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Invisible Asterisk: Except Cops

The signs at every Dutchess Rail Trail grade crossing and access point seem unambiguous:

DCRT - No Motor Vehicles

DCRT – No Motor Vehicles

More specific signs appear at random intervals along the trail:

DCRT - All Terrain Vehicles Prohibited

DCRT – All Terrain Vehicles Prohibited

You can’t see it, but every sign includes an invisible asterisk introducing the invisible clause “Except Cops”:

DCRT - Sheriff ATV Convoy

DCRT – Sheriff ATV Convoy

Back when the Dutchess County deputy sheriffs rode huge ATVs that occupied nearly the entire paved trail and bulldozed everybody out of their way, I had the temerity to ask why they weren’t riding bikes. The deputy sheriff told me, rather condescendingly, that they had to be prepared for anything and that there had already been incidents.

These little ATVs aren’t quite so imposing and, more likely, also fit on the new bridges and between the bollards, which may explain everything.

I’ve seen what might be their best use case, although ambulances can attract your attention without an ATV escort:

DCRT - Sheriff ATV Leading Ambulance

DCRT – Sheriff ATV Leading Ambulance

Straight up, I have no objection to police patrols on the rail trail.

do object to the official mindset that simply adds an invisible exception to any inconvenient rule.

As I see it, the root cause of the militarized police and extralegal government activities we’ve seen across the country in recent years boils down to “That law / regulation / rule does not apply to us, because we are the government.”

I can ride the length of the DCRT and back in about two hours, averaging 12 mph, without getting particularly sweaty in the process; the track in that link shows a three hour ride that includes the HVRT and a Walkway scrum, plus the ride from and to home. A police ATV can’t go much faster than that on the trail, even with lights and sirens, because oblivious pedestrians keep getting in the way.

If an officer on a bike can’t keep up with me, then something has gone badly wrong with the job requirements for becoming a deputy sheriff.

As far as “being prepared for anything” goes, the cargo capacity of those little ATVs rules out a bunch of hardware that fit in the big ones: anything seems an elastic concept. A bike can carry enough equipment for many incidents; my tool kit weighs more than some bike frames, the packs have plenty of room to spare, and there’s always the trailer option. I doubt genuine Mil-Spec assault rifles would come in handy on the rail trail.

It’s also not clear why an officer on a bike can’t call for the same backup as an officer on an ATV: those buggies lack fancy VHF antennas, so they’re using a hand-held radio or phone. The 5 W amateur radio on my bike, through a mobile VHF antenna on a crappy ground system, can easily reach local amateur radio repeaters and APRS nodes. Many pedestrians seem absorbed with their phones, so getting microwaves into and out of the trail doesn’t pose much of a problem.

Cops-on-bikes present a much less aggressive aspect than cops-on-ATVs who ignore the rules that apply to the rest of us.

They could do it differently, as the department has both bikes and ATVs.

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  1. #1 by Jason Doege on 2014-09-11 - 08:35

    Even motorcycles would probably be preferable if they are really that lazy.

    • #2 by Ed on 2014-09-11 - 09:27

      Two-wheelers aren’t very stable at walking speed and, as I’ve occasionally demonstrated, it’s tough to look cool during a zero-mph rollover. [sigh]

      FWIW, I can control the ‘bent down to just over 3 mph on the level. Below that, it’s hobbyhorse time with both feet on the ground.

  2. #3 by Ken Davidson on 2014-09-11 - 09:56

    That “rules don’t apply to us” attitude permeates everywhere. I’ve seen state cruisers parked in handicapped spaces in front of the high school, cops talking on cell phones while they drive (a huge no-no in Connecticut), troopers speeding down back roads to get their kid to school on time, lack of turn signals, and the list goes on. It’s not the actions that get me so much as the attitude.

    • #4 by smellsofbikes on 2014-09-12 - 00:22

      There was a recent audio clip making the rounds of a cop and a trucker having a very high volume discussion because the trucker started blowing his horn at the cop when he saw the cop texting-and-driving and the cop ended up ticketing him for doing so.
      Gah.

      • #5 by Ed on 2014-09-12 - 13:21

        Never, ever do that!

        But ubiquitous surveillance cuts both ways…

    • #6 by Ed on 2014-09-12 - 13:25

      And it seems to be a common attitude, too.

    • #7 by Patrick on 2014-09-15 - 16:55

      I had this discussion with a friend who works for the state police about how every cop you pass is on their phone. The NY cell phone law specifically exempts police and other emergency workers… Thanks Albany! I’m sure they’re immune to the distraction that every other driver has because of their extensive driving training.

      http://public.leginfo.state.ny.us/LAWSSEAF.cgi?QUERYTYPE=LAWS+&QUERYDATA=$$VAT1225-C$$@TXVAT01225-C+&LIST=LAW+&BROWSER=BROWSER+&TOKEN=44611449+&TARGET=VIEW

      (Nice ugly URL by the way…)

      • #8 by Ed on 2014-09-15 - 18:12

        Wouldn’t it be interesting to know the ratio of “business” to “personal” calls?

  3. #9 by david on 2014-09-11 - 23:44

    Roundabout here at least we have mounted police for that sort of business, which I guess is slightly better. But they’d still sooner shoot you than talk to you, so maybe not.

    • #10 by Ed on 2014-09-12 - 13:25

      The original rail trail layouts had a separate equestrian path, but common sense won out: nobody was going to clean up after their horse!

  4. #11 by Andrew on 2014-09-12 - 07:49

    Well, here’s how they get the money to pay for it all:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2014/09/06/stop-and-seize/

    And here’s what they’re spending it on:
    http://www.kpbs.org/news/2014/sep/09/san-diego-unified-got-armored-vehicle-under-milita/

    Just kidding.

    They got it for free.

    • #12 by Ed on 2014-09-12 - 13:21

      Some Dutchess agency soaked up a shipment of those Mil-spec rifles and neighboring counties stocked up on armored vehicles. Makes you wonder, it does.