“Let’s go arrest some poor people.” That was the comment a friend made the other night while we were walking down Freret. We noticed a rather nice bicycle not so chained up and wondered if this might be one of NOPD’s ‘bait bikes.’ When he said it, he used a funny, rural voice, and I laughed. But it isn’t funny. Stolen bikes suck. People who steal them suck. I was laughing at the notion that one might actually be arrested by an officer while genuinely trying to provide for one’s self or one’s family. A little like Jean Valjean but a lot less harsh and lot less French. So far in the bike bait round up – or at least what NOPD has infomed us of – career criminals have been apprehended. Those with 5 priors here, 2 there. It’s a little alarming and a lot interesting. Supposedly but consistently these bikes are used in other, different crimes.
So I have to laugh again. You know, there are real places in our very own country where there are free bikes for a community to use. Communities where presumably those who use the bikes won’t be followed to a drug dropoff or a home break-in. Places like Portland, Oregon. Or Rochester, New York. But hey even New Orleans has Plan B. B for bike, that is. One may then reasonably conclude free bike or not, a bait bike makes the distance between point A (the criminal) and point B (the crime) that much shorter or at least expedited. I myself never considered a bait bike being the stepping stone to other crime. I guess I just see the tree sans forest. Sure, they’d hock the bike and go get a rock and be done. But no. Effectively this is their new means of transport. I guess those taking the bait bikes don’t know about places like Plan B then, right? If you’re only stealing it to steal it, are you so lazy that to build your own free bike is simply out of the question?
Personally arresting a bike thief on another matter of cause smacks of fish in barrels, does it not? And I’ll go one further and submit it’s classist – and entrapment. The dangling of carrots to nudge results. Is it so challenging to actually apprehend a perp on the crime after a bike theft that creating the circumstance thereby facilitates faster results? I don’t get it. I especially don’t get it when I myself have had officers shrug off legitimate bike theft (as in my bike was stolen) and couch it as “community property.”
In plain sight and under ordinary circumstances nothing of any value lasts curbside in New Orleans for any time at all. I myself have scored on Tulane move-out day a pricey juicer on Broadway, but it doesn’t make me a thief. Scavenger, picker, or obsessed-with-what-people-throw-out more suits me. Bikes too, though. Recently I was basking one summer morning’s heat in my driveway when my neighbor’s garage door opened and she wheeled out an old Schwinn and left it next to the streetside lamppost. I asked what was wrong with the bike as it did look a little beat up. She offered she had no idea and that it didn’t belong to her; it came to her via a friend whose tenant was traveling or something and well, it was time – time for it to go. So I went over and examined the ride, brought it over to the house, aired up the tires, greased the chain, and voila! I had new wheels. And NOPD didn’t even swarm out of a nearby oak and take me to the precinct.
Bike theft isn’t on par with grand theft auto yet nor is it likely to be, but it is a curious world we live in when a bike can carry the burdens of a car. For example, you can be pulled over on your bike. You don’t have to have a license to ride nor will any bank welcome you at a drive thru teller but if NOPD wants to talk to you, they will. It’s happened to me twice. Most recently I went the wrong way down a one-way by one block and was quickly curbed by a patrol; in this case I think there was something else going on though as I think NOPD mistook me for someone else. That never happens, right? Nonetheless I was pulled over. But the first time I was pulled it was a little more interesting.
I was knocking over pylons in Central City late one night. I had had a few, I was solo, and I was returning home from an evening that included a forgettable Peter Murphy performance at the HOB. Before I knew it 3 (yes, t-h-r-e-e) squad cars surround me and 6 (yes, s-i-x) cops appear and in short order my hands are on the hood. What was I doing, where was I going, who was I, where did I live, and didn’t I know it was illegal to operate a bicycle under the influence were the questions thrown at me. Within moments when it was apparent their tour de force was going to produce no measurable result, one officer asked another – egging each other on, mind you – should they take him me in, and if so, what would they charge me with. Remember I was knocking over pylons, right? So one officer tells his buddies “molestation of a cone.” And laughter ensues all around – except from me. Really!? WTF. Really??? I might go to jail for not being the first New Orleanian to have a few a drinks and decide to ride my bike but then further deciding to not make the best choice of knocking over some pylons.
They let me go. On the condition I picked up the pylons. They thought they had something on me though. Surely an inebriated 30-something white guy riding a beat-up bicycle through Central City round midnight must have some level of controlled substance on him, right? So much for profiling. The takeaway is this: for better or for worse, NOPD is out there. Don’t ride your bike drunk, the wrong way down a one way, or help yourself to a ride that doesn’t belong to you – or all three for that matter.
Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and the Du Mois gallery on Freret Street and father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at UptownMessenger.com, he also writes an occasional real-estate blog at villererealty.com and shares his family’s adventures via pedicab on Facebook and Twitter.