Aug 242011
 

Jean-Paul Villere

“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.

  26 Responses to “Jean-Paul Villere: NOPD Protects & Serves (Your Bike)”

  1. 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.

    I fail to see how it’s classist. It doesn’t target the poor, it targets people who steal bikes. Many of those people are poor, but they aren’t being singled out.

    It’s also definitely not entrapment. Entrapment is a specific legal term used to describe a situation in which a police officer influences a person to commit a crime that they were not predisposed to committing. For example, if a police officer came up to a person on the street and convinced them to steal an unlocked bike over their reluctance, that would be entrapment. However, merely providing the opportunity to commit a crime is (to my knowledge) never entrapment.

    Is it so challenging to actually apprehend a perp on the crime after a bike theft that creating the circumstance thereby facilitates faster results?

    Actually, yes. These are people who go around committing petty theft over and over, and it’s much easier to just bait them and catch them that way. It’s also hard to track a person on an outstanding warrant.

  2. As funny and also disturbing as this bike themed post is I’m more distraught that just like Jean-Paul I also went to a forgettable Peter Murphy show, only my experience was at the Howlin’ Wolf. What gives? Whatever Peter I still love you and Bauhaus.

  3. I too saw a lame Peter Murphy show. This was back in the early 90s and I was still a high school student in Oklahoma. Nine Inch Nails had just joined Murphy’s tour as the opening act. Not sure anyone had high expectations for NIN, since they were a keyboard band. Needless to stay, it was a monster, guitar heavy set with Trent Reznor trashing half the band’s equipment by the end. After that, Murphy show came off as sad and tired.

    • Me too! I saw Peter Murphy in San Francisco around 2002. Bauhaus has always been one of my favorites, so I was super excited to go. Unfortunately Peter Murphy did a weird swan dance during an instrumental. It was pretty awkward for everyone there.

  4. Mr. Villere obviously fails to have an understanding of the law. Thank you Owen for clearing that up.

    One additional piece of information. His most recent ‘run-in’ with police he describes as riding the wrong way down the street. There is a complete failure by bicyclists in this city to understand that they are required by law to follow traffic laws. That means riding the correct way down one way streets, riding on the CORRECT SIDE of a street and STOPPING at stop signs.

    If bicyclists intend on ever gaining the respect of others on the road they need to start following the laws. You may leave a dent on my car but I will leave a dent in your forehead.

    • Totally agree with all of this. The bicyclists in this town never follow any traffic laws, and get angry when you tell them they should. I’ve nearly hit people on bikes when I was turning the correct way on to one-way streets because they were riding down the middle of the street going the wrong way, I’ve seen more than one cyclist get creamed at a 4-way stop because they just didn’t stop, and one dude on a bike almost hit my mom because he was riding at breakneck speed on the sidewalk. I could tell you a million different stories like that, because they happen all the time. Every single day I see people on bikes break every traffic law you can think of. I have lived here for ten years and I have seen ONE bicyclist stop at a red light and STAY stopped until the light turned green. ONE in ten years. That is ridiculous.

  5. @ Owen, as soon as bait bikes start popping up along Walnut, Audubon, or anywhere in the GD proper and then proceed to be stolen by its white (no pun intended) collar inhabitants I’ll agree with you. Somehow I am of the belief bait bikes are expressly not placed in these ‘hoods. But I could be wrong!

    @ Christy, that was actually the second forgettable Peter Murphy performance I’d endured. The first was back in ’92 at an all day music fest in Houston. Thankfully WTUL was giving away tix to HOB on the eve in question.

    • Jean-Paul,

      Owen, as soon as bait bikes start popping up along Walnut, Audubon, or anywhere in the GD proper and then proceed to be stolen by its white (no pun intended) collar inhabitants I’ll agree with you. Somehow I am of the belief bait bikes are expressly not placed in these ‘hoods.

