSW Government’s attitude to bicycling as a legitimate mode of transport. Unfortunately, the “Metre Matters” legislation does not address the safety of all bicyclists nor is it enforceable.
Furthermore, one of the ways that Roads Minister Duncan Gay stays relevant is by antagonising bicyclists and declaring himself a “bicycle-sceptic” despite the global multi-modal revolution that is underway. After the trauma-inducing incident with the police, I consulted the criminal-lawyer-father of one of my son’s friends from childcare. Amidst the advice he gave me, he stated that he often sees little difference between the clients whom he represents and the police who are meant to uphold the law.
But here I was speaking with two reasonable people who train the entirety of the NSW Bicycle Police. And one was a woman! We spoke about their training program. SC Childs commented that it’s often an afternoon full of spills. They periodically hold re-accreditation rides for the bicycle police to refresh their skills in the city.
To become and remain a Police Bicycle Operative, police officers are required demonstrate a series of competencies. Some Police Bicycle Operatives will ride every day, some a few times a week, some only a few times a year. The competencies remain the same for all. Also, they must pass a medical and physical assessment each year. As they are allowed to ride on the footpath with people and often in crowds, they must be able to ride slowly with control and confidence. Speed isn’t a priority.
One of the skills is to be able to ride up and down steps.
Because they are allowed to ride on the footpath, they ride in a completely different way to most bicyclists. I find it odd, uncomfortable even, to ride on the footpath. Ramps are annoying and the surface uneven. Instead, I ride on the road to arrive at my destination quickly. I consult the map in my head to determine the most efficient and safe path
The police use bicycles for proactive policing (as opposed to reactive policing – radio call-out), namely surveillance, reconnaissance and crime prevention. Instead of walking or driving, the bicycle is faster and more maneuverable. The presence of the bicycle police can push trouble away and is useful for preventing break-ins and theft in car parks and public transport hubs. Not many of us would see this, as we are busy at work.
Out of the rain for a moment, demonstrating control and confidence by cornering slowly.
Hillbrick, (a Sydney-based company) manufactures the police-branded hard-tail mountain bikes that are designed to handle all types of terrain. Without a rack, the police carry their gear on their person. As for many bicyclists, the question of how to stay warm/dry/cool/stylish on the bicycle was unresolved today. The rain continued all morning with some very heavy downpours. While I stayed warm and dry, the police did not.
It is a self-selecting group, which applies for inclusion in the Police Bicycle teams. And people fail the medical and physical tests. I encountered the Bicycle Police during a training ride in the city recently. While all took the opportunity to take shelter from the rain, I asked, “Would it benefit the NSW Police as an organisation if more had the experience of being on a bicycle?” The response was that not everyone wants to be physically fit or be part of the bicycle police, just as many in the general population balk at the idea of bicycle instead of car.
At the conference, I spoke with Sgt. Barnes about one of the times I had been stopped because of my helmet. One officer became aggressive and suggested that I come down to the station with him. I had refused to agree that there was anything wrong with my helmet. I stood my ground but instead of getting angry, I became super charming, even more so than usual. I left with a warning because of my good-naturedness.
While the press and media would have us believe that the bicycle police exist solely to target bicyclists in New South Wales, it’s clear that they have a job to do like all of us. Most of their work is out of sight and meant to deter trouble.
I had a very positive interaction with all of the officers this time. I may have intrigued them as well. My accent, demeanour and confidence on the bicycle are difficult to place. It’s not often that you meet a tall Korean-American woman who writes a fashion and bicycle blog in Sydney and rides a Dutch bicycle in the rain. The next time you see them, please tell them that you read about them in this post and that I said hello!
Happy (Safe and Dry) Bicycling!