A police department in the US state of Pennsylvania has been heavily criticised on social media for rolling out a portal that enables people to upload photos and videos of young cyclists alleged to be riding antisocially by pulling wheelies and weaving through motor traffic.
The portal, hosted on the Bucks County page of the Crimewatch Pennsylvania website, comes from police in Bensalem township, which borders the northeastern edge of Philadelphia and is home to around 60,000 people.
Announcing the portal on its Facebook page, Bensalem Township Police said that they “have received numerous complaints about bicycle riders impeding traffic and causing issues on township roadways. The area of Springdale Drive and Wexford Road has been the hot spot for this type of activity.
“We are committed to addressing these issues in a manner that thwarts this activity but also keeps our bicycle riders safe.
“Bensalem Police have created a portal where you can upload photographs and videos of these bicycle riders. Once we receive your submissions, we will investigate, identify and cite these individuals with the appropriate traffic violations.
“This portal should only be used to upload photographs and/or videos of bicycle riders that cause traffic issues in Bensalem Township.
“Please safely obtain photographs or videos of the bicycle riders faces and bicycles so they can be identified.
“If the bicycle riders’ actions are causing serious issues that need immediate attention, please dial 9-1-1 and report the incident so that an officer can be dispatched to your location.”
They added: “Bensalem Township Police urge you to not put yourself or the bicycle riders in a hazardous position to obtain this evidence.”
While some comments on the Facebook page were supportive of the launch of the portal, others highlighted that efforts would be better directed against law-breaking drivers, with one user asking: “When will you be creating a portal to submit dash cam video of vehicles committing traffic infractions? You should be able to investigate and issue citations for those, too, right?”
On its website, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation sets out rules and advice on riding bikes on public roads, but several replies to Bensalem Township Police highlighted the risk of all cycling being seen as criminal behaviour.
One Facebook user also pointed out that the police department’s action might encourage some motorists to take matters into their own hands, saying: “When one of these fine citizens gets outraged at some kids on bikes and feels emboldened by the police because the police are criminalizing riding a bike and said citizen takes the law into their own hands and hits one of these kids, can the City be liable for incitement? Not to mention encouraging people to take pics and videos while driving.”
One of the comments on Facebook highlighted potential safeguarding issues, asking: “Is the police encouraging adult strangers to take photographs of unaccompanied minors? That’s pretty creepy IMO.”
Among the supportive comments was one pointing out that it was better that any photos or videos be sent directly to the police rather than shared online: “Thank you for addressing the problem,” it read. “Parents are defensive when pics go direct to social media. This solution should put the brakes on repeat offenders.”
Among those to slam the initiative on Twitter was one of the US’s biggest cycling campaign groups, the League of American Bicyclists, which said: “Bicycling isn’t a crime and criminalizing people who bike will not make streets safer.
It also posted a link to a YouTube video that explains how “over-policing of people biking and walking includes types of self deputization by community members.”
Bicycling isn’t a crime and criminalizing people who bike will not make streets safer.
Reposting @ctbrown1911’s #ArrestedMobility keynote again because over-policing of people biking and walking includes types of self deputization by community members. https://t.co/QuEwdfPF1q https://t.co/Kgyz7NIKZe
— League of American Bicyclists (@BikeLeague) April 26, 2021
It's the third story we’ve seen from different parts of the US on the subject of how police departments are handling the supposed problem of groups of youths riding their bikes on roads while performing tricks.
On Thursday, we reported how police in Perth Amboy, a city in New Jersey that forms part of the New York metropolitan area, had handcuffed a black teen and confiscated bikes from him and his friends for pulling wheelies.
Footage also emerged last week of a cyclist in Orlando, Florida who posts videos of his cycling tricks to Tik Tok being ordered off his bike at gunpoint by police officers and told to lie on the floor.
Officers reportedly believed that Ian Adams and the friend he was riding with may have been suspects in a nearby robbery, but Orlando Weekly reports that when they brought the victim to the scene, they were told that the two cyclists were not the men they were looking for.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.