SFPD Captain Justifies Bike Crackdown By Misconstruing “Focus on the Five”

SFPD Park Station Captain John Sanford is misconstruing the premise of his department’s “Focus on the Five” campaign to justify diverting precious traffic enforcement resources for his own campaign: getting people on bikes to always stop at stop signs, once and for all.
SFPD Park Station Captain John Sanford. Photo: SFPD

Here’s a refresher on Focus on the Five, for those, like Sanford, who need it…

As many as 900 pedestrians are injured each year by drivers. The SFPD has used its data to identify the five most common causes of those injuries, as well as the five most dangerous intersections in each police district. By making the five most dangerous violations the top priority, the SFPD can use its limited traffic enforcement resources to have the greatest impact on reducing traffic violence.

Those five top crash factors are all driver violations: drivers violating of pedestrian right-of-way, drivers speeding, drivers running stop signs, drivers running red lights, and drivers making illegal turns.

But Captain Sanford doesn’t see it that way. “‘Focus on the Five’ depicts that Red lights and Stop signs are two of the most deadly behaviors that contribute to these tragic accidents,” he wrote in an email response to a constituent. “There is no exemption for cyclist [sic].”

Captain Sanford has his own rogue interpretation of statistics to justify his quest to control the “cyclist.” In this version of reality, data about driver behavior can simply be transposed to people who ride bikes. As such, people on bikes are assumed to be just as culpable for the vast majority of injuries on San Francisco streets as drivers are.

Rolling a stop sign on a bike, as the SFPD officers seen here are doing on Haight Street, is now one of the five most deadly violations, according to Captain Sanford. Screenshot from sugarfortea/Youtube

“Twisting the facts to divert resources away from enforcing the deadliest traffic violations is cynical and dangerous,” said SF Bicycle Coalition Communications Director Chris Cassidy. “People who walk, bike and drive around the Panhandle, Inner Sunset and the Haight are scared of the effects this approach is going to have on the safety of their streets.”

Other SFPD officials seem to get it. Just last week, Traffic Company Commander Ann Mannix explained at a Park Station meeting that “the injury that a car inflicts, of course, is far greater than what a pedestrian could do to a car, or what a bicyclist could do.” She noted, however, that “we get the most complaints about bicyclists.”

This is the real problem: Complaints — not data — still dominate traffic enforcement priorities at stations like Park.

Park Station residents and commuters would be safer if Sanford took a cue from his neighbor to the north, Richmond Station Captain Simon Silverman. Richmond Station is the only one to meet the SFPD’s goal of issuing 50 percent of traffic citations towards “the five.”

“You always have competing demands on officer time,” Silverman told Streetsblog in December. “The collisions we want most to stop are the injury collisions, and they are usually caused by” the top five violations. “Some of the other violations don’t lead to as much conflict.”

  • p_chazz

    Sorry, but the law is the law, and bicyclists need to follow the law as it is written until it is changed. So, I suggest that you direct your energy to that end..

  • Boo

    What I don’t get is how one is even able to make a complaint. I called in a couple weeks ago to complain about 6th and Market where at least one or two cars run the light every time I’m there (not running a yellow, literally seeing a red light and continuing into the intersection). The woman told me that the traffic enforcement division just does what they want.

  • Boo

    The point is that limited resources are being devoted to an action that doesn’t cause accidents. Wouldn’t you rather see more deadly behaviors targeted?

  • Prinzrob

    Good on you for following the law by signaling, yielding to cyclists in the bike lane, then merging to the curb before making your right turn as required, and bad on the other drivers for breaking the law by using their horns in a non-emergency situation. When I’m biking I do try to avoid passing on the right at or near an intersection, especially if the driver is signaling, but via the law the bicyclist in the bike lane does have the right of way and is not required to yield to drivers on the left, just as another other road user is required to yield to another before merging into their lane.

    The “turn from the curb” requirement is just one of many areas where the CA DMV is doing a terrible job of educating drivers. Most bicyclists also get their information about road rules from the drivers license test as well, so to have the biggest impact the driver testing and training required needs to be hugely increased on the state level.

    As Mario indicated, most of these conflicts could be negated via better bike infrastructure as well, but that means we have to all get on board with investment and trade-offs to make that happen.

  • Kevin Wenderoth

    What’s your point? For all you know this cyclist, jd_x, is a law-abiding cyclist.

