The NYPD’s Strategic Response Group will learn to ride bikes and scooters for protesters and crowd control.
The unit was created earlier this year, and drew criticism after Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said the unit would respond to terrorism activities as well as protests. Bratton later clarified the two units would be seperate, and the SRG would respond to protests, neighborhood issues and other events.
All of the officers in the unit, which is expected to eventually be 800, will receive the bicycle or scooter training in the new year, according to the police department.
“Many of the officers will be trained to ride bicycles, and part of the standard equipment will be bicycles, because they’re going to deal with crowd management control, bicycles give them great mobility, they effectively serve as portable barriers,” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton told Metro at a recent meeting.
“You saw the difficulties we had last year chasing these characters around demonstrations, texting where they were going to be and having these jump-up demonstrations. One of the ways to deal with them, and so I know where my officers are, are bicycles. They can pedal faster than they can walk, block off whole streets so they cannot get by, and coordinated with the helicopters as a new way of doing crowd management and crowd control.”
The SRG will eventually include 800 officers with an “unprecedented” amount of training, an NYPD spokesman said. The unit is already up and running, and the NYPD expects the bicycle and scooter training to be a part of a second round of trainings in 2016.
Training police officers to ride bikes and scooters is nothing new.
“On the bikes, you’re not there with a riot helmet and bats, and I think the protesters look at you like you’re a little less intimidating,” said Lt. Louis Perez, who has been training officers to ride scooters and bikes for the last 12 years. “We just ride alongside them, and we’re there to protect them. It’s less aggressive.”
Tactics — including riding alongside protesters or crowds to keep them on the sidewalk, or pushing back towards a crowd to stop them from advancing — are the same whether the officer rides a bicycle or a scooter. The scooter cops go through a four day training program, and have to pass both a DMV test and a stricter NYPD motorcycle test.
Police Officer Damian Korman, who assists Lt. Perez with the trainings, said the unit was out about 16 hours a day in Zuccotti Park during Occupy Wall Street.
“I would say 90 percent of the time we were just riding along them,” Korman said.
"Officers that are in this unit need to understand the significace of the First Amendment right to protest, and the training should explain in detail what the First Amendment is," said civil right attorney Norman Siegel.
Siegel, who said there doesn't need to be a police unit that specifically deals with protesters, said he hopes the unit training includes a history lesson on major events, such as the Boston Tea Party, Greenville sit ins and Occupy Wall Street, and a thorough understanding of the First Amendment.
Mark Winston Griffith, executive director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, said the lack of transparency when it comes to what the SRG polices is "concerning."
"When the NYPD focuses on a specialized kind of training for protesters, you do get a bit concerned, because there's been a history of the NYPD conducting surveillance on their own residents based on political views and actions, which quite frankly is protected by the constitution.
"I don't know at the end of the day what is going to be classified as protest," Griffith said.