September 23, 2014

Prophylactic Bike Theft? What?

When a bike goes missing in midtown Manhattan, there's not necessarily thievery afoot. According to Gawker, the NYPD cuts locks affixing bicycles to city property and takes the confiscated two-wheelers back to the precinct.

To grasp the Gawker story (as one reader pointed out in the comments), you have to understand bike rental in Central Park. Apparently the park's fringes swarm with folks "aggressively hawking rental bikes," many of which were illegitimately acquired. So the NYPD confiscates bikes, the story goes, to prevent them from being stolen by unscrupulous bike renters.

While BikeForums senior member walrus1 seems skeptical of the Gawker story, stopbeingterribleandillstopbeingmean claims (in the Gawker comments section) that "having your locks cut and your bike taken if it's not in a designated parking area is a risk that's just a fact of life for bicyclists in Japan." He (she?) continues:
Leaving a sticker on the pavement where the bike was notifying cyclists where to go to pay their fine and retrieve their bicycle is likewise a fact of life for the city employees who do it. How have the citizens and government of the number one city in the world's largest economy and military power not figured this one out yet? It's not as though the bicycle is a new invention.
As Gawker tells it, though, even locking your ride to a dedicated bike rack won't ensure against police confiscation, and officers won't leave you a note about where you can collect your bike. And even if they did, you'd still be out the lock they cut and the time expended paying the precinct a visit to collect your property. While the New York Post says police sources confirm the confiscation story, it also cites a legal precedent that might give the NYPD pause: In the 2005 case Bray vs. City of New York, participants in the Critical Mass bike ride successfully sued the city for cutting their locks and taking their bikes.

While the police action has some cyclists appalled or indignant or horrified, in other circles the confiscations have fans of two-wheeled transport consulting their dictionaries (or not).

The headline mrcreosote chose for his post on—"NYPD prophylactically steals bikes to prevent people stealing bikes"—perplexed at least one reader of the thread.

"I think you meant 'Proactively,' not 'Prophylactically,'" commented jfaas. "I'm pretty sure the cops are not worried about getting pregnant when they cut the locks..."

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