    JD’s right. The SFPD crackdown is biased and shows our police force has no respect for those who decide to travel on two wheels.

  • dat

    I guess since you don’t have a cohesive rebuttal name calling will work for you.

  • Xavier Harmony

    I saw a motorist with a cell phone on his ear turn right from Market into Fell – which is one-way. Distracted drivers are definitely dangerous.

  • Xavier Harmony

    Ever heard of an Idaho stop? It sounds like what you’re thinking about
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idaho_stop

  • Xavier Harmony

    Sounds like you’re interested in what they do in Idaho. There is something there called an Idaho Stop:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idaho_stop

  • p_chazz

    I just think that jd_x’s energies would be more productively used to work to change the California Vehicle Code to allow the Idaho stop than to make spluttering rants in the Streetsblog comments section on perceptions of how police perceive bicyclists. Ranting in the comment section might get something off your chest, but it accomplishes nothing.

  • murphstahoe

    Ghandi didn’t get anywhere lobbying the British.

  • murphstahoe

    Your example makes me want TO SCREAM VERY LOUDLY IN ALL CAPITALS.

    There is a bike lane on Cesar Chavez. Right turns are to be made from the furthermost right part of the lane – in this case, the bike lane. The cyclist isn’t supposed to notice your blinker – the cyclist is supposed to notice that your car is occupying the bike lane in preparation for a right hand turn. If you can make the merge before the cyclist would get to your position, you merge. If you can’t, you must wait. Your turn signal is called an “indicator” in many countries for a reason – it indicates your intent, it does not grant you the right of way.

    It is quite amusing that you enter into a thread to discuss unpredictable cyclists and then give an example of how you do not understand the California Vehicle Code.

  • murphstahoe

    I don’t even want to look up which one of your precious logical fallacies we should refer to here. The law is the law, but we understand full well that the SFPD is not staffed to enforce every last violation, thus in a functioning system they would optimize their results by focusing on the violations of the law which yield the most benefits. The current focus does not meet that criteria.

  • murphstahoe

    “I think that jd_x’s energies would be more productively used to work to change the California Vehicle Code to allow the Idaho stop than to make spluttering rants in the Streetsblog comments section on perceptions of how police perceive bicyclists.

    Apparently you’ve never met the California Legislature. The Idaho Stop would be a non-starter at this point. That doesn’t indicate that Idaho Stop is a bad idea, simply that the legislature would not even let it out of committee. This is the same legislative body that brought a bill out of committee that would require white rear blinkers on all bikes – in a state where 99% of cyclists who currently own blinkers have red ones.

  • jd_x

    And how do you know I’m not also doing that? And regardless, it’s irrelevant to the discussion here. We can have discussions here in addition to whatever motion is happening outside of this. It’s ridiculous to just off-handedly dispose of somebody’s argument because your point is they should be lobbying the government.

  • murphstahoe

    don’t get me started on the drivers who make left turns onto the Caltrain tracks…

  • Dark Soul

    Mostly this Article is talking about Bikers running stop stops and yet people on the comments still talk about drivers running stop signs…Bikers should be treated the same way as the drivers (fining them or others punishments)…..or the biker is going truly end up injuring more than drivers..

  • jd_x

    You’re not listening to the comments because you said this, “Bikers should be treated the same way as the drivers (fining them or others punishments).”

    Really?! You think people driving a 2-ton vehicle with 200 hp and their sense dulled by the steel enclosure and people riding a 20 lb bicycle with no power but their own legs and who have as much visibility as a pedestrian should be treated the same in terms of punishments for breaking laws? And if so, would you say that is consistent with our criminal justice system where we punish people based on the severity of the risk they pose to others?

    Oh, and it’s not “bikers” … they ride motorcycles. It’s “bicyclists” or “cyclists”.

  • gneiss

    Always interesting how the discussions from people who just want to get bicyclists off the road focus on fairness only for the punitive measures like insurance, registration, gas taxes, and fines, but never on the benefits, like the ability to safely travel on divided highways or bridges (like the Bay Bridge), travel in the middle of the lane without a ‘stay to the right’ mandate, and infrastructure that’s designed specifically for their use. If you want fairness, make those things the same as well.

  • Dark Soul

    Good thing the enforcement is taken safety measure against Bikers who run stop signs.

