The arrest of a juvenile for riding a bike after dark without proper illumination led to controversy at the Oct. 5 Human Services Committee. Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward, as part of the Committee’s routine review of complaints filed against the Evanston Police Department, questioned the rationale for stopping and ticketing such bike riders.

The matter first appeared before the Committee at its Sept. 4 meeting. At that time, Ald. Miller asked Commander Diane Davis to provide a list of all bicycle citations issued in the past year. The October Committee packet included the list – and it contained only three entries.

“You wanted to know” how many tickets were issued for bicycle violation other than riding on the sidewalk, said Commander Davis. “We only have three.”

Ald. Miller said he found the information “extremely troubling.” The incident in question involved two individuals who were bike- riding in an unidentified neighborhood and pulled over by the police and issued citations. Both were handcuffed and leaned against an unmarked police car. One of the riders took his ticket and left the scene, though he later complained about the treatment he received.

The second, a juvenile, was uncooperative to the point of being arrested and transported to the police station. His complaint included allegations of violence, threats, improper language, and unprofessional behavior. All the complaints were dismissed as either unfounded –  meaning there was no evidence to support, or not sustained, meaning there was insufficient evidence.

Ald. Miller, however, questioned the rationale behind pulling over the riders in the first place. “If I were stopped for riding my bike without illumination, I’d be upset, too,” he said. “It isn’t necessary.”

“Probably instead of asking how many tickets” the Police Department issued “for no illumination, perhaps you should be asking about bicycle theft,” said Commander Davis. Everything the EPD does “has a cause,” she added. “We do have ongoing investigations.” Bicycle thefts have been on the rise, and the EPD is working to halt that increase. The department knows the locations of reported thefts.

“That’s extremely troubling to me,” said Ald. Miller. “Within targeted areas of enforcement we’re stopping people because” of bike lights, while in other parts of the City such stops would never occur.

“Yes we will stop people on a bike” after reports of stolen bikes said Commander Davis.

“Honestly, to me that’s really troubling,” said Ald. Miller. “Reasonable suspicion, to me,” should lead to stopping anyone on a bike. The location of the biker should not matter, he said.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz then took the lectern, saying Evanston Police officers “take all factors into account” when initiating traffic stops, including bicycle stops. Juveniles riding bikes past curfew without illumination would be factors taken into consideration, he said.

“I understand why they [the Complainants] would be upset by” being stopped for not having a bike light, responded Ald. Miller.

“People who have light out” on their car are often upset to be stopped, said Mr. Bobkiewicz. Community standards come into play, he said. Bike stops should offer “an opportunity to educate,” to provide a warning, and possibly change future behavior. “In this case it escalated,” he said.

The police department has issued hundreds of tickets to bike riders for rising on the sidewalk, Mr. Bobkiewicz added, because City Council and the community made it clear they wanted the sidewalk ordinance to be enforced. He referred to 1961 Evanston rules he recently reviewed containing “very strict rules” regarding bicycles. If Council directed such, Evanston could make the policy decision to reinstitute stricter rules and regulations and enforcement.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, took the opportunity to renew her repeated call for license plates on bicycles. “Bikes without proper lighting out at night might get hit, she said. Licensing could provide a partial solution. I just think that would have helped,” she said.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, called for comprehensive bicycle testing and training.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, recalled several instances when bikers riding without lights caused problems in his ward. In one case, he nearly collided with a biker but saw the rider at the last moment. “The only thing illuminated was his iPhone,” he said. If the rider had not been using the phone, Ald. Tendam said, he would never have seen him. “It’s very dark at night,” he added.

“This is why I don’t exercise at all,” said Ald. Miller.