News

Should police protect Facebook's bikes?

Mountain View also sees non-Google employees using company bikes

Local law enforcement officials have been stopping people riding Facebook bikes, questioning them, and in some instances, arresting them and confiscating the bikes if they find that the cyclists stopped don't work for the giant social media company.

A group of about 50 people gathered at East Palo Alto's City Hall on Feb. 7 to discuss the implications of this practice. The meeting's organizers, who are mainly longtime East Palo Alto residents, said one of their biggest concerns is that young people of color seen riding Facebook bikes are being targeted by local law enforcement agencies, specifically the Menlo Park Police Department and the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office.

In introductory remarks presented before a community discussion at the gathering, the organizers summarized some of the perspectives on the matter that they've heard. On one hand, they said, people shouldn't be taking bikes that don't belong to them. That's stealing.

On the other, they asserted, there hasn't been clear outreach about the company's expectations for the bikes, and whether it is permissible for non-Facebook community members to use them. And given the ubiquity of the bikes around town, that it is generally a low-income area, that local teens need to travel to other towns to attend school, and that there is a strong precedent of adults in the community also using the bikes, some people argue that these are complicating factors that should be taken into account by law enforcement agencies as they address bike thefts from corporations.

The Menlo Park Police Department has an entire police unit funded by Facebook as the result of a development agreement approved in October 2017. When asked whether the source of the department's funding affects how the department sets priorities, Police Chief Dave Bertini said, "Facebook is not getting any special treatment."

As evidence, he said, Menlo Park police treat people found riding Google bikes the same way they have approached people on Facebook bikes: They ask riders if they are employees, and if they are not, detain them and confiscate the bikes. Both companies' bikes, he explained, are "extremely easy to recognize." Police do not need "probable cause" of illegal activity to stop someone and ask whether he or she works for the company the bike belongs to, he noted, and it can be obvious if an underage person is seen in the community riding a Facebook or Google bike that the rider is not employed at one of those companies.

Facebook told The Almanac that it loses an average of 60 bikes per month, noting that many are eventually recovered.

Cases

At the meeting, East Palo Alto Planning Commissioner Kyra Brown described a Dec. 10 incident in which she drove past a cluster of police and emergency response vehicles at the edge of Menlo Park near the Stanford Shopping Center. Curious, she turned around and approached the scene.

She said she saw that a young African-American man was handcuffed, questioned and asked for identification. The man told her he had been arrested for riding a Facebook bike. "It's very hard to 'verify' who on a Facebook bike is actually a Facebook employee without resorting to racial profiling," Brown said in an email.

"These arrests are happening," she told the group. "Young people are the ones being arrested."

Police Chief Bertini, who did not attend the public meeting, said he was aware of that incident, but described it differently. He reported that Menlo Park police stopped a man riding a Facebook bike in downtown Menlo Park on El Camino Real. When asked if he worked for Facebook, he said no, and police detained him. He became uncooperative and was temporarily put in handcuffs. He was later cleared, then released, and the bicycle was taken and returned to Facebook, he explained.

"Technically, if you're riding a bike that's not yours, it's theft, or the misappropriation of a lost object," he said.

In another incident, which the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office on Jan. 29 publicized on Facebook under the headline, "Facebook bike leads to drug arrest," a deputy was reported to have been patrolling an unincorporated county area and stopped to talk to a man riding a Facebook bike.

"Turns out the man was not a Facebook employee and he also had needles that were loaded with (heroin) in his pockets," the Facebook post stated. The man was then given a citation and told about resources to help with drug addiction, the Sheriff's Office stated.

The Sheriff's Office did not respond to requests for comment about this incident or its bike policing practices by The Almanac's press deadline.

Response

Several Facebook employees attended the public meeting, and Ashley Quintana, a member of the community engagement team, told attendees that Facebook has "at no point" requested that law enforcement officials in Menlo Park or East Palo Alto stop, detain or arrest people or confiscate bikes from people riding the company's bikes. Facebook has not requested charges filed against people for stolen bikes.