  • Jimbo

    why not just follow the law and stop worrying about what this police captain is doing. Im sure he knows his job better than you do. I dont understand why people are so riled up. follow the law and theres no issue

  • Jimbo

    you could use the idaho stop in idaho. i hear its nice there.

  • Jimbo

    do i need a rebuttal. he’s making fun of african americans. honestly i cant beleive this site allows that kind of hate speech

  • jd_x

    The police know better than us? Is that what you tell people of the Black Lives Matter protests where cops are basically unjustly executing people? Or any of the corruption and brutality that takes place all over this country? An unchecked police force is a dangerous thing, and to adopt the attitude that we shouldn’t question anything they do — especially when it’s flagrantly against stated City policy — is a non-starter on the debate about the merits of certain laws.

  • p_chazz

    I just get so tired of hearing about bicyclists whinging about how special they are and how they shouldn’t have to stop at stop signs.

  • jd_x

    Making fun of African-Americans?! No, you’re just looking to play that card. He’s making fun of Captain Sanford because he’s acting highly unprofessionally.

  • gneiss

    I get so tired of hearing about how people who ride bikes should be treated the same as those who drive cars when they are very clearly not the same. Your point?

  • Jimbo

    you guys on this site really don’t have any respect for black people , do you? I guess that fits with the stats that 75% OF cyclists are white males under 45, an already priviledged class. 1st) some person on here compared the plight of cyclists to that of African Americans from the standpoint of bigotry and treatment by the majority 2nd) some other jerk said i must be sanford because I am black and my grammar is bad, as if there is some relation, and 3) now you are comparing the gravity of the situation of cops stopping people for running stop signs to that of cops killing black people for minor offenses. Really? White privilege is alive and well on this blog. Maybe people here just dont realize how racist they are being. nothing in your plight can be compared to the plight of african americans in this country. it is insulting, disrespectful and just plain sick. and the moderator of this board should not allow this kind of blatant racism.

  • Jimbo

    im black and im pointing out that putting a comment about being black and having bad grammar in the same list is not kosher. this is racism. 2) how is sanford acting unprofessionally. I dont think saying you are going to ticket someone for breaking the law is unprofessional. in fact, its very professional

  • murphstahoe

    “Im (sic) sure he knows his job better than you do.”

    I’m sure the Chief of Police in Ferguson, Missouri, knows his job better than you do. amirite?

  • murphstahoe

    Honestly I believe you are some old fat white guy – possibly Rob Anderson – just having fun trying to rile up a bunch of uppity cyclists for the sport of it.

  • p_chazz

    That bicyclists should work to change the law, because it’s the law that mandates they be treated the same as those who drive cars.

  • jd_x

    You need to relax. Just because something isn’t as bad as something else doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of improving. For example, bicyclists getting ignored by cities is not as bad as black people getting abused by cops is not as bad as people in developing nations starving to death. We can play this game as long as we want about how some things are worse than others, but it says nothing about trying to improve our lot with whatever hand we’re given. Bicyclists have their safety endangered *all* the time by motorists (and the injury and death statistics show it) yet are simultaneously ignored by the cops (and even unnecessarily harassed as in this case of this article). Does that mean there aren’t worse acts of [fill in the blank] happening somewhere else? Of course not. But if the only problems we tackle are those for which we can’t find something worse, it will be crappy world we will all live in.

    You can turn criticism about Sanford into racism if you want, but it will get you nowhere. It’s not about race, it’s about his unprofessional attitude and blatant disregard for what is really injuring and killing the people he is supposed to be protecting.

  • jd_x

    Indeed they should. And thanks for handing out free tips to all the bicyclists who didn’t know that. Glad you’re so concerned.

    And now, we can have a debate on this forum (or anywhere else we like) regardless of what people are doing to change laws. Just like we do in all matters of public policy and government. What you’ve done here is basically say that you have no counterpoint against the merits of what bicyclists are arguing (that they shouldn’t be treated as cars) and so you’re just falling back on saying, “Go change the laws and stop saying it here.” So yes, that must be done. But also, there must be a public discussion about the issues as well so the public understands why laws need to change, especially this one in which our car-centric society is so biased against.

