O’Neill: Cops Can Use Deadly Force Against Cyclists

A prickly Commissioner James O'Neill defends the cop who used a police SUV to cut off a cyclist in Manhattan.

NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill appeared rattled when repeatedly questioned about an officer who used deadly force with his squad car to stop a cyclist who had run several red lights. Photo: Mayor's Office
NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill appeared rattled when repeatedly questioned about an officer who used deadly force with his squad car to stop a cyclist who had run several red lights. Photo: Mayor's Office

Police Commissioner James O’Neill testily took on reporters who grilled him about a cop who used his 3,000-pound SUV squad car to take down a cyclist who had allegedly run several red lights, even turning the question back onto reporters who asked why the top cop was equating the officer’s use of deadly force with the bike rider’s far less dangerous actions.

“So, is it OK for a cyclist to run a red light, continuously to run through red lights, endangering pedestrians, endangering themselves. Is it? I’m asking you,” a clearly rattled O’Neill said after several reporters had asked about the Saturday incident on Avenue A, which resulted in the Citi Bike being jammed inside the squad car’s rear wheel. “I bicycle every day. You have to act responsibly. That’s the point.”

An NYPD officer rammed into a cyclist on Avenue A on Saturday. Photo: Rich Garvey
An NYPD officer rammed into a cyclist on Avenue A on Saturday. Photo: Rich Garvey

O’Neill said that officers have the discretion to use their 3,000-pound police vehicle to cut off an unprotected cyclist, even though it appears to violate the NYPD patrol guide, which states, “The primary duty of all members of the service is to protect human life, including the lives of individuals being placed in police custody.”

“NYPD officers have to use their best judgment,” O’Neill said. “It’s not always easy to make the best decision possible when the situations are ongoing. Like I said before, these are very difficult jobs. It’s up to the individual officer to make that decision. Do we want them to use force? No. We want cyclists to comply.”

In general, O’Neill downplayed Saturday’s incident, part of which was captured on a video that has lit up Twitter. After cutting off the cyclist, the cop lectured the rider, saying that he needed to use “whatever means necessary” to stop the cyclist’s lawless behavior — “for your safety,” he added.

O’Neill backed up his officer. “The bicycle operator blew through numerous red lights,” the top cop said. “Bicyclists have to operate their bicyclists responsibly. Vehicle operators have to their vehicles responsibly. I understand that there is a difference between a 3,000 pound vehicle versus a 20- to 30-pound bike but there is an onus on everyone involved to operate whatever they’re driving and riding responsibly.”

Cyclists and their advocates have long decried this very equivalence, given that car and truck drivers killed and injured virtually every victim last year, yet the NYPD’s latest ticket blitz — ordered up by Mayor de Blasio because of current rise in cyclists’ deaths — continues the NYPD practice of not drawing a distinction between dangerous cars and far less dangerous cyclists.

As for the enforcement “blitz,” NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said the department had issued 2,160 parking summons citywide to vehicles blocking bike lanes, a 75-percent increase from the shockingly low numbers in that category. 

Chan also admitted that the city does not track how many city employees get tickets for parking illegally — or what happens to those tickets.

Like O’Neill, Chan stressed that cyclists have a responsibility as road-users. “As the Commissioner mentioned before… your choices matter. Our safety is really a … shared responsibility. Bicyclists are an active participant on the roadway. So it is important that they follow the rules and regulations, certainly traffic lights and things of that nature.”

Citi Bike and the Department of Transportation declined to comment. Last week, Citi Bike endorsed a cyclist “die-in” on Tuesday night in Washington Square Park organized by Transportation Alternatives to protest the rise in cyclist deaths. The bike share company threw explicit shade on city officials for failing to keep cyclists safe.

“Our riders depend on safe streets each and every day, and the sharp rise in cyclist deaths this year is heartbreaking,” the company said on Twitter.

O’Neill said he supported cyclists’ right to protest — because, he claimed, he shared their central goal.

“Listen, bottom line, I’m looking to keep cyclists safe,” he said. “I don’t want anybody to walk away from this press conference thinking that’s not my primary concern. We’ve had 15 bicyclists killed so far this year. That’s a concern to me personally, that’s a concern to the NYPD.”

But if you run a red light, that officer who is supposedly trying to keep you safe could suddenly use his squad car as a battering ram.

  • ProfSlowlane

    Couldn’t the police in question have accelerated to a position ahead of the moving cyclist, got out of the SUV and stopped him instead? Seems like a simple option that should have been chosen.

  • duncansdad

    Enough of this fag shit. WTF?

  • bolwerk

    It will just get you ignominiously killed. Anything they say is taken as evidence. They’re already so trigger happy in part because they think everyone is packing heat, and of course a lot of people are. Even if you survive a gun fight with one, you’re likely to be capped by another.