"Our only goal for bike recovery is to ensure that our employees are not abandoning our bikes on sidewalks, or in public places outside of campus, creating a public nuisance," she wrote in a public Facebook post.

Facebook has set up an email account and hotline where people can report misplaced company bikes, she added. It also has a dedicated staff to pick up bikes in the community. In addition, Facebook hosts bike workshops, has donated bikes to local nonprofits, and is working to provide local youth with bike access.

After Quintana's announcement, Bertini told The Almanac that the police department no longer plans to arrest people caught riding the bikes unlawfully.

"It's been an evolving issue," he said. "We have finally been given a pretty clear opinion by Facebook, which is that they do not want to prosecute anybody who illegally has (their) bikes."

"We will be operating under the premise we are not stopping anybody riding a Facebook bike 'just because,'" he said.

One caveat, he added, is that the police department may still stop people caught violating traffic rules while on Facebook bikes, whether that means riding at night without a headlight, going through a stoplight without stopping, riding the wrong way down the street, or, as a juvenile, riding without a helmet. In those situations, traffic law violators will still be warned or cited.

Moving forward, he said, he doesn't plan to use police resources to deal with who should or should not have Facebook bikes. For a police officer to have "probable cause" to make an arrest, there has to be a victim, he said. "If Facebook is not willing to be a victim, (we're) no longer able to do that."

But the bikes, he added, wind up all over the place, and in East Palo Alto, he said he understands that the biggest complaint is that bikes are being dumped on people's property.

"That's not very good stewardship," he said. The East Palo Alto Police Department doesn't have the resources to send people out to pick up abandoned company bikes, he said, adding that Facebook should take more responsibility to make sure employees don't leave the bikes in adjacent neighborhoods.

Mountain View and Google bikes

In nearby Mountain View, the problem of Google bikes in the community has strong parallels, but the city has adapted to the bikes' presence over time, explained Nate Baird, the city's in-house bike transportation guru. He said that Mountain View has developed procedures for dealing with Google bikes in the community.

"I'm pretty sure Google bikes are used by non-Google employees," he said, adding, "We're kind of hands-off with it."

When bikes are found in bad locations such as in positions blocking sidewalks or abandoned in Stevens Creek either Google or the city's municipal operations center goes out and collects them. They then let Google know and company representatives pick them up.

Both the city's bike share program and Google have created hotlines where people can report problems, or they can contact the city, he said.

Bertini said that the Mountain View Police Department continues to detain people for illegally riding on misappropriated Google bikes, and his officers will continue to do the same when they come across people riding Google bikes unless the company comes forward with a policy statement indicating it doesn't want police to do so.

Next steps

East Palo Alto residents planned to bring the matter before their City Council for discussion at a meeting set for Feb. 19.

East Palo Alto Mayor Lisa Gauthier, who attended the public meeting, acknowledged the complexity of the problem. On one hand, she said, "We can't condone young people taking bikes. We don't want them to think it's OK."

Yet, she added, there hasn't always been clear instruction from Facebook about what to do when people find company bikes in the community. Also, she's heard anecdotally that Facebook bikes have been found parked at Menlo-Atherton High School, and doesn't want teens overly penalized for using the bikes to get to school. She said she is hoping to get more data and information.

The meeting was also attended by Menlo Park City Council members Cecilia Taylor and Betsy Nash. Nash told The Almanac she planned to ask the Menlo Park Police Department for data about police stops of people riding Facebook bikes.

When The Almanac requested this information, Bertini said there is no way to parse out which police interactions have been triggered by Facebook bikes. Short of doing an incident-by-incident search of police records, he said, "we have no way to do that."

He added that people are invited to discuss that and other matters at a "Meet the Chief" event scheduled from 6 to 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 25, at the Belle Haven Neighborhood Service Center at 871 Hamilton Ave.

