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Commentary: Use Third-Party Video, Pics for Traffic Enforcement

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

Forty-five officers working in the San Francisco Police Department's traffic division have issued a combined ten citations a day this year, writes SF Chron columnist Heather Knight in her excellent piece over the weekend. She quotes advocates Luke Bornheimer and Stephen Braitsch, creator of the Safe Lanes app, which documents bike lane and other dangerous violations by motorists.

Bornheimer told Knight that “People are picking up on the fact that police aren’t really doing their jobs. We know the streets are dangerous because people think, rightfully, that no one’s going to pull them over.”

The excuse the police give, that they don't have the resources to enforce traffic laws, is ridiculous. There are eyes on the entire city documenting traffic violations continually--and when it comes to illegal parking, Braitsch's Safe Lanes app even does the hard work of consolidating it all for them, complete with a real-time map:

A screen shot from the Safe Lanes app taken today shows the many violations throughout the city.
A screenshot from the Safe Lanes app taken today shows the many violations throughout the city.

The app already reports the violations to the city via the 311 app. But for the most part, the city doesn't do anything with that information except log it for data collection and "future enforcement efforts" as seen below:

So how is it a resource issue, when the hard part--finding the violations--is already done? What's stopping SFPD from having a couple of motorcycle cops look at that map and zoom around writing citations? Why can't SFMTA have tow truck drivers towing cars all day long based on this info?

Furthermore, SFMTA already automatically cites scofflaw motorists with its TOLE program, under which transit vehicles take pictures of cars in transit lanes and bus stops and the violating motorist gets a ticket in the mail. If that can be done for transit lanes via cameras on a bus, why not use Safe Lanes for bike lanes, sidewalk parking, crosswalk violations, etc.?

Police officers will say that they can't issue citations or take action based on pictures or video evidence from third parties: the infamous "we have to see it ourselves" excuse. What other crime requires direct observation for investigation and enforcement?

In fact, in October of 2020, Petaluma Police, working with the California Highway Patrol, started impounding cars used in sideshows based solely on third-party video. The CHP confirmed police forces can use the same process for other violations.

Which brings us to the lead image, a still taken from this video by @AgentAkit, to give an example of the degree to which some drivers behave with impunity:

It shows a motorist parked at a red curb blocking the N-Judah train at the corner of Irving and 9th for a minute at least. The license plate is clearly visible.

Parking in a tow-away zone and blocking the path of a train is illegal, not to mention reckless and disgracefully selfish. If this train doesn't have cameras or for whatever reason didn't get imagery of the car, why can't the police act now based on the video evidence from Akit? For that matter, why can't they issue a citation to the driver of the Jeep parked in the bike lane in the 311 report also embedded in this post?

They're just not willing to.

The police and parking agents need to monitor Safe Lanes and 311 and proactively respond when violations are submitted. And if they can't get to a location in time to observe the violation themselves, then they need to issue citations by mail--and perhaps even impound cars--broadly, across the city. Even wealthy people would think twice about driving and parking illegally if they know there's a good chance their car could get impounded as a result.

The tools and resources for even enforcement already exist. What's missing is the initiative to use them.

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