    There needs to be a national movement toward gun control for cops. But people’s view of cops is mediated through TV and movies, so nobody considers it. Your average cop of Chief Wiggum, but the public’s view of cops is more like the guy from Last Action Hero or some other abominable cop movie.

  • Joe R.

    I’ve often told people I’m OK with very strict gun control laws, perhaps even complete bans on gun ownership, on the condition the police can’t have them either, nor can the armed forces, except in combat zones outside the US, or during training exercises on military bases. That at least puts everyone on an equal footing.

    I have heard there is a marked difference in the behavior of cops in right-to-carry states versus places like NYC where law-abiding citizens are effectively disarmed. The cops in those states generally treat the citizens they serve at least a little better, knowing that the odds are against them if they misbehave in a crowded public place.

    Interestingly, citizens with carry permits tend to be more law-abiding than the police:

    https://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/crime/item/31489-more-guns-less-crime-concealed-carry-permit-holders-more-law-abiding-than-police

  • bolwerk

    Based on anecdotal experience, not sure I agree. NYPD are ruder than most places but they often let things slide. I travel a lot and find cops in other places are much more prone to overzealous enforcement. NYPD just curse at you gratuitously and let you go, unless you hit some trigger point (um, biking?).

    But some of that is probably because of my relative whiteness too. If you’re black or brown, you’re just kind of fucked almost anywhere you go.

  • Christopher G

    From what information is available to us, that’s what they did, and the citi bike crashed into them. The cyclist was going slow enough to jump off the bike, unharmed.

  • Casey O’Neill

    I was hit while I was riding my bike. It was the cars’ fault.

  • I generally agree, but that elevated network has too many downsides.

    Getting rid of all personal vehicles sounds nice, but also hard to achieve 🙂
    Making bikes (/trikes/mobility scooters/handbikes/roller skates/whatever, be creative) and walking the most convenient choices for trips up to say 3 miles will already take a lot of motor vehicles off the streets.

    A more down-to-Earth solution is to create a network of through routes for motorized traffic and then use filtered permeability to keep cars out of all the (residential) streets in between the roads of that network. That way, for drivers, those streets are just dead-ends or loop back to a through road, while people on foot/bikes etc can just carry on choosing the shortest route to the shop or some other destination just a few miles away.

  • Re: cyclists ignoring red lights and other technical violations, I found this thread was very clear on why people on bikes might be doing that:
    https://twitter.com/cfulgham/status/1144585449421385729

  • Richman

    Christopher, you obviously didn’t look closely at this photo and read the article as it States and shows that the bicycle was jammed into the rear portion of the right rear fender and that doesn’t happen by the bicycle running into the vehicle unless the bicycle shifted into reverse. This is so plainly and obviously apparent and a person could only have missed this if they were half asleep.

  • Richman

    What you have to keep in mind is that people riding City bikes don’t own them and probably don’t know a thing one about riding a bike or that bikes even have to follow motor vehicle laws while riding on roads.

  • Richman

    In almost all discussions I see where apples are not compared two apples. Bottom line, non bicyclist cannot imagine going through red lights under any circumstances. If you can imagine he rural town of a few thousand people whereI come from, and coming up to a stop light or stop sign where you can see there is no traffic for miles around, you will proceed through without coming to a complete stop. Any of you non cyclist would do the same. The problem is where none veteran or experienced cyclist Rent City bikes and think they can do the same on a busy downtown New York City street. An avid and experienced cyclist will know the difference. They will generally also have enough respect for motorist, motor vehicle law, and pedestrians to not blast through red lights at busy intersections. Furthermore, I don’t think a bicyclist is ever going to crash into a motor vehicle and kill someone inside. Watch somebody find the one article of the one time it may have happened somewhere in some obscure universe. The real threat is when Reckless bicycling endanger the safety of pedestrians. I do not have a problem with Reckless bicyclists being ticketed for reckless behavior. But there is a definite glaring issue wear police officers are going to attempt to injure, maim or kill a bicyclist in order to stop them. That’s is the exact same logic of a cop engaging in an 80 mile per hour vehicle Chase through downtown New York. Safety and the protection of life always a simple traffic stop.

  • jcwconsult

    This is a very weird encounter, but under all circumstances it is mandatory that pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers obey orders from police officers to stop.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • fdtutf

    It’s equally mandatory that police officers not use their vehicles to deliberately inflict property damage or bodily injury under any circumstances.

  • Amerisod

    So I can expect that bike share people ride as irresponsibly as scooter share people.

    But I see so many private bikes being ridden irresponsibly, and people walking or driving private looking cars so often act irresponsibly.

    It’s rough out there. Like I teach my son, unfortunately a lot of people aren’t paying attention to what they are doing, and we need to expect that they don’t see him, or won’t be considerate to him.

  • jcwconsult

    If a car driver similarly refused to stop after several attempts by the officer and running multiple red lights, they might well expect the officer to deliberately run them off the road.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jeff

    What if a pedestrian refused to stop after an officer tried to ticket them for jaywalking – should they well expect the officer to deliberately run them over with an SUV?

  • jeff

    How come there are only 2 bicycle fatalities in the United States on bike share systems after 200 million+ rides on those systems? Fatalities per trip is ten times higher (1 in 10 million) for motor vehicle occupants than for “NEVER” safe big-city bike share riders.

    Answer: it’s just physics. Bicycles go 5-15 mph. Cars go 25-75 mph. And cars go on roads where other cars and trucks go 60-75 mph; bikes don’t.

    I wish you the best, but you can’t change physics – when you’re hurtling through space at 100 feet per second and a 3-ton machine is coming at you in the other lane at 100 feet per second, guess what’s going to happen if you don’t manage to miss each other by 6 feet?

    You car drivers are freaking crazy (which is why 35,000 of you die every year).

  • jeff

    The “Idaho stop” rule is that bikes stop at red lights.

  • William Lawson

    He sounds like a 12 year old gamer tbh

  • jcwconsult

    No, but boxing them in with several officers would be justified to be sure they did not continue on their way without an interview. People who don’t respect police officers do not deserve respect.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Joe R.

    To be clear, when I say “elevated bike network”, I really mean “non-stop bike network”. Sometimes it may need to be elevated in places to achieve that goal, while in many other cases it can remain at street level. Also, I’m thinking more along the lines of a coarse grid of non-stop bike routes of roughly 1 mile spacing. This would put everyone within about half a mile of a non-stop bike route. Local streets, either with or without conventional bike lanes, will serve as “last mile” connections. The system is analogous to car highways and local surface streets.

    What you’re describing is the super block concept where the inside of the block still allows bike or foot traffic, but not through motor traffic. This is part of the solution also. Barcelona is doing exactly this:

    https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/08/inside-a-pedestrian-first-superblock/566864/

    In this scheme, I would imagine the elevated bike highways right above the major motor traffic arterials which surround the super blocks. The bike highways will allow rapid travel between super blocks, which going to the final destination within a super block can easily be done using the existing streets within it.

    I also feel that while bikes are usually thought of just for trips of 3 miles or less, they can be useful for much longer trips. The metric I usually hear is that most people will consider bike trips which take 30 minutes or less. With non-stop bike highways an average rider can reach destinations about 6 miles away in 30 minutes. A strong rider, or someone using an e-bike, can reach destinations 10 miles away or more.

  • irvinsky

    The officer didn’t run the cyclist down,causing the cyclist death or serious injury..the officer used the police vehicle to stop the cyclist without injuring the cyclist.

  • Andrew

    Bottom line, non bicyclist cannot imagine going through red lights under any circumstances.

    Motorists do it all the time.

  • Those SUVs weigh closer to 5000lbs than 3000.

  • Joe D

    According to the NY Times there were 101 pedestrian deaths in NYC in 2017. I guess those were all caused by cyclists, eh?

  • Joe D

    A lot of them don’t see it coming because they are distracted drivers. People in their rolling steel cages have a false sense of security, the graveyards are filled with ’em

  • Joe D

    Except when the cops pull you over, “then it’s WTF, why aren’t going after the real crooks?” By your posts it could very well be DUI, you seem like the type.

  • Joe D

    That’s O’Neill? I thought it was Elmer Fudd.

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  • Tomas Paine

    Fine. Go ahead. Ride your bike in NYC’s streets. Good luck. Stay safe ?.

  • Tomas Paine

    Suburban meatheads. Nice racism and classism there!

    From the white folk who only dared to enter NYC AFTER all the minority folk got flushed out of to make way for the “progressive” white man!

    Thanks! ?

  • Tomas Paine

    We should use the Baltimore model of policing in NYC. They are very subdued in their use of force there.

    It’s working out great! ?

  • Christopher G

    Richman, what’s obvious is that the police vehicle is in front of the bike, and the bike didn’t stop and the cyclist was well enough to stand and question the police as he received his summons. How do you imagine this saddle and wheel got wedged into the suv’s wheel well without trapping the cyclist? The conversation between the cyclist and one of the officers was about the cyclist nearly getting doored by the police officer – not about being run down.

  • bolwerk

    Baltimore hogs are probably more murderous than NYPD boneheads, and more corrupt. Their idiot former mayor Martin O’Malley brought a lot of New York “expertise” into Baltimore in the early 2000s, the kind where police are encouraged to invade marginalized neighborhoods and antagonize brown and poor people by enforcing or contriving trivial infractions.

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