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Did You Know?

Half of school children walked or biked to school in 1969, but only 13 percent were doing it in 2009.

Have you been harassed while riding a bike?

Active Trans member and Bike a Bee founder Jana Kinsman was violently harassed while riding her bike in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. Her story has made headlines and enraged the biking community after it occured on Tuesday, Aug. 20.

/Active Trans wishes Jana a quick recovery and hopes that the criminals that committed this terrible crime are brought to justice. There is currently an online campaign to raise funds to assist Jana with her medical bills.

Jana’s story has resonated with many people. Although her case is particularly disturbing, it’s not uncommon for people biking to experience some form of harassment, verbally or otherwise, from people in cars. 

Active Trans asked Sgt. Joe Andruzzi, commanding officer of the Chicago Police Department’s Bicycle Patrol Unit, about what to do if you feel you are a victim of harassment while on a bicycle.

Active Trans: What is harassment?
Sgt. Joe Andruzzi: Harassment can be something as minimal as verbal name calling or hand gestures. A more serious form of harassment is assault, when verbal threats occur or when someone is using their car as a deadly weapon.

Essentially, if you felt someone was purposely threatening you with bodily harm, it might be assault. If someone actually makes contact with you, with their body or car, that could be considered a battery.

What should you do if you are a victim of harassment?
If you feel you are being harassed, the most important thing to do is to remove yourself from the situation. If you are riding, pull over, get onto the sidewalk and wait for the car or person to pass. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, but it is important not to escalate the situation into an assault or battery.

If you think you may report the situation, document as many details as possible (license plate, driver description, where the car was headed, witness info, etc.)

When does it make sense to report it?
Plain and simple, if you are the victim of a crime, you should report it and feel empowered to do so.

It’s important to report instances of assault or battery. While a person not observing a traffic law or calling you a name is frustrating – it is not necessarily a reportable offense. If you are unsure if your experience was harassment, assault or battery, err on the side of caution and report it.

It’s extremely important to report reckless driving to 911 as soon as possible in case police officers can find the vehicle in question. When you do so, be sure to leave your contact information so that officers can follow up for more information.

What are the common mistakes that bicyclists make that weakens their case/report?
Making any contact with the motorist, verbally or otherwise, can weaken your case and potentially make you a part of the crime. Doing anything other than attempting to remove yourself from the situation could threaten the credibility of your report. However, you have the right to defend and protect yourself as needed.

What is the process of reporting harassment?
First, call 911 to report the incident. Based on the circumstances, officers will be dispatched to you or you will be given the option to submit a report over the phone. Please note that if your report is taken over the phone, it does not mean that it is less important.

Once the report is submitted, a detective will be assigned to the case. After interviewing you and any witnesses, the detective will determine if a crime has been committed and if it’s possible to identify the person involved.

Will the offender be arrested?
Once the report is completed, a police officer or detective assigned to the case will contact you to determine if the offender can be identified, located and placed under arrest if the circumstances warrant it. You, as the victim, would need to sign a complaint form.

After a person is arrested, it’s up to the state’s attorney office to decide whether or not charges will be filed. If charges are filed, the office would work with you to build a case. If not, the person would be released, but there would be an arrest on their record.

If a case goes to court, it’s extremely important for the victim or complaining witness to work with the state’s attorney, who acts as their representative. Unfortunately, it’s not a process that is simple and easy for the victim. 

Once a person is arrested, you’ll be given a court date and location to appear. At court you’ll discuss the matter with the state's attorney, who acts as your representative in court. While it may require several court appearances before the matter is adjudicated, it’s important you attend each court date.

If you are involved in a criminal court case, it could potentially be time consuming and frustrating. Please know that your vigilance will be rewarded with safer streets.

Disclaimer: Nothing contained in this blog should be construed as legal advice. The Supreme Court of Illinois does not recognize certifications of specialties in the practice of law, nor does it recognize certifications of expertise in any phase of the practice of law by any agency, governmental or private, or by any group, organization or association.