Op-Ed: My Bike Was Vandalized — and the Cops Don’t Care

But with police hostility to cyclists all over the five boroughs, I shouldn't have been surprised.

The damage from vandalism to Steve Scofield's bike cost $213 to repair. Here, a flat tire. Photo: Steve Scofield
The damage from vandalism to Steve Scofield's bike cost $213 to repair. Here, a flat tire. Photo: Steve Scofield

I’ve been riding a bike in New York for more than 60 years, and I’ve locked up countless times to parking signs, poles, fences, bike racks, and the like. I’ve had one bike stolen, along with a few random parts, but over the years I’ve been pretty fortunate.

That all changed on Sept. 16, when I was the victim of an act of malice and hostility after I locked up to a “No Parking” sign in front of 35 Cumberland St. in Brooklyn.

I was doing a crash investigation nearby for my employer, Vaccaro and White, the bike-injury law firm. After locking my bike, I returned an hour later to find it lying on its side (still locked to the pole) with its tires slashed and brake cables damaged. My helmet, which I had chained to my bike, lay in the street with the straps cut out.

A woman was sitting at a second-floor window, so I asked her if she’d seen anything. Instead of answering, she yelled repeatedly, “Get your bike off my property!” — even though the sidewalk and the sign pole aren’t her property. Given her outburst, I wondered whether she might have had something to do with the vandalism. But there were no witnesses and (apparently) no video.

I called 911 to report the crime, and a patrol car arrived — two hours later. As I waited for the officers to arrive, the woman came down to sweep the sidewalk and glare at me.

The officers who responded said they couldn’t do anything without any evidence, but I told them that I still wanted to file a report. They took statements from me and from the woman — who said that she had not seen the incident and wasn’t involved with it. The cops told me to expect a call from the 88th Precinct “in a few days” with the complaint number. No one called me, so I tried calling the stationhouse.

I called four times last week: Twice I got no answer after 30 rings, and the third time someone answered, took my information, put me on hold for 10 minutes and then hung up on me. The last time, someone answered the phone on the second ring, transferred me to a recording that said, “No one is available to answer your call. Goodbye.” The recording left no opportunity to leave a voicemail.

This week, I visited the Classon Avenue stationhouse itself. After some prodding, the officer at the window looked up the incident and gave me a complaint number. But he told me that I would have to contact police headquarters at 1 Police Plaza in Manhattan to obtain a copy. He said that it could take a long time.

Our tax dollars at work.
Steve Scofield.
Steve Scofield.

Now, with the mounting hostility toward cyclists resulting in threats and actual incidents of bodily harm, I’m at least a little happy that this attack was only against my property.

And maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised at the officers’ indifference. The cyclist who was beaten up by a pedestrian in Manhattan last week said that police reacted with “deep suspicion and skepticism” about his complaint.

“I felt like I was the one being interrogated rather than the person who kicked me off my bike,” Wilfred Chan told Gothamist.

Then, of course, the police themselves sometimes have displayed hostility toward our transportation of choice. Recently, another officer in Manhattan used his SUV to cut off a cyclist running a red light, smashing the bike, not to mention the Bronx incident in which an officer himself vandalized a youngster’s bike by taking a cudgel to its wheel.

But I  have to wonder: If this act of vandalism had happened to a car, would the NYPD’s response be so casual?  I realize that this wasn’t an emergency, but two hours? And no effort to follow up? No concern about my damaged property or the criminality of the incident itself?

The cops could have done several things to make this a real investigation: They could have questioned the woman for real (or, at least, for more than about 30 seconds). They could have sought surveillance video as they said they would — but didn’t. And they could have contacted me as promised.

The officer at the stationhouse desk told me that following up with the NYPD was my responsibility, not theirs.

OK, so pick up the damn phone!

The repairs (new tires and tubes, readjusting my brakes and cable, and a new helmet) cost me $213.

So I’d like to warn people — if your bike is vandalized, don’t expect the police to do anything about it.

Steve Scofield is a cycling activist in Queens.