Records From Critical Mass Court Case Spell Out NYPD Overkill

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An excerpt from then-Assistant Police Chief Bruce Smolka's detail request for the October 29, 2004 Manhattan Critical Mass ride. Image: City Room/Scribd

David Goodman at the Times’ City Room blog has an excellent piece up this afternoon about the resources NYPD spent to police Critical Mass bike rides in the two-year wake of the 2004 Republican National Convention. A federal lawsuit stemming from those police actions reached its conclusion this week, with the city paying out nearly $1 million in settlements to Critical Mass cyclists who claimed they were wrongfully detained during that period. Goodman got a hold of internal police records that surfaced during the case — check out the overkill:

They show that from 2004 to 2006, the department regularly authorized overtime for hundreds of officers, gathered scores of scooters and sent up helicopters on several occasions over the streets of downtown Manhattan “to combat illegal activity associated with the Critical Mass bicycle ride from Union Square Park.”

Two days before a ride in October 2004, for instance, the response plan included 547 officers, 81 sergeants, 29 lieutenants and a dozen captains. To track the fast-moving ride, the department employed a helicopter and more than 100 scooters and bicycles. Some of the officers were organized into arrest teams, according to the documents, which outline preparations for mass arrests that included 20 buses “to transport prisoners and property.”

The documents — known as detail requests, signed by Assistant Chief Bruce H. Smolka and corresponding to rides from October 2004 to February 2006 — show that the department also sought the involvement of its organized crime unit and advice from its deputy commissioner for counterterrorism.

In an analysis unveiled at a City Hall rally in 2006, Streetsblog contributor Charles Komanoff estimated that over these two years, “the city spent twice as much suppressing two dozen bicycle rides as it spent creating a safe bicycling infrastructure that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers could be using every day.”

At the same rally, Marquez Claxton, a retired NYPD detective and co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, called the Critical Mass crackdown a “personal campaign” by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly: “When you see such illogical allocation of police resources, you have to conclude that the impetus is personal vindictiveness rather than dispassionate analysis.”