  • jd_x

    “how is sanford acting unprofessionally”

    The CIty has dictated that the greatest threats to people on our streets is drivers (read the article above). Given that police departments have finite resources, the police departments are supposed to be enforcing the laws that have the “biggest bang for their buck” (again, because the whole finite resources thing), which is patently not bicyclists rolling stop signs. That doesn’t mean they can’t ever bust a cyclist for doing something stupid like not yielding to a pedestrian, but it means that organizing stings to do this is entirely unhelpful to what is actually endangering people’s lives (motorist behavior). And thus, setting up a sting to bust a behavior that doesn’t hurt anyone (cyclists rolling stop signs) is letting others be injured or die (because the cops could be preventing motorists from killing and injuring people), and that is not only contradictory to common sense, but to official City policy. Thus, Sanford is acting unprofessionally and showing that he doesn’t care about reason and rationally protecting those he was hired to protect, but instead only cares about his own personal vendetta against a class of road users who he thinks of as effectively petty criminals and hoodlums.

  • Jimbo

    i was reacting to ..
    direct comparisons of bicycles getting ticketed for breaking the law to ….genocide, slavery and police institutionalized racism against blacks. i disnt start this. but its offensive and the remarks by several people show how engrained this racism is . maybe people just dont know how what they say would be taken by people who’ve be de-humanized and treated like crap for generations.

  • gneiss

    Actually, that’s no true. Bicycles are not equal with cars under the law, just like pedestrians are treated differently. There are different laws that govern each mode.

  • Jimbo

    and beleive me.. im leaving this blog. i thought it was a place for honest discussion, but opinions other than those within this self enclosed community are attacked and called trolling. on top of that, several members have clear biases against races and just not acceptable to me. keep you insular group here, and honest debate cna happen elsewhere. i am however very dissapointed in the moderator for allowing the comparisons to the plight of african americans. really really disgusting. have you noticed that we barely exist in the “diverse” SF anymore? so now its oK not to think about or be remindined of us, so then people dont think twice about what they say. just really unbelievable. SF has a really poor track record of racist policies and its really sad to see it here as well.

  • NoeValleyJim

    Where do you get the idea that 75% of cyclists are white males under 45? I have challenged you on this before and you have never provided any evidence for your incorrect point of view. According to an SFBC survey, 1/3 of cyclists are women, so your statement cannot possibly be correct.

  • NoeValleyJim

    Except all of Rob Anderson’s sock puppets sound exactly like Rob Anderson. This guy is more clever than that.

  • NoeValleyJim

    As to your comments about the racism displayed on this message board, I am mostly in agreement and sympathetic to what you say. While I think that cyclists are clearly discriminated against, it is nothing at all like the kind of discrimination that blacks experience. For one thing, I can regain all my privilege just by stepping off of the bike! I agree that the comparison is offensive and I too wish that people would stop making it.

  • mx

    Thank you for saying this. I’ve seen the comments likening the treatment of cyclists to racial discrimination and have found them fairly troubling.

    Not every debate needs to turn into a human misery index of which special group is more oppressed. Comparing the treatment of cyclists on the road to the right of people of color to simply exist in the world is utterly unhelpful, not to mention offensive.

  • While it would be really fun to cut-n-paste that back to you all over the place…

  • milliontown

    I complete agree. I found it absurd and frankly disheartening that cyclist would take that route.

  • dat

    Hard to take you seriously when you say that. Nobody is making fun of anyone but you, and certainly not because of your race; it’s because your arguments on this site are specious at best. Stop digging.

  • Leon Foonman

    Bicyclists are a health hazard in SF. If anyone ever sees a bicyclist stop at a stops sign, they will have a heart attack.

  • Leon Foonman

    whaahhhh wahhhhh wahhhh……whenever you’re done whining, you should get back in your Tercel and talk on your cell phone….

  • Leon Foonman

    What about the trout in Idaho? They have been targeted for years by humans who think it’s OK to dangle something that looks like food in front of them, then bang, it’s a fishhook hiding in the food and they are yanked out of the water, which is the same as suffocating to a trout, and then held up for ridicule by wealthy, white people in those ridiculous rubber pants. What about the trout?

  • Leon Foonman

    Your numbers are off. .002 % of car drivers actually stop, the rest either roll through the stop, or just ignore it totally. As for bikes, I can’t recall ever seeing a bicyclist make a full stop at a stop sign, not ever.

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