Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Guest Post: Laguna Beach Traffic Cops

My good friend, Dominic, wrote this great article on his encounter with a Laguna Traffic Cop. I couldn't just let it float around email inboxes, so I was honored he allowed me to share it with all of you! 



Recently I was stopped near the intersection of Beach and Ocean by a well-meaning member of Laguna Beach's finest. He called for me from behind in his rolling white LBPD van. Admittedly I had been checking my phone's calendar while I came to a stop sign — my wheels still under control and my awareness on alert before I executed a right turn onto Beach.

The officer, whose uniform was ominously marked "JAILER," pulled in front of me and asked me to stop on the righthand side of the road. As I maneuvered behind his idling riot-ready mass, he started reversing and I just missed getting hit by him, as witnessed by a passing pedestrian. No harm, no foul. Honestly I was more upset at myself for getting pulled over in the first place to even think twice about it. I rolled to a stop and waited for the officer.

Here's a little about me – with every intention of boasting. I find myself acutely aware of my surroundings in an immense majority of situations. Taking in one's surroundings isn't exactly a superpower, but how many of us see drivers on the road who are quite obviously and rather sadly incapable. True, I only have the driving experience of 14 years, professionally close to 5, but I take no shame in saying I feel comfortable on the road because I am so tuned in to what is happening around me. Make no mistakes, I am not excusing my behavior only suggesting that an agenda consultation was possible at that stop sign.

Especially considering I was on my skateboard.

A little more about me- all those things about how I pay attention to stuff and junk? They are doubly true when I am on a gritty piece of treated wood, polyurethane wheels and sandy ball bearings keeping pace with downtown Laguna traffic. I learned long ago that if I wanted to behave like a car on my skateboard I couldn't do it on sidewalks. I firmly believe bike lanes should be shared with people like me and even more firmly believe bicyclists have no place riding on sidewalks. And kids, what do we do when there's no bike lanes?

Personally, I like to trust in my fellow man and my own personal set of awareness powers to guide me safely through the not-quite-Manhattan-busy streets of downtown. Being new to Laguna at the time, I took the boring errand of a post office run as a challenge to learn the skateboard route from my apartment. But my ways around town aren't relevant, let's return to the cop who almost backed into me.

As soon as he got out of the van my interaction with the officer was a tad heated. But I still felt lucky, at least I wouldn't be paying a texting and driving ticket. He seemed in a hurry as he strode toward me and started chastising me for skateboarding downtown. As I walked toward him so he didn't have yell, he stepped back and told me to stay still, "or better yet why don't you sit down on the curb. I don't like feeling threatened."

My wife will tell you I don't like authority – I'll tell you I don't like being disrespected by anyone, and the thought of someone throwing their weight around to intimidate me is disgusting. Tomato, tomato. Calmly, and still standing, I told the officer I wasn't a threat to him and I wanted to understand: was I not allowed to skateboard anywhere downtown?

According to him (and I've kept it out long enough so I won't mention his name or badge number now) not only was skateboarding downtown illegal, but I was also in violation of the town helmet law. I'd been living —and thus skateboarding – in Laguna for three whole weeks so the fact that I hadn't heard about the helmet law wasn't surprising, but no skateboarding downtown? That just couldn't be.

Turns out it isn't. Luckily the officer and I came to an agreement that I'd be wearing a helmet the next time he saw me, but the warning citation he wrote me has one bold-faced lie on it. Laguna Beach municipal code 10.15.120, which I was cited as breaking, reads that skateboarding in the downtown business district is prohibited on sidewalks. Further, code 10.15.090 reads that skateboarders and rollerbladers are permitted to operate on roadways in Laguna Beach.

In your internet face Laguna Beach jailer man, boom. Sadly my technical correctness won't remove my name from your database of warned guys. Likely the next time you or one of your fellow should-be do-gooders feels like hassling me I'll likely get that bumped up to a real-life money-costing ticket. Guess I'll be wearing a helmet when it happens too.

I know what you're thinking: "But wait, how about the rest of them municipal codes Dominic? What do they say?" Quite literally, a bit. There are no helmet laws for bicyclists on the city books, but the state's requirement for minors should be upheld. Code 10.02.020 reads that it is unlawful for anyone, save law enforcement, to operate bicycles on sidewalks and code 5.72.020 reads that all bicycles in town have to be licensed with the city. Are these enforced like skateboarding laws?

I'm a pretty smart guy and I would assume my readers are too. We already know that codes like these exist for when an officer needs a reason to stop someone. Whether they enforce the law or not is at the officer's seasoned discretion and generally depends on the other person's demeanor and likelihood of other illegal activity.

For example: maybe you're a police officer and you see some stand-up citizen jaywalking when there's no cars coming. She probably isn't crossing the street to deface a local church or bank. Maybe just let her go without even stopping her or just a verbal warning, "and have a nice day ma'am."

Another example: you see a sunglassed man riding his skateboard downtown. There's a great chance he's got a gun or drugs or grey-market parrots on his person. Pull him over for not wearing a helmet and see if he acts nervous or confrontational. Maybe he'll give you a reason to detain him so you can search him or just confiscate his skateboard (per municipal code 10.15.190) and get his name and address on file.

If you can't tell the experience left me with an even bitterer taste in my mouth for police officers. Possibly the man's intention, but not likely. I was fortunate, I think my cool head and his need not to be double-parked for more than 16 minutes got me out of the situation skateboard in hand. As I crossed Beach to walk toward Broadway I thought how unjust the laws of man where for a guy just trying to enjoy a little beach air through his receding hairline as he zipped a package to the post office.

I haven't been skateboarding in Laguna since.

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