Thursday, August 16, 2012

Police Stop Hasseling Cyclists in Biltmore

Off-duty police officers, hired by a small group of wealthy Biltmore residents, have apparently stopped harassing cyclists and others. As I reported a few weeks ago in an email sent out to email list subscribers of the Arizona Road Cyclist News newsletter (, and posted on this blog (see below) at least one police officer had been stopping cyclists, walkers, and runners on the streets of the Phoenix Biltmore and implying that they were trespassing if they were not in the company of a Biltmore resident. Worse yet, some of the people who were stopped and questioned were ordinary Biltmore residents who were harassed for engaging in such suspicious activity as walking the dog in their own neighborhood. 

The implication that the people stopped and questioned for walking, jogging or cycling on the streets of the Biltmore were trespassing was false. I have checked with various sources, and although it is true that the streets in the Biltmore are private, outsiders have permission to use those private streets for recreational purposes.

I had heard stories of walkers being intercepted by police officers on the streets of the Biltmore, but I was not aware of the extent of the harassment until I found myself in a group of riders from the Arizona Bicycle Club (ABC) that was pulled over by officer Benjamin Carro of the Mountain View (formerly Squaw Peak) Phoenix Police precinct. 

Officer Carro stood in front of the group and delivered a long harangue in which he implied, although he did not directly state, that we were trespassing. He said that he was not "going to take names this time" or write us tickets, implying that he could legitimately do so. He pointed to one of the cyclists in the group and said that he had stopped him before. "I never forget a face." The implication was that the cyclist had not learned his lesson the first time he was stopped for being in the Biltmore, and here he was back again!

Two members of the cycling group promptly identified themselves as Biltmore residents. If Officer Carro had been using common sense, he would have stopped there rather than anger some of the Biltmore residents he was claiming to protect, but he wasn't. He continued to harangue us in disconnected sentences in a loud and authoritative voice, thereby harassing two of the people he was claiming to protect. When one of the cyclists started to ride off, Officer Carro stopped him, yelling that he did not have permission to leave yet.

When Officer Carro finally permitted our group to leave, cyclist Paul Klusman and I stayed behind to ask for the officer's name and badge number. We had independently decided to file a complaint. Officer Carro wrote down the information and gave it to Paul, who then rode off. I was left alone with the officer who once again began to harangue me, presumably with the intention of intimidating me into leaving without the information, but I interrupted him, stated that I had done nothing wrong, and politely reminded him that I wanted his name and badge number, at which point he stopped his harangue, wrote down the information, and handed it to me with seeming reluctance.

Our group was not the only one that Officer Carro stopped. Reader Dave McMeechan wrote that he was with a different ABC group that the officer stopped [see the "Feedback" section below]. I also have reports of joggers and walkers being stopped, although in those cases, the officer involved was not identified. I do not know if several police officers have been hassling  people cycling, walking, and jogging in the Biltmore, or if Officer Carro is the only culprit. 

Paul telephoned Commander Gardner to set up a meeting who declined to meet with us and referred Paul to Officer Carro's supervisor, Sergeant Amy Breitzman, who wanted to resolve the matter over the phone. Paul insisted on a meeting.

At the meeting, Paul, Biltmore resident and cyclist Lou Morgan, Sergeant Breitzman, and I were joined by Sergeant Lynn Butcher of the precinct's Community Relations Bureau. I was permitted to attend only on condition that I not write about anything discussed at the meeting with one exception: I was given permission to write that cyclists may ride through the Biltmore under the condition that they stay to the right and ride no more than two abreast. I don't think I'm violating my promise by adding that I inquired several times why Officer Carro tried to make us believe that we did not have that permission when it wasn't true, but I couldn't get a straight answer to that question.

The Biltmore complex is not monolithic. It is controlled by several organizations including the Arizona Biltmore Hotel and various home owners' associations. Most of those organizations have no connection with and no influence over the off-duty police officers who patrol the Biltmore.

As mentioned earlier, a small group of (presumably wealthy) residents pays for the the patrols, allegedly because of a rash of break-ins, although in my checks of online crime statistics, I found no evidence of such break-ins. If the crime statistics available on the Internet are accurate, the Biltmore complex seems to be one of the safest places in the world to live, and the situation seems to be driven by paranoia.

The Arizona Biltmore Hotel, which maintains the Arizona Canal path and the Thunderbird Trail, as the street from the 24th Street entrance to the hotel is called, "welcomes cyclists, walker & joggers on its property" according to Becky Blane, the Hotel's public relations and marketing manager. Biltmore resident Scott Schirmer, who is one of the residents who hired the police officers to patrol the area, reluctantly admitted to me during a phone conversation that cyclists do indeed have permission to ride through the Biltmore, although he gave me the impression that he would take away that permission if he had the ability to do so.

Since Paul Klusman, Lou Morgan, and I had our meeting at the Mountain View precinct, I have had no more reports of cyclists, runners, and walkers being harassed by the police within the Biltmore. I ride thorough the Biltmore several times a week, and although I see a police car about half the time, I have not been stopped. If any readers have been stopped in the past several weeks, I would be grateful for the details.

In my view, the Mountain View Precinct and its commander Glen Gardner should admit the mistake and publicly apologize for the fact that at least one of its police officers was harassing citizens who were legitimately present within the Biltmore complex. By not openly acknowledging and apologizing for the unwise conduct, the Precinct and its commander give the impression that they are indifferent to the concerns of the public. Should Commander Gardner chose to make a public, written apology, I would not only be more than happy to publish it, I would applaud his good judgement.