People who find abandoned Facebook bikes are encouraged to email lostbike@fb.com or call (650) 542-0167. For abandoned Google bikes, email lostgbike@google.com or call (650) 214-9003.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.

Comments

156 people like this
Posted by Jake O.
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Feb 20, 2019 at 3:01 pm

Let Facebook and Google deal with their bikes. If they see someone riding that isn't supposed to, then they can ask for it back or call the police. Why cost the cities the time and resources it takes to deal with such a dumb situation. Have the employees sign them out with an app and bar code. Maybe then they'd be better taken care of. Or reimburse the city for the tax dollars wasted on cleaning up after themselves.

"this is why we can't have nice things"


146 people like this
Posted by MVFlyer
a resident of Monta Loma
on Feb 20, 2019 at 3:11 pm

The cold hard reality is that this is theft, plain and simple. It is irrelevant if the owner does not secure them (this is a problem in itself). If you leave your car door unlocked and someone takes it off of your property, this is theft in the same vein--partly your fault, but still theft.

I do think, however, the owners (Facebook, Google, etc.) need to take some responsibility too-they do nothing to secure their bikes. I remember having an e-mail discussion group with our neighborhood, and someone seriously commented how nice it was to have Google sponsoring a free bike share program. That is not the purpose of this.

I also wonder what the ramifications would be if a citizen does 'borrow' a bike and they are hurt (hopefully this won't happen)...who bears responsibility? Could the bike owner be sued?



140 people like this
Posted by MV Resident
a resident of Waverly Park
on Feb 20, 2019 at 3:22 pm

I don't understand the controversy. Bike theft is a crime. As a bicycle owner, I'm always happy for the police to target bike thieves. There has been a longstanding problem of people stealing these bikes and dumping them in the creek.


209 people like this
Posted by Kris
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 20, 2019 at 4:08 pm

Mountain View taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for these mega-corps and their bikes. They have already created outrageously priced housing, clogged streets full of distracted drivers and the young techie people who believe the world owes them something. Not to mention the self-driving cars that are completely stupid!!

Facebook & Google, keep track of your own damn bikes!!!!


9 people like this
Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Waverly Park
on Feb 20, 2019 at 4:42 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

Maybe they should profile the riders and their baggage??? Just a helpful suggestion :-) Techies have a pretty narrow profile compared to non-techies.


12 people like this
Posted by Proud Taxpayer
a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2019 at 4:49 pm

Proud Taxpayer is a registered user.

It's a small step from taking a Google/Facebook bike to taking a better bike belonging to an individual. These bikes are not intended to leave their campuses. So it's fair for the police to react when they see one miles from a campus and ask the rider for proof of where they work.


111 people like this
Posted by SRB
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Feb 20, 2019 at 5:24 pm

If Facebook or Google really cared about who rides their bikes, shouldn't they start by simply locking them with keys/codes only available to their employees? Since they don't seem to care, why are we wasting taxpayers money enforcing this?


11 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2019 at 9:32 pm

Facebook employees are not allowed to take the bikes off campus (except to bike between campuses). If someone is riding a Facebook bike at the Stanford Shopping Center, they are either a Facebook employee breaking the rules or a person who has stolen a bike.

Facebook employees have badges, so it should be easy to determine if they are a Facebook employee. If they don't have a badge and they are riding a Facebook bike, chances are pretty good they are not a Facebook employee.

Just because a bicycle is not locked up does not mean that it is free for the taking. Our society works because we all believe in the rule of law. I there was a law that said bikes that are not locked up are free to anyone, then it would be ok, but there is no such law as far as I know.

The police are supposed to enforce the law for everyone. It is not reasonable or desirable to selectively enforce laws.

That being said, instead of stealing bikes, there are ways to get low cost or free bikes legally. For example, the San Francisco Bike Coalition has a program (Web Link). In Palo Alto, the Bicycle Exchange (Web Link) is helping people learn how to fix bikes and donating them to non-profits that serve disadvantaged folks in our community.