      Well, that’s two issues. One is placement of bait bikes and the other is the demographics of bike thieves. The police can control the former, but not the latter. The fact that bike thieves are poor is not surprising, but enforcement action against bike thieves is no more biased against the poor than laws against insider trading are biased against the wealthy.

      As for placement, to my knowledge, the bait bikes are placed in areas with high rates of bike theft. There is probably very little bike theft on Audubon (which has controlled access) and less in areas with paid patrols (like the Garden District). In any event, I know one of the stings was on St. Charles, and another near Armstrong Park. If they were really just targeting the poor, all of these stings would be in Central City or the Ninth Ward.

      Moreover, if the bait bikes were all placed in wealthy neighborhoods, it would invite the interpretation that the NOPD was only working to curb bike theft in wealthy neighborhoods, trying to catch poor folks trying to steal rice peoples’ bikes. When you start throwing around words like “classist” based on pretty flimsy evidence you wind up putting the NOPD in a no-win situation. When it comes to crime control strategy, you can virtually always characterize any approach as classist.

      • @Owen Bravo!! I You have hit the nail on the head here. Jean-Paul must be smoking crack to find a problem with the NOPD arresting bike thieves. I live in the “Garden District Proper” on Prytania and have had two bikes stolen from me at this location in the last 3 years (both locked up in my back yard) and would be thrilled if the NOPD caught the SOB who stole them.

        @Jean-Paul You must be smoking crack to think that there is anything wrong with the NOPD arresting bike thieves or stopping you after admittedly breaking several laws. The only fault I can find with the NOPD in you entire story is that they didn’t take your sorry, drunk, butt to jail for DWI. If you are reading Owen’s last post and mine and you are still confused about why you are so wrong just let one of your children read the story you wrote because even a child would point out that no one should drink and drive or steal. The most telling part of the story is probably that your friend wanted to steal the bike. It looks like you agree and wrote this article in an attempt to justify it. Fail.

        • I think it’s clear I don’t smoke crack per NOPD’s fruitless shaking me down. But I digress.

  6. @ iAMamused I *wish* you could’ve been a fly on the wall for my most recent run-in. To “catch” me NOPD too had to go against traffic on the one way. Then proceeds to question me strangely about my general journey. But then I’m an easy profile. What 30s something white guy could ever have a case for profiling? Not one. Additionally my understanding of the law I think is summed up at the end, unless you’re referring to my lack of understanding of when and how it’s enforced? As to your closing comment, you clearly possess a certain sincere passion for your driving and the bicycling community around you. Now, I am amused too. Y’see, we’re more alike than you thought!

    • Jean-Paul,

      I actually agree that the NOPD handled your encounter quite badly. A drunk man on a bicycle does not require three cruisers, nor does it justify breaking traffic laws (I’ve seen police going the wrong way down one-way streets in Central City before without lights or sirens — and they nearly killed me doing it once). It was overkill and belies the NOPDs claim that they have a manpower shortage.

      On the other hand, I do think they were justified in stopping you because you were knocking over pylons. They almost certainly would have done so even if they didn’t suspect that you were in possession of controlled substances.

      • Owen,

        There’s manpower and then there’s competent manpower. Of the latter, there is definitely a shortage.

  7. Sir:

    What is this? Half incoherent argument against cracking down on bike theft in neighborhoods where bike theft occurs most regularly, half boasting about a drunk-biking idiot.

    If you are legitimately upset about the placement of these bait bikes in Central City neighborhoods as opposed to wealthier white neighborhoods (as you mention in your reply to a comment), then you need to focus on that argument in the article. Instead you resort to the typical, privileged white whining about how you feel like YOU were once racially-profiled for visibly breaking the law.

    Super duper lame attitude.

    • Does that make me half coherent and only half boasting then? If you could expound “typical, privileged white whining” though? If I’m profiled and I’m white, am I supposed to remain silent? Mad props to use of “super duper.”

