Gawker: “The NYPD Is Stealing Bikes in Midtown”

Gawker interviewed Steve Vaccaro about NYPD/Midtown North’s questionable practice of confiscating bicycles locked to city-owned street fixtures near Columbus Circle.

If your lock gets cut and your bike disappears in midtown Manhattan, you should call the cops. Not because you need to report the crime—because there’s a good chance the cops stole the bike themselves.

Michael Dugan, a community affairs officer at the Midtown North precinct, confirmed the practice. There is a problem with theft, he told me, and also with bike renters taking up spaces that commuting cyclists might otherwise use. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a rental bike or not, he said—if it’s locked up to city property near Columbus Circle, it’s liable to be confiscated. Seizings aren’t limited to street signs and light posts, he added: if there are many bikes locked to a single rack—a tactic renters often use—officers will clip the locks and take them.

Dugan claimed that it is illegal to lock your bike to city property, but according to Steve Vaccaro, an attorney at the cycling-centric law firm Vaccaro & White, that isn’t necessarily the case. Vaccaro said he does not know of any city or state law that prohibits the practice, and pointed to a 2005 case called Bray v. City of New York as legal precedent. In that case, cyclists affiliated with the monthly Critical Mass bike ride successfully sued the city in federal court after police officers cut their locks and confiscated their bikes. “If you’re talking about [locking to] a city-owned street fixture,” Vaccaro said, “I don’t know of NYPD having the right to take those without some form of notice.”

Click here for the full report.

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