By David Brand
A spate of electric bike seizures by NYPD officers in Manhattan last week encountered intense criticism from safe streets activists and immigrants’ rights advocates, but the practice does not seem to extend to police precincts in Queens, the NYPD and advocates say.
The NYPD’s 10th Precinct sparked outrage when it posted a photo of two officers smiling next to e-bikes they had commandeered earlier in the day. E-bikes are illegal in New York City, but the City Council is considering a package of measures to restore e-bikes and pedal assist bicycles to full legal status.
“You spoke at our last Build the Block Meeting & we listened! Steady sector “B” observed an electronic bicycle around West 23 Street & 8th Avenue and took action! Remember, E-Bikes are dangerous & prohibited in New York City!” the 10th Precinct wrote on Twitter on Jan.17.
The tweet prompted a backlash from hundreds of New York City residents who criticized the NYPD for taking away the main mode of transportation used by delivery workers — primarily low-income immigrants — to carry food to people’s homes and offices.
“We're talking about mostly immigrant men of color, but mostly Asian and Latino men, who are riding electric bikes in very wealthy neighborhoods," CUNY Graduate Center doctoral student Do Lee told Gothamist in April. "And who order a lot of delivery too."
The NYPD said that Queens precincts have not confiscated e-bikes en masse, however.
The person who answered the phone at the 104th Precinct in Ridgewood said she was not aware of NYPD officers from the precinct seizing e-bikes. The community affairs officer at the 108th Precinct in Long Island City referred questions to the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information (DCPI).
“None that we have been made aware of,” DCPI said in an email.
The individual NYPD precincts that boasted about the seizures on social media said they were simply answering complaints from community members.
“You called we listened! Ebike initiative is in effect.” the 24th Precinct wrote on Twitter Jan. 17.
Safe streets advocates, however, said the cops were misdirecting resources and should spend more time penalizing unsafe drivers who pose a far great danger to pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers than cyclists.
“Everyday taking [my children] to school four blocks, I see failure to yield, illegally sized trucks, cars/trucks blocking the bike lane, red light and no enforcement,” Upper West Side resident and StreetsPac member Glenn Mack told the Eagle. “Plus it’s clear [e-bike users] are a target because they can’t defend themselves in court with a lawyer.”
Mack said he organized a meeting with Councilmember Helen Rosenthal to discuss e-bike seizures on Feb 1. He has encouraged his neighbors to call the precinct and Rosenthal’s office to condemn the seizures.
In response to hundreds of messages criticizing the bike seizures, the 10th Precinct invited residents to share their concerns at monthly community meetings.
“We appreciate everyone's comments,” the 10th Precinct said on Twitter. “We hold frequent neighborhood meetings and we do our best to address the complaints generated in our community. We posted this photo in efforts to demonstrate that we are addressing public safety concerns.”