November/December 1993, p.14

After an Accident or Theft: Getting Justice
By Ed Ravin

When crime and bicyclists collide, will the police be on your side?

"Sarah" hailed a police car to catch the thief who was riding off on her bicycle. The patrol cop muttered she should call the precinct. "Boris" was knocked unconscious by a hit-and-run driver and taken to a hospital. Later, he found that no action was taken to find the driver, though a witness supplied the cop with a license plate number. "Dora" was also struck and injured by a hit-and-run. When the ambulance arrived, the EMS workers and the cops bickered over who was responsible for transporting her mangled bike.

What should you expect from police after an accident or a theft? NYPD spokeswoman Sergeant James has the rundown:

"Bicycle theft falls into two areas - larceny (when a bike is stolen with the owner absent), and robbery (when it is taken by force). Either way, the responding officer should file a complaint report. It should include the bicycle's number if it was registered with the Police Department."

Sgt. James said officers on a theft scene have options. They can describe over the radio the thief and the direction of flight, so that other cops can respond. Or they can look for the thief with the bicyclist. (This is standard for any recent crime where the victim may recognize the suspect.)

After an accident, the responding officer's top priority is to obtain medical help. If a motor vehicle was involved, then the officer must file an accident report. If the driver didn't wait for the police to arrive (i.e. "left the scene of an accident"), then a crime was committed. The officer should collect witnesses' names and other data, and file a criminal complaint. If the bicyclist was injured, then the officer will fill out an "aided" report (an injured person being assisted by an officer).

And yes, the police should take care of your bike if you're in an ambulance or unable to carry it. "The police will safeguard the property of an injured person," says Sgt. James. "They'll voucher the bike at the precinct, where the cyclist or his family can retrieve it. In accidents with severe injuries, the officer at the scene may want to hold it as evidence."

If you are refused your rights:

  • Politely repeat your request - suggest that you're only asking for standard procedures.
  • Don't be confrontational - police officers have lots of rules and regulations to go by, and they can make honest mistakes.
  • If necessary, ask them to "check it with their supervisor." This could mean an extra wait, but they may help you rather than get their bosses involved, risking a write-up.

In all cases, note the officer's names and badge numbers and their precinct or unit. If your problem can't be resolved immediately, do the best you can and try to reach their supervisors later. The NYPD's advice is to file a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, by phone or at any precinct. You can also call the T.A. office for assistance. It's important to file if an officer mistreats you. Your action will prevent the officer from making the same mistake with the next bicyclists who needs assistance.