Dressed in black and rolling on two wheels, to some New Yorkers the NYPD’s bike officers look like superheroes. Others see them as villain-like. Nonetheless, they are part of the strategic response group, or SRG, created five years ago to rapidly deploy to hot spots around the city.
They have been highly visible this year during the spring and summer at Black Lives Matter demonstrations and then at demonstrations tied to the election this fall.
Critics charge these cops on wheels can be too aggressive, but top NYPD brass stands behind the unit.
“[They are] one of the more effective units that are dealing with some of these individuals causing damage," explained Police Commissioner Dermot Shea.
On loudspeakers, police at times will play a prerecorded message that warns protesters not to block sidewalks or streets. The same speaker alerts people when they are about to be arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. At recent protests, cops with bikes yelled, "move" as they pushed protesters back.
Officers have used their bikes as shields and barriers for crowd control.
Police Commissioner Shea said the bike cops are protecting themselves from getting hurt and property from getting destroyed.
"Hostile crowds — whether it's bottles coming or whether there is an arrest, and now there is some of this extreme de-arrest techniques being employed against our officers — they will set up a perimeter and at times use the bicycles. That is all choreographed and part of the training they go through,” Shea said.
Back in 2018, I rode with the SRG bike cops when they explained their special training to help people or stop violence. They usually wear high-visibility uniforms, but this year they started wearing black protective biker gear at protests. At first glance, it can be hard to see NYPD on the outfits.
"SRG cops, which is a hyper-militarized unit out here on bikes in heavy gear like that, is an act of intimidation. That's violence in and of itself," said police critic Yul-san Liem of Justice Committee.
Some protesters say they were being peaceful when bike cops pushed and shoved them to the ground. Activists say the cops' tactics sometimes escalate tensions instead of reducing them.
"They were using the bikes as a provocation because there are times when they could have taken their bikes along the sidewalk,” said King Downing of Justice Committee. “Instead, when the traffic got squeezed on some of the side streets, they started to squeeze on the crowd and run up against people and that's how problems start.”
Police say the goal is to allow for peaceful protests while stopping anyone looking to cause a riot.