Qataris Behaving Badly? Let’s Focus on the Homegrown ‘Sheikhs’

Qatari scofflaw and his Ferrari

The infamous Qatari scofflaw and his Ferrari as ‘captured’ by Adam Bornstein.

What’s more ridiculous than wasting ink on the now-departed Qatari sheikh who hot-rodded around Beverly Hills this August? The fact that no ink is spilled about everyday reckless driving tolerated by city policymakers and police officials. Forget Mideast sheikhs behaving badly in their Ferraris and such; we’re got a homegrown haute bourgeoisie who feel entitled to spin around at high speeds on quiet residential streets in off-the-shelf sports cars. And they garner nary a glance from the cops. For come sunset, there is no traffic enforcement in Beverly Hills.

When was the last time you read in the local media about reckless driving here in Beverly Hills? You probably never have. And you wouldn’t until, say a Qatari national runs some stops signs in his eye-catching coach. And only then you’ll read about it if it’s captured on video. But get it on tape and you may well hear officials proclaim their “outrage” at such bad behavior. Here’s the new Beverly Hills Police Chief Dominick Rivetti’s statement from his press conference:

The City of Beverly Hills is outraged about recent incidents of reckless driving on our streets. The Police Department has zero tolerance for unsafe driving, which seriously endangers the lives and property of others. Regardless of who you are, who you know or where you are from. The Beverly Hills Police Department has a reputation of applying the law equally. – Dominick Rivetti, BHPD Chief

Now, as far as we recall, this is the first reckless driving press release (let alone a companion standalone press conference) to address the problem.

Yet this department statement packs no fewer than four disingenuous assertions into its first paragraph alone. The first is the “outrage.” Our police department rarely exhibits much concern about reckless driving or the toll taken by crash injuries. Every month, for example, the department dispatches a supervisor to brief the city’s Traffic and Parking Commission on police department performance. But faced with crash figures that won’t decline, everyone seems to collectively shrug. As the numbers are perfunctorily recited there is no outrage nor even a glimmer of curiosity about why crashes happen. Not even the occasional traffic fatality merits “outrage.” It’s business as usual for the commissioners and the cops.

Second, the police department appears to have a very high tolerance indeed for unsafe driving. Stand at any major corner in Beverly Hills and watch as drivers run the red light. It happens at every single change of the traffic signal. We bet that every pedestrian has a story about nearly being struck in a crosswalk as a car (or three)  plow through well after the red.

After a few near-death experiences of our own we communicated to City Council actual “outrage” about the dangers we face as pedestrians. But we never even received a response. Here’s an excerpt:

While walking home with an armful of groceries tonight at 6:10 I was nearly struck by an westbound driver running the red light at the Wilshire-Canon intersection. I was midway across the curb lane at this signalized intersection, having stepped off the north curb well into my green signal. Suddenly a driver passed though and swerved into the #1 lane to avoid me. I’d earlier discussed with councilmember Krasne the hazards at this very intersection after a similar close call. In both cases, it occurred on a weekday at about 6pm and the near-miss margin was about a foot or so. (Read more)

And third, Beverly Hills is all about who you know and where you are from. Read our local newspapers; they’re all about mapping the social networks that prop up the husbanding of privilege by the boldface names in our small town. Moreover, whatever your problem you are more likely to garner officials’ attention if you live north of Santa Monica Boulevard and come to them with a #NorthOfSantaMonica problem.

And last, I don’t think that Beverly Hills Police Department can seriously claim a reputation for an equitable application of the law. While the cops recently took flak for detaining in handcuffs an African-American man for six hours because, as a spokesman said, “he fit the description” of a suspect, things have improved. But Throughout the 1990s the department faced lawsuits over pretext stops of African-American and Latino drivers. One was a state senator; others were lower-profile. To settled one suit the city established a Human Relations Commission to receive complaints. As always, “The Beverly Hills Police Department deeply regrets the inconvenience” as the spokesman says.

Reckless Driving Gets a Pass

It seems like reckless driving and excessive speeding simply get a pass in Beverly Hills. It is viewed by policymakers, police officials and the media alike as akin to the air that we breathe: so ordinary as to demand no particular comment. You won’t find a word about it (or street safety more broadly) in either of our two local weekly papers. It’s as if we simply gave up the fight for safe streets!

For example, when the Traffic and Parking Commission receives each month the most recent crash injury and citation stats from BHPD, no commissioner follows up with a comment on, or question about, the continuing toll taken by crashes. None asks, How are crash injuries trending? Where are we relative to last year? Are we making progress?

Fatalities in Beverly Hills highlighted in a table of crash injuries January to August 2014

Data compiled by the Beverly Hills Police Department as provided to the Traffic and Parking Commission in the monthly report.

This year to date, our small city where 35-mph and 25-mph speed limits is the rule witnessed no fewer than two auto-occupant crash deaths (one each in May and June) and in August a pedestrian lost his life in a fatal hit-and-run on Crescent (just a block from City Hall). But no commissioner has asked what can be done to mitigate the harm of 435 crash injuries or the 146 (!) hit-and-runs logged by police in 2014. Instead this commission (as always) is more focused on parking permits and tour buses.

Table of cyclist injuries in Beverly Hills 2008-2014

Data compiled by the Beverly Hills Police Department as provided to the Traffic and Parking Commission in the monthly report.

Proportion of cyclist injuries chart (2008-2014)You’ll never hear the Traffic and Parking Commissioner Chair Lester Friedman ask about the 48 injured cyclists who last year filed a police report, or wonder whether the number of cyclist injuries is on the increase. (It is.)

It is not that nobody is talking about it. We’ve appeared before the commission several times to draw attention to the magnitude of the harm. We’ve even aggregated seven years of BHPD data and analyzed the trends because no city staffer ever has. But nobody has come calling for the analysis.

Call it willful disinterest: neither City Hall nor the media seem much interested in this story unless a Qatari is behind the wheel. While cities around Beverly Hills make ‘safe streets’ a rhetorical objective if not a policy pivot, here in Beverly Hills the silence about the harm inflicted by reckless drivers is deafening.

Faded crosswalks at Wilshire and SM Blvd in 2015

It is not only reckless driving that gets a pass. Degraded facilities like these faded crosswalks at Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevard only increase the danger for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. This is one of the region’s worst intersections for safety, according to the Los Angles Times. Yet the city is in no hurry to repair it.