      • To clarify, I think it’s worrisome the way you couch your feelings about NOPD’s focus on largely black neighborhoods along your story of the time that you feel like you were targeted on account of your own race. One reason this bothers me is that it is a common white response to the issue of racist policies such as profiling to throw in the story about how white folk, too, are the victims – you are speaking from a point of privilege without recognizing it, or maybe it just comes off that way in your article.

        Aside from the racial privilege issue, you were clearly not targeted for the fact that you are white but the fact that you were acting like a fool in public and that even in your article you act like it’s no biggie to be riding around drunk on your bike while breaking laws.

        While I’m on the subject, do you LIVE in the Central City neighborhood where you were stopped, or did you just feel like it was your privilege to go vandalizing pylons in someone else’s neighborhood?

  8. Love the debate between the two columnists. It makes the column more interesting.

    • The only logical step in solving this argument is having Owen and Jean-Paul duke it out at the next Friday Night Fight on Freret Street. Now THAT would totally make the “cover charge” worth while.

      • Except I’m a lover, not a fighter. Although we could do commentary over loudspeakers during the fight. Or maybe like a webcast a la the commentary delivered in “Best in Show.” Could be fun. And I wouldn’t have to knock over any pylons!

      • Only if I get to talk like Randy “Macho-Man” Savage.

        • Considering he recently died, just what would a zombified Randy Savage sound like?

          “OH YEEEAH! BRAINS!

          SNAP INTO A CEREBELLUM!”

  9. I posted this on UM’s FB account this AM:

    “In fact, I have had multiple bikes stolen from me, but I don’t see how that passes or fails me. The intent of the article is to foster discussion which I feel has been achieved. That my own hijinks fill the spaces in between isn’t intended to vent but add texture and context. I wonder what your point of view might be in the event you faced a 6 on 1 NOPD showcase. I understand they have a job to do. I also understand things don’t have to be done ham-fisted.”

    For clarity, I am not anti NOPD, nor am I pro bike thief. I just don’t think everything is black and white, but that this subject being timely to our daily lives in the city is worth discussing and hopefully in a respectful way. My hope is that this piece is read in its entirety, no gleaning, and a focus on my closing. I feel I acknowledge my failings and encourage others to obey the law. Thank you for reading –

  10. I’m with Owen on this.

    I wholly and totally support the bait bike program, not only because it takes thieves off the streets and does something about the bike theft problem in this city, but because it is a desperately needed initiative of proactive policing by the NOPD.

    From the article, I see several complaints about reactive policing. The six cops who pulled you over for kocking over cones were reacting to what they thought was an easy arrest. Late at night, inebriated, behaving silly, and demographically profiled to fit the description of a purchaser of controlled substances. Once they found out no drugs were involved, and you wouldn’t help their statistics, your crimes weren’t worth the paperwork. Arrest statistics, especially for minor drug possessions, are important to reactive police forces as they represent the lowest hanging fruit on the criminal justice tree.

    You also got dismissed by the investigating officer when your own bike got stolen. Unfortunately, there isn’t much more they can do in that case in reaction to bike theft. You can take a report, mainly for an insurance company, ask folks if they saw anything, and maybe hope the bike gets found later. Those cases that do get solved have far more to do with luck than police work.

    On the other hand, proactive law enforcement can create controlled conditions that allow thieves to self-identify through their actions with sworn officers of the law and cameras present as witnesses. Once such identified, you can then check the thief for any outstanding warrants for greater charges. The least you are doing is preventing an opportunity theft from victimizing a law-abiding citizen, and keeping a “stolen bike” report from having to be written and dismissed.

    In a city beset with reactive policing, proactively catching theives is a huge net positive for the city and the community, and demonstrates that more positive decision making is taking place at the higher levels.

    • Cousin Pat,

      Exactly. Another aspect to this is that in other cities they have sometimes managed to locate stockpiles of stolen bikes through bait bike stings. If there is a major operation around dealing in stolen bikes, the use of bait bikes may eventually lead back to it. The program is a win-win.

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