By Mike Jimenez, Staff Attorney
Lafourche Parish (LA) Sheriff's Office
About two years ago, Sgt. Todd Prevost, IPMBA PCI #650, and Reserve-Deputy Paul Lefort, certified IPMBA Police Cyclist, asked me which Louisiana laws authorized bike officers to perform their duties. After some preliminary research, I discovered that while nothing prevented us from utilizing bikes, the bikes weren’t specifically treated as “authorized emergency vehicles”.
The guys mentioned that other states have enacted laws to protect law enforcement bike use. After some brainstorming, I approached Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre about pushing legislative changes to ensure bike patrol would be fully authorized (and protected) via statute. Being a strong proponent of our bike patrol, he was 100% in favor of the idea and tasked me with finding a sponsor and drafting the proposed changes/modifications to existing law.
As it happened, the 2010 Louisiana Legislative Session was a “fiscal only” session, wherein only a limited number of non-fiscal matters can be considered. Despite my new awareness of the need for this legislation, there was little hope of anything being passed. We tried, but we weren’t successful.
In early 2011, I began our “legislative push” by contacting all of our local legislators. Lafourche Representative Jerry “Truck” Gisclair was immediately impressed with our ideas and asked that I draft a proposal. I did some formal research on existing laws and made various suggestions as to what should be modified so that police bikes could be considered “authorized emergency vehicles”. Instead of proposing a whole “new law”, I thought it best to propose an extension of “existing law” (and jurisprudence) to include police bikes. This is a very important distinction. If our legislation passed, bike patrols throughout the state would be able to immediately take advantage of long-standing case law that gives “authorized emergency vehicles” various exemptions in times of emergencies (which, in Louisiana, includes apprehension of suspects and to prevent crime). This was more advantageous than creating an entirely new statute which might then be open to judicial interpretation/application.
Once I gave Representative Gisclair my suggestions, he agreed to sponsor the bill. After a few very minor tweaks from the legislator’s in-house drafters, our bill was ready to be pre-filed before the 2011 Legislative Session. It was then that we contacted the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, IPMBA, and others to help garner support and to explain what we hoped this bill would accomplish.
Ultimately, between our testimony before the Legislature and the many calls of support from other agencies (and IPMBA members; thanks a million), our bill sailed through two Committees and both Chambers of the Legislature with no opposition. There were a few questions as to why the modifications were needed; many legislators assumed that bike patrol was already protected.
Once it was approved by the Legislature, Governor Jindal signed it into law; it immediately became known as Act 98 of the 2011 Louisiana Regular Session. The effective date for the Act was August 15, 2011.
A copy of the reengrossed Act appears in the sidebar. We modified four existing laws so that they state, very clearly, that police bikes are considered “authorized emergency vehicles”…police bikes have the same privileges/responsibilities as other “emergency vehicles” when it comes to direction-of-travel, etc…and reasonable exemptions (from lighting requirements) exist for police bikes.
We are very proud of this legislation. It will further secure/validate arrests made by bike officers and help minimize our civil liability should an accident occur.
Be it enacted by the Legislature of Louisiana:
Section 1. R.S. 32:1(1), 24, 194, and 329(F) are hereby amended and reenacted to read as follows. Words in struck through type are deletions from existing law; words underscored are additions.
When used in this Chapter, the following words and phrases have the meanings ascribed to them in this Section, unless the context clearly indicates a different meaning:
(1) “Authorized emergency vehicle” means a vehicle of a fire department, a vehicle of the weights and standards police force, a police vehicle or bicycle, a privately owned vehicle belonging to members of an organized volunteer fire department or fire district when so designated or authorized by the fire chief of that fire department or fire district, an industrial-owned vehicle assigned to members of a fire department or fire district when so designated or authorized by the fire chief of that fire department or fire district, a vehicle parked or stopped by elevator repair or construction personnel while responding to an elevator emergency, such ambulances and emergency medical response vehicles certified by the Department of Health and Hospitals that are operated by certified ambulance services, and emergency vehicles of municipal departments or public service corporations as are designated or authorized by the secretary of the Department of Transportation and Development or by the chief of police of any incorporated municipality. For purposes of this Section, elevator repair shall be limited to those elevators that move people.
§24. Emergency vehicles; exceptions
A. The driver or rider of an authorized emergency vehicle, when responding to an emergency call, or when in the pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law, or when responding to, but not upon returning from, a fire alarm, may exercise the privileges set forth in this Section, but subject to the conditions herein stated.
B. The driver or rider of an authorized emergency vehicle may do any of the following:
(1) Park or stand, irrespective of the provisions of this Chapter;
(2) Proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down or stopping as may be necessary for safe operation;.
(3) Exceed the maximum speed limits so long as he does not endanger life or property;.
(4) Disregard regulations governing the direction of movement or turning in specified directions.
C. The exceptions herein granted to an authorized emergency vehicle shall apply only when such vehicle or bicycle is making use of audible or visual signals, including the use of a peace officer cycle rider’s whistle, sufficient to warn motorists of their approach, except that a police vehicle need not be equipped with or display a red light visible from in front of the vehicle.
D. The foregoing provisions shall not relieve the driver or rider of an authorized vehicle from the duty to drive or ride with due regard for the safety of all persons, nor shall such provisions protect the driver or rider from the consequences of his reckless disregard for the safety of others.
§194. Traffic laws apply to persons riding bicycles
Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway of this state shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this Chapter, except as to special regulations in this Part, including special regulations applying to peace officers utilizing bicycles in furtherance of their official duties, and except as to those provisions of this Chapter which by their very nature can have no application.
§329. Bicycles; front lamps; side/rear reflectors; rear lamps
F. This Section shall not apply to bicycles while engaged in sanctioned competition races or to bicycles while utilized by peace officers in furtherance of their official duties.
Mike Jimenez, Jr., is the Staff Attorney for the Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office in Thibodaux, Louisiana. Todd Prevost is IPMBA PCI #650, certified in 2002. For a short, informative article about the legislation, visit http://tinyurl.com/LABikePatrolBill.
(c) 2012 IPMBA. This article appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of IPMBA News.