The Santa Monica Police Department impounded over one hundred Bird and Lime e-scooters this past weekend and did a masterful job with the publicity and public relations efforts to increase awareness that the e-scooters are not to be used on the bike path. There were photos of the lined up e-scooters, and then there were tossed willy-nilly into the back of a truck with the stereotypical handsome police officer looking tough. The pictures made the rounds of Facebook, NextDoor and other social media outlets.
I get it. E-scooters are nothing more than this summer’s Pokemon Go madness. The social hysteria and fascination with the e-scooters is facing tremendous backlash and the “law and order” contingent is out in full force to rail against this summer’s fun. It makes for great photo ops, it lets the police look like they’re all about protect and serve and the anti-scooter lobby feels vindicated.
This is a PR goldmine for the SMPD. They can’t go wrong with this awareness campaign. Seriously, who is going to be against safer streets and rider safety? I mean how do you stand up against the armed officers (even if they are in short pants!) and say “you’re being a buzzkill, man” and point out the hypocrisy of their actions?
Like this: The police do not regularly, consistently and equitably enforce the law and to choose to enforce this particular code section, on this particular day, which just so happens to have a photographer right there and a press release ready to go, is indicative of the propaganda that is being put out. The police regularly ignore bike riders on the boardwalk where they don’t belong. The police regularly ignore homeless people defecating and urinating in public. The police regularly ignore littering, spitting, and conveniently for themselves do not have to adhere to the no talking or texting while driving law.
This weekend’s stunt was clearly over on Sunday as I was watching the bike path from the Loews Santa Monica Beach hotel, there were tons of people stopped on the bike path to watch the acrobatics and ring swingers, and there were bikes and e-scooters just trundling along.
Enforcement of any law is always a discretionary choice for a police officer. How many of us have been released from being detained with just a warning? I know I have many times, for many types of infractions. The erratic and arbitrary enforcement of laws though, makes it harder to achieve compliance in the long term. When sometimes I’m ticketed, and sometimes I’m not, it’s human nature to take your chances – but that betrays the safety arguments that are made in favor of any particular law.
Speeding is illegal because it is unsafe and dangerous to others. But if the speed limit is not consistently enforced, how am I supposed to know what is the TRUE limit? The police department can make all the bold moves and pull publicity stunts all the time, but if the public knows that 90% of the time they’re going to get away with something, they will ignore the law.
Even after this weekend’s big splashy public relations campaign by the Santa Monica Police Department, I noted that there many, many, people riding the e-scooters along Ocean Avenue, down Pico, all over the city. The truth of the matter is this: they are fun, they are convenient and they are practical from a transportation perspective to make short hops when you don’t want to drive. Parking is stupidly expensive in city structures and if I can take an e-scooter and avoid the costs of gas, wear and tear on my car, parking fees (and the semi-regular extortion by the parking ticket demi-gods) I’d much rather take an e- scooter.
Do I believe that there will be massive regulation coming down the pike from the City Council on this issue? Absolutely. No government has ever let the people have access to fun, practical solutions without finding a way to tax the life out of them. Will next summer be very different from this one with the e-scooters being super available? Guaranteed.
But for now, the e-scooters make great press for the police and provide a viable solution for local transportation when the City hasn’t.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at email@example.com or 310/664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra