D.C. Police: Don’t Call Us to Report People Using Bikeshare Services

Citizen Responses Suggest Everyone Using a Shared Bike is “Suspicious Activity”?

by: Lenore T. Adkins Special to the AFRO
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D.C. police are urging residents not to report the use of local bikeshare services unless it’s an emergency.

In a Dec. 26 tweet, the Metropolitan Police Department requested that residents refrain from dialing 911 to report suspicious activity when they see people riding either docked or dockless shared bicycles.

The tweet came in response to a media report concerning one Georgetown resident who began calling police on Christmas Eve to report “suspicious activity”—that is, others who were simply using the bikeshare services.

“While we recognize your frustration, the MPD urges residents to refrain from dialing 911 to report suspicious activity for merely utilizing bikeshare services,” the department tweeted. “We have engaged the bikeshare companies and are actively working to identify a solution that works for everyone.”

The D.C. Office of Unified Communications oversees 911 dispatch calls, and did not respond to questions from the AFRO about the number of calls it received about the bikes and whether the complaints involved Black users. There are approximately 1,400 dockless bikes in the District belonging to five different companies, according to WUSA 9.

The police response came after a tweet from Martin Austermuhle, a reporter from WAMU 88.5 FM, an NPR affiliate. On Dec. 26, Austermuhle tweeted a snapshot of a comment posted to a Georgetown neighborhood listserv in which a user admitted calling police to report bikeshare users and urged neighbors to call 911 on them as well. The resident was spurred to action after an elderly neighbor allegedly stumbled over a bike parked on the sidewalk, according to the post.

“These bikes serve no purpose whatsoever,” the listserv user wrote. “We have informed our neighbors to call 911 immediately when you see someone using the bikes, and to snap photos and videos of all individuals using the orange, green, yellow and now RED bikes. I didn’t call the real police @911 when my neighbor slipped, but now whenever we see anyone (male or female) using the bikes, we call 911 and report ‘suspicious activity.’”

The user claimed a dramatic decrease in bikeshare activity since reporting it to police.

Austermuhle’s tweet noted that another resident felt the calls to police didn’t go far enough and instead wanted the attorney general to look into the bikeshare companies.

“For what? Unclear,” Austermuhle tweeted.

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