CSUPD and Student Legal Services respond to attorney’s resignation protesting bike enforcement practices

Guest Author

The following are letters from the CSU Police Department and Student Legal Services in response to former SLS attorney Rob Lowrey’s resignation. Lowrey wrote in a letter to campus that he was resigning because “CSU police department’s so-called ‘bike cops’ violate the constitutional rights of our students.”

Dear campus community,

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In recent weeks, our campus has had spirited conversation about bike regulation enforcement. Debate and discourse is critically important – and it’s healthy. It’s also an opportunity to educate and advance our community.

Those of us in CSUPD and Student Legal Services have been in the heart of this discussion, and we don’t always agree. But we are writing today to clarify rumors and misunderstandings around this issue that may encourage bicyclists to behave unsafely by disregarding bike rules and regulations. CSUPD and Student Legal Services have examined allegations, facts and rumors and want to share the following:

  1. Colorado State University aspires to grow a strong cycling culture of civility and safety. We must grow a cycling culture that emphasizes safety and respect, education and the observance of cycling etiquette and rules. Such a culture depends greatly on cyclists, motorists and pedestrians governing themselves in ways that promote these ideals.
  2. More than 15,000 cyclists traverse our campus on any given day, and that number is growing. Every year, Student Legal Services assists several cyclists who experience severe and life-altering accidents and injuries. Cyclist negligence or disobedience of a traffic law, like ignoring a stop sign or riding without a light at night, contributed to the accident in nearly every case.
  3. Student bike enforcement and CSUPD training programs are focused on campus safety. CSUPD does address student bike enforcement mistakes and continues to modify its training to decrease conflict between student bike enforcement officers and their peers. Cyclists are encouraged to engage in discussions with student bike enforcement officers to clarify rules and promote safety. Your Student Legal Services attorneys advise you to stop and converse civilly when asked by a bike enforcement officer.
  4. Police enforcement of basic safety rules is complementary to a culture of self-governance. Deterrence of unlawful behavior that results from a system of tickets and fines has a place in civil society. Self-governance by our campus community and communication and education, with the help of police, also play prominent roles. The university strives to be bike-friendly, and was awarded a silver designation from League of American Bicyclists, based on five essential elements, including enforcement.
  5. Colorado law grants Colorado State University the authority to make and enforce rules related to traffic and parking. Student bike enforcement officers are authorized through that statute to engage with bicyclists, skateboarders and pedestrians who violate traffic laws and regulations on campus. This includes student officers giving administrative tickets that are handled through the university.
  6. Cyclists are encouraged to stop at the request of student bike enforcement officers. If a student refuses to stop when requested or cooperate with the bike enforcement officers, the situation is likely to escalate and result in the involvement of a sworn, certified police officer. Once a certified police officer is involved, the range of possible outcomes expands beyond a warning or administrative ticket to municipal or county charges, depending on the situation and severity of the unlawful actions. This does not serve the best interests of students or CSUPD. Being respectful of the role bike enforcement officers play in campus safety and responding to their requests helps ensure the safest and most reasonable outcome.
  7. Current perception of some students appears to be that stopping for bike enforcement officers will inevitably result with a ticket and fine. CSUPD data shows this perception is not accurate and tickets are not the most common outcome. Since the start of this fall semester, student bike enforcement officers have contacted 2,053 bicyclists on campus and have issued 1,587 warnings for violations and 798 administrative (university) tickets. Bike enforcement officers will continue to focus on safety by creating an obvious presence in busy or accident prone areas to serve as a reminder to follow safety rules, but may choose to issue CSU tickets if warranted. Your cooperation in following the rules, and respecting the work of the bike enforcement officers, will contribute greatly to a safe and thriving campus environment.

In recent discussions with students, staff and faculty concerning bike enforcement, two overarching thoughts emerge. There is a need for motorists, bicyclists, skateboarders and pedestrians to navigate our campus safely and in consideration of others, and all individuals on campus have a personal responsibility to observe and obey laws and regulations that keep campus safe. We believe the students and staff on this campus are up to the challenge of creating a cycling culture of civility and safety through individual self-governance and responsible actions.

Student bike enforcement officers have a role to help educate and remind us that safety is paramount. There is no reason to perpetuate any sense of disrespect towards student bike enforcement officers. Our CSU Police Department provides a great deal of education on bike safety and will continue and expand efforts through collaborations with students and other staff. We must be partners in making a positive and safe cycling culture on campus.

Sincerely,

Colorado State University Police Department and Student Legal Services

 

Letter from Student Legal Services:

December 5, 2014

Students:  Stop fleeing Police bike enforcement interns!

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The Fourth Amendment does not limit them from 1) watching you commit a violation, 2) following you without trying to detain you and 3) calling for assistance from a police officer. Past cases have proven that police will likely locate you. They will probably give you an administrative CSU ticket or, worse for you, a ticket into county or municipal court which creates a permanent criminal record. With your adrenaline and sense of righteousness running high, you may also commit mistakes that will get you charged with a serious misdemeanor on top of the traffic violation. We’ve seen it over and over: charges of interference, obstruction, false reporting, etc.

Big deal? Yes! Let’s say you’re going to apply to veterinary school, medical school, teacher licensure, the military, intelligence agencies or just any old job. Most applications ask “Have you ever been charged with a misdemeanor?” Your answer will have to be “yes,” and you’re likely to be moved to the “no consideration” pile of applicants.

We in Student Legal Services can do a lot to help you deal with tickets. But we are not magicians. We can help you file court actions to seal certain criminal records. Many can’t be sealed. Sealing is expensive and takes months to years, depending on the case. Even if the charges are dropped by the prosecutor, there are criminal records that will show up on background checks. Finally, there are some jobs for which you’ll have to disclose the criminal record even if you get it sealed (hint: sealing doesn’t mean the records go away); for example, licensed professions, security clearance jobs, and the like.

So, doesn’t stopping for an intern and receiving a warning or at worst an internal CSU ticket start to look pretty good?

Wouldn’t a campus world where cyclists obeyed the laws be even better? Don’t dismiss that idea — come talk to us about the many severely injured students we’ve helped who will never walk the same or be able to use their brain the same due to a bike accident that involved their own negligence or law violation.

We appreciated Rob Lowrey’s dedicated service to students the past 10 years. We regret that his method for leaving may have left the impression that SLS does not respect CSUPD. That is far from correct. We have the highest regard for Chief Harris. Before and since Rob’s resignation, he has met with our office, and students, to hear and address concerns about bike enforcement. All of us do understand the sentiment behind students’ defiance and acts of civil disobedience. Be clear: CSUPD does acknowledge Fourth Amendment limits on the authority of student bike enforcement interns and adjustments to be made to their interactions with students. We’re telling you as devoted student advocates, at this point, fleeing interns is not in anybody’s best interest.

Student Legal Services