It seemed like the police in South Florida had it out this summer for Critical Mass, the end-of-the-month group bike ride that takes place in hundreds of cities across the world.
In Miami, Police Chief Manuel Orosa told reporters the mass had been taken over by "anarchists" and said organizers could be held "liable." In Fort Lauderdale, police decided to ride alongside the mass, which led to Dan Littell, a 30-year-old accountant, getting tackled by an officer. Ra Benjamin, a 23-year-old from Sunrise, also says he was knocked off his bike by an angry cop.
Police were integrated into the ride in other cities with no problem. In Cleveland, for instance, a police escort began following alongside the ride in June. Representatives for the mass say the cops are to thank for providing such a safe evening. The mayor even provided free breakfast as a gesture of good will.
In other cases, threats of a crackdown were just that. Although riders in Miami were fearful of Orosa's "anarchist" comment, the ride was not ticketed en masse.
In Fort Lauderdale, though, tensions seemed to escalate when the ride was put under scrutiny. After a violent May and a peaceful June, the cycling community was up in arms after police arrested their beloved spokesperson, Ray Strack.
Riders maintain that the officer leading the ride was forcing them to go an unsafe distance. The cops say Strack was acting "very defiant" as he tried to negotiate with police. A video shows people pleading for mercy as Strack, who has a fractured T9 vertebrae, was put into handcuffs.
This third altercation caused a woman who goes by Rosita Vee on Facebook to ask: "How much money are taxpayers spending on so many officers to harass people on bikes?"
During May's initial ride-along, the police presence was all on-duty personnel, according to Kim Rhodes, public records coordinator for FLPD. In June, the lull month, the department billed $2,700.85 in overtime to the city, records show. In July, when Strack was arrested, that amount was $1,943.12.
"There's not a magic dollar amount," says James Musters, an active part of Critical Mass for the past year and a half. "I think that the obvious thing to do is spend as little as possible and get the events you want. The police want an organized ride, and we know the ride can run reasonably well with ten police. Do you need 30 or 40? Probably not."
Musters says he expects the police will scale down their spending in the future, noting that their presence prevents angry motorists from trying to plow into the ride.
When asked about plans, Fort Lauderdale Police Detective DeAnna Greenlaw said the department does not release details of its operations. She also declined to say how many officers were present at the ride during a given month.
"I'm not opposed to them being there," cyclist Musters adds. "But we need better communication. [The police] need to understand how the ride works internally."
Send your story tips to the author, Allie Conti.
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