SCHENECTADY — The city agrees young bicyclists are posing a public safety risk by criss-crossing the city in large packs.
But lawmakers disagree on the scope of the problem and how to quash it.
Some City Council members want a law that would allow police to seize bicycles from adolescents engaged in “reckless” trick riding like popping wheelies and zig-zagging, while others called the proposal “extreme” and advocated for less severe options for dealing with the behavior.
“It sounds like it’s not even legally viable, really,” said Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo. “I just struggle with taking a kid’s bike away.”
Councilwoman Marion Porterfield worried about the ramifications for youthful offenders and the prospects for the offense to haunt them later on.
The city police’s community engagement programs have been building inroads, she said, and worried that the law would present a setback and undo the goodwill generated by those efforts.
“Personally, I find this approach a little extreme,” she said.
Councilman John Polimeni formally introduced the resolution on Tuesday with Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas.
Zalewski-Wildzunas hailed police’s engagement efforts, but said the riders present serious public safety issues.
“We’re talking about children surrounding a car on Altamont Avenue, kicking the car, spitting on the windshield and scaring the driver,” she said.
The proposal failed to make it out of the city’s Public Safety Committee following a prolonged discussion. Lawmakers instead agreed to continue to work with the city’s legal team and Police Department to explore possible solutions and will revisit the issue in two weeks.
Bike confiscation would have been reserved only for the worst cases as a last resort and prefaced by a warning, Polimeni said.
“If they comply, there’s no issue — everybody goes along happily,” he said.
Once a bicycle is seized, offenders can retrieve them by watching a safety video with their parent or guardian, he said, and the owners of borrowed bikes could submit proof of ownership to regain their property.
Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico acknowledged pro-seizure lawmakers were not advocating for the creation of a new misdemeanor-level offense.
But in effect, the proposed new law would have required the city to create a new non-classified misdemeanor under city code because state law prohibits charging someone below the age of 16 with a violation-level offense and pursuing prosecution, a process applicable only to misdemeanors or higher.
Falotico urged lawmakers to better define the scope of the problem to see if their behavior can be included in existing city ordinances.
State Vehicle and Traffic Law, he noted, contains a measure to hold parents responsible for bike-related violations.
“There’s a way to define the scope of the problem and what particular actions are taking place,” Falotico said.
Polimeni framed the defeat as a black-or-white issue.
“You’re either in favor of public safety or not,” he said. “Something needs to be done.”
Police have said they are having conversations with youngsters who reached out to them on social media to share their concerns.