If you know of other organizations, you can post them here and help spread the word.


13 people like this
Posted by Don’t be stupid!
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2019 at 9:57 pm

I see our usual right-wing Trump-loving nutjobs are all over this news story. Sorry, but people are not “stealing” the bikes from Google. The employees are riding them off-campus and leaving them unlocked, making them appear abandoned. I understand thay our local loonies want the police to pull over minorities—they love the wall, racial profiling and receiving govt services while cheating on their taxes!


12 people like this
Posted by PeaceLove
a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 20, 2019 at 11:15 pm

I'm a little surprised that no one's making the distinction between a private individual's property, like a bike, and a giant fleet of private bicycles owned by one of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world, which they have strewn all over Mountain View *as if they were public bikes.* The one is not like the other.

I know a lower-middle class kid who use a Google bike to go to school every day with the full knowledge of their parents and the extended family that lives with them. I'm quite sure none of them consider themselves thieves. Those bikes are defacto public bikes, at least I know lot of people who will happily hop on one on their way into downtown. They're not *stealing* it, they're using it and dropping it off in a public spot when they get into town.

If they're not for public use, then why would any of us tolerate Google littering our pubic spaces with their private bikes? C'mon Google, step up and tell the police to stop harassing people using your public bikes!


101 people like this
Posted by Greg David
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 20, 2019 at 11:36 pm

Greg David is a registered user.

Not one second or one penny of police resources should be allocated to the protection of corporate bicycles until these corporations take action to limit the use of the bicycles. A simple wheel lock as seen on millions of bikes in Europe can be used to lock them and prevent unauthorized use. Every employee can be issued a key and should lock the bike when parked. Then, if a bike is spotted where the lock has been damaged or tampered with otherwise, there is evidence of a crime committed. Until then, hands off. And when they are found in the creek or another damaging location, these corps should be FINED to pay for the recovery and removal of their GARBAGE.


50 people like this
Posted by Angela
a resident of Monta Loma
on Feb 21, 2019 at 1:10 pm

Since Google and Facebook don't police their own bikes, i.e., require in some way to determine that only their employees are using them, I don't see why anyone should be stopped.


101 people like this
Posted by MrEdofCourse
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2019 at 1:35 pm

It would be one thing if the bikes weren't littered all over the place, but they most certainly are. If Google, Facebook or others are going to spray the community with unlocked bicycles, then those bicycles should be free to be used by the community. The solution on their end if they don't want the community using their bikes is to simply provide at least some level of security. They fact that they don't and that you find these bikes clearly abandoned all over the place leads many people to believe that they are available for community use.

The police could better use their resources fining these companies for each abandoned bike rather than individuals who find the abandoned bikes (sometimes on their own yards) and put them to use.


1 person likes this
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of another community
on Feb 21, 2019 at 2:49 pm

So exactly what is the definition of theft? If a Google bike or a Facebook bike is left near my house and I decide to ride it to downtown and leave it, is that theft? Or is it bike share? What happens if I find one downtown and decide to ride it say to Caltrain. Is that bike share?


8 people like this
Posted by Nihilist
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Feb 21, 2019 at 3:33 pm

PA Resident, it is strange that you have to ask these questions. Of course it’s a theft. You toll and used something that doesn’t belong to you without owner’s permission.


2 people like this
Posted by Nihilist
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Feb 21, 2019 at 3:34 pm

^took


9 people like this
Posted by Janet
a resident of Rex Manor
on Feb 21, 2019 at 5:32 pm

On what criteria are police stopping people riding Google bikes because they presume they aren’t Google employees? And what happens if they happen to not be carrying their work ID on them? Why do I think that I, as a white middle aged woman who doesn’t work for Google, am less likely to get stopped than a 24 year old Latino employee. Let Google police their own bicycle use.


6 people like this
Posted by PeaceLove
a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 22, 2019 at 4:02 am

Janet makes a good point, which is that attempts to stop and question Google Bike riders inevitably reinforces structural white supremacy in that the easy call is for cops to stop riders of color, especially younger riders and those who don't look like Silicon Valley engineers (i.e. lower middle-class Hispanic riders). So unless they want to stop and question EVERYONE on a Google Bike they should leave all riders alone.


10 people like this
Posted by A Balanced Solution
a resident of North Bayshore
on Feb 22, 2019 at 5:52 am

Both sides have points here. Taking the major points together, we could have the law try to correct two wrongs: 1) the theft, or misuse, of corporate bikes by non-employees, or off of corporate campuses, and 2) the littering of our public spaces with carelessly dumped corporate bikes. We could do this by enforcing laws against both, or deciding they cancel each other and thus save taxpayer money that would be spent on enforcement. The key is to be clear about our expectations. If we are going to decide it all cancels out, the announce publicly that we are explicitly allowing sharing, not that we are ignoring theft. Alternately, aggressively enforce by stopping every rider found outside a corporate campus. No profiling needed. And fine the companies for every bike found abandoned and unlocked. I predict they'll quickly take care of things from their end if that choice is made.


5 people like this
Posted by Robyn
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2019 at 8:13 am

I guess there is no serious crime and traffic issues in Mountain View so that the police can accost bike riders on colorful bicycles.
How about confiscating the abandoned bikes around town? They are a hazard on sidewalks and streets.
I agree with A Balanced Solution, above.


22 people like this
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2019 at 9:19 am

This is a worthwhile discussion and debate for two reasons.

1. Do we want the policy stereotyping and profiling people because they may be riding a Google/Facebook bike without being employed by said company? If one officer makes a mistake, what would the ramifications of that be?

2. What is misuse of the property by a non-employee? If I happen to find a bike dumped outside my home and I decide to be neighborly and return it to the campus by riding it, is that misuse, theft, or justifiable? And if an employee rides a bike home from work and then leaves it is that misuse? And if said employee rides the bike home from work, leave work later with the bike to take to go to dinner is that misuse since he is an employee? And what happens if he takes another bike home after dinner and leaves it at home so that he can ride it to work the next day?

I can see the legal profession rubbing their hands in glee at the possible lawsuits coming their way and of course the high fees they will glean from such practices.


12 people like this
Posted by James Thurber
a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 22, 2019 at 4:38 pm

James Thurber is a registered user.

Originally I was concerned when I saw non-Google employees riding Google bikes (when somebody is about 10 years old it's pretty likely they're not a Google employee). I'm an avid bicycle rider and, in fact, don't own a car. Of course I'm worried about bicycle theft but these bicycles aren't locked and are left entirely "For the Employee's Use"

Ultimately I determined that, since Google has decided not to lock up the bikes, that they send folks around in the evening to retrieve bikes left lying about Mountain View, Palo Alto, Los Altos, etc that Google considers the occasional loss simply a cost of doing business.

These days I consider Google bikes more or less Community Bicycles. Not THAT many people take them for non-Google use. I might see one, perhaps two non-Google employees a day on Google bikes but usually not even that.

For our law enforcement folks to spend time chasing down non-Google employees riding Google bikes perhaps this represents police focus / money best spent elsewhere (stop sign runners come to mind and many drivers about Mountain View are pretty non compliant with California traffic laws).

Thanks for listening.


2 people like this
Posted by a son of a bitch
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 22, 2019 at 7:30 pm

...well what did you think was gonna happen when they legalized cannabis. Cops need something to do.


5 people like this
Posted by Martin
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2019 at 12:27 am

Why is every comment here equating Facebook and Google bikes?

Facebook's campus is much more contained and it's much further from Mountain View.

It makes a lot of sense to me that police stops people on a Facebook bike, but not a Google bike.


3 people like this
Posted by Phil
a resident of The Crossings
on Feb 23, 2019 at 11:27 am

Wow. Now I get why when you call the police in Mountain View the dispatchers say we are "