December 23, 2005

Oliver & Oliver

In response to Jim Dwyer’s December 22, 2005 expose of covert New York City Police Department surveillance of peaceful activities such as small group bicycle rides, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Paul Browne accused Mr. Dwyer of “confusing plainclothes officers used to prevent and respond to acts of violence and other unlawful activity with undercover officers who conduct intelligence investigations under court-approved guidelines.”

This is to set the record straight: Mr. Dwyer was not confused. Browne’s “sound bite” comments are either disingenuous or they reflect a lack of knowledge about routine NYPD “protest policing” practices. Browne said that only the undercover officers perform “intelligence investigations” and conduct “surveillance.” At a 3-day trial one officer assigned to the NYPD’s Technical Assistance Response Unit (“TARU”) testified that his part as a plainclothes officer in that night’s NYPD “Critical Mass Detail” was to perform surveillance with a video camera. The District Attorney actually entered certain footage into evidence, encouraging the Judge to review it to identify certain defendants, with the aid of Polaroid photographs taken by other unnamed police officers hours later at a precinct house.

Gideon Oliver, a lawyer who has represented over 200 bicyclists, says: “Undercover officers have been a regular fixture at Critical Mass rides since at least August of 2004. They interact with bicyclists. Some undercover officers participate in rides. Other undercover officers take Polaroid pictures and video footage. In some cases, they are even fake-arrested – handcuffed, placed in vans, and later set free. The City and the District Attorney's Office have been notified about these practices, but many of the images and information these officers have gathered are never produced in criminal cases. Because the police apparently neglect to tell prosecutors that officers performing these functions are present at all, we have not been able to call them to account for their conduct by forcing them to testify in Court. The pictures they take often disapear. Videographers who attempt to document their presence and activities have been surveilled and/or arrested themselves. These practices are offensive and quite well-documented. The police have to start telling the truth about them.”

None of the 293 criminal prosecutions from the monthly mass arrests since September of 2004 have resulted in a conviction. 242 prosecutions have resulted in dismissals. 80 of the 293 rejected the District Attorney’s offers to adjourn their cases for 3 months, after which they would be automatically dismissed. Instead they pleaded “not guilty.” 14 open cases are currently in pre-trial status. 29 cases are scheduled for trial in January of 2005.

About FreeWheels:

FreeWheels ( is a volunteer-run, non-profit advocacy group started by bicyclists who have ridden in and been arrested at Critical Mass. We are dedicated to providing the resources necessary to fight New York City's attack on the civil rights of bicyclists and assisting those arrested, ticketed, or harassed for bicycling. We raise money for arrestees' legal expenses, and provide arrestees with resources, information and support in defending their Constitutional Rights.
FreeWheels believes the NYPD's crackdown on the Critical Mass ride is an assault not only on the rights of bicyclists, but on the Constitution itself.
FreeWheels is not financially associated with Critical Mass. Nor are we spokespeople for Critical Mass, which is a leaderless gathering of bicyclists. Critical Mass rides take place in many cities around the world on the last Friday of every month.

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