What follows is (so others tell me) is a typical response from Cambridge Police when you phone through an incident as a cyclist. The summary of which is:
- No independent witnesses? Do nothing.
- Make the victim jump through as many hoops to avoid recording anything.
- Above all, make sure this incident is not recorded as a crime for the statistics.
- Advertise record 'low' crime rates.
Cambridgeshire Police has a reputation for being institutionally anti-cyclist. I personally think you'd get the same treatment as a pedestrian, and for many other types of crime. The worst part for me is having no way for the Police to record and categorise car-cycle incidents. We often hear the phrase, "if you don't report crime, we can't do anything about it". I have tried several times to report serious incidents over the last decade with similar results and get no action.
This is my recollection of the conversation. The Police's paraphrased words are in blue.
I phone 101 on my mobile from the street.
Your location is not recognised, putting you through to an operator ... Which Police station? Cambridge .... If you know the extension number of the person you require press 1 if you [repeating the registration number over and over in my head] .... or hold for an operator ... Cambridgeshire Police how can I help? I've been forced off the road ... I'll put you through. [seriously frustrated now]
What happened? [I describe the incident]. You poor thing, let me take some details. Phone number? [tappity tap] address? postcode? [the driver will be long gone now] registration of the vehicle? description? Here's your incident number ....
Hang on! This was a serious incident I am shaken up, I am standing at the side of the road. I want somebody to speak with the driver.
OK, [tappity-tap] We have interview slots at Parkside at 10am and 5pm.
What about Histon Police station? I am 5 mins away. It opens at 4pm. [I indecisively grumble]
Let me speak with my supervisor. I'll call you back. [three minutes later]
He says as you were forced off the road this is being treated as a road traffic collision.
[Fab! now we are getting somewhere] Report your incident within 24 hours at any police station.
[An hour later at Parkside]
I was told to come in to report an incident in person.
What happened? I explain briefly. Any independent witnesses? Nobody stopped at the roadside. Won't do anything. There were following cars. CPS won't do anything without them. [the lady officer really was that harsh, sharp and battle hardened].
What? I was told to come in, I reported this on the phone.
Incident number? I don't have one, I was in the street shaken up when I made the call to 101.
Can you search by phone number, my name, my address? No, can't do that. Really?
Look, I realise that no prosecution will happen. I just want somebody to speak with the driver so if they see me tomorrow, they won't threaten me again, that's all. I am quite shaken up.
Can't do that. Why not? Their word against yours. We can't accuse them of something. You won't be doing that, you'll just be talking to them and investigating. Sorry, its policy.
What? I am standing here shaken up after being threatened and you won't do anything? No, not without independent witnesses. What if I was threatened with a knife? That's a different matter.
Err, ok [a bit dazed], turns around to leave. Oh, can I have the incident number. [At this point there is a lot of tapping]. What time did it happen? ... where? .... Your phone number. 077...
[I realise the officer is hunting harder for a record of my phone call after I was told they couldn't search for it].
[Taps away for a couple of minutes, followed by another few minutes recording my contact details. Obviously my visit to Parkside would not have resulted in an incident record - again!]
Can I have a printout of this incident record? You'll have to put it in writing and pay £10. [I recognise this the data protection act being used here]. Can I just see the computer screen? No, its the Police National Computer, no member of the public can see it. Did you record my dissatisfaction with the whole process. Yes. My supervisor will read it.
So while this driver gets away with endangering my life, without even getting a talking to. Operation Pedalo continues with 'huge' amounts of officer time spent cracking down on cyclists being foolish to not have lights, and on pavement cycling, most of those who are there because they fear traffic.
[As a side note: I was the independent witness in a separate incident where that cyclist was clipped by a wing mirror by an aggressive driver. The end result was the driver got a talking to. No fixed penalty notice, no CPS. How hard can Cambridgeshire Police make it to reduce bad driver behaviour]
Cambridgeshire Police think Operation Pedalo is successful in reducing cyclist casualty numbers. How untrue that is. This is how Cambridgeshire Police are failing the vulnerable.
This is why faith in Cambridgeshire Police is low. Individual officers do a great and difficult job, but the institution is a failure for vulnerable cyclist and pedestrian road users . It needs fixing and just admitting there is a problem would be a massive leap forward. This is in the city with the highest proportion of people cycling to work in the entire country.
Cambridgeshire Police need to lead the country on cyclist road safety policing not brush the problem under the carpet.
Update 5 Mar 2013
A few days after I decided to phone Cambridgeshire Police back and go up the management chain. After calling 101, I received a call back from a real officer who reviewed calls. It took 15 minutes of discussing my issue for him to realise just how serious my incident was. The information recorded by Parkside Police Station reception staff did not convey my message. If I had been able to see what was recorded at Parkside about my incident there would have been a chance a real officer could have spotted my incident.
After speaking with the real officer, he worked hard, attempting to call the driver of the accused vehicle. They tried several times, and even passed the task to another officer when not available and kept me informed of their attempts. In the final attempt they managed to speak with the accused. He did not admit to anything untoward (expected) but this was enough for me, the warning message had made it, and I learned that this person was not a regular on my commute and I did not have to worry. I also learned that this was yet another case of a driver thinking the footway next to the road was a cyclepath.
If there is a lesson to be learned from this sorry tale, it's don't be brushed off by 101 if you think you have a serious case and should be helped. But, be realistic, something like close passing without malicious intent will go nowhere.