Drunk-biking is OK as long as you don't look like a tweaker

Beer–good for numbing cold and embarrassment.


The Sacramento Bee’s Sam McManis wrote a nicely framed explainer in today’s Living Here section (it will always be Scene to me) about how riding your bike while drunk is against the law.

Hopefully that’s common sense, even if cops aren’t pulling many people over for the crime.

McManis counted 27 crime reports involving BWIs (“bicycling while intoxicated,” duh) in midtown and downtown between 2007 and 2012. And while local cops aren’t jacking a lot of beer-buzzing riders, that doesn’t mean they’re not pulling over bicyclists of another sort.

This month, Sacramento police made 11 bicycle stops through May 17. None of these were for bicycling while drunk. (Which isn’t even a crime in New York City, apparently.) The vast majority of cyclists were stopped for some sort of moving violation—like riding on the wrong side of the roadway or riding at night without a light—and arrested for drug possession.

This is nothing new. As I reported last summer, cops throughout the county engage in a catch-and-release version of tweaker tag. They see cyclists that look like methamphetamine-users, cite any number of reasons in the bible-sized California Vehicle Code to make a probable cause stop, and then cuff them for being in possession of some typically small amount of dope.

Cops call it “criminal profiling.” Others may just call it straight-up “profiling.”

But what’s the harm? These dopers, many of whom are on county probation or state parole, usually don’t do much or any time, and are soon back on the streets to play the game again. Meanwhile, all those tipsy, 20-something Midtown cruisers get a pass because, let’s face it, they don’t fit the “criminal profile” (i.e. they don’t look homeless or gnarled by years of substance abuse).

I’m not sure if anyone loses this game, but I can’t imagine anyone is winning.

Meth is a gross, terrible poison that’s present in so many crimes these days. Earlier this year I interviewed four felons doing time at Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center. They were looking to transition into an outside offender rehabilitation program to finish up the remainder of their sentences, part of a statewide realignment plan to make more room in local jails for local offenders. Each of these felons shared meth use as a common denominator, even though some of them played it down.

One guy who claimed to be a former professional BMXer actually said he only did the drug because he found “a big old bag of meth” lying around outside the unoccupied dwelling he was squatting in when he got busted.

Sure, dude.

The point isn’t that cops are doing anything wrong. They’re not. Officers are using their common sense and investigative skills to stop folks that are more likely to be up to no good than a bar-hopping fixie fanatic. But what does it all amount to?

On May 16, police stopped a 25-year-old at Jefferson and American avenues who ended up being in possession of stolen property. One parolee a week earlier had a steak knife—or what cops refer to as a “dirk”—in his waistband. But six of this month’s bike stops ended with narcotics arrests. The most recent, on Friday, May 17, a cyclist was busted for possessing marijuana. I sure feel safer.

What’s the answer? I don’t know. Cops have a job to do—who knows where these guys were heading or what they would have done if they didn’t catch that bust?—and it would be misguided to say officers can’t use their in-the-field instincts to inform who they stop and who they let pedal on.

But evidence-based rehab programs that are run with fidelity prove way more effective in squashing crime than tossing poor, small-timers in jail again and again. The latter actually only makes it harder for an offender to break the cycle of crime. Hopefully officers are using their power judiciously, and aren’t influenced by quotas or stats or boredom.

Because arresting a bunch of people may make it look like Sacramento has a lot of crime, and thus give law enforcement departments more leverage come budget-negotiation time. But what really makes for a safer society?

Spin your wheels around that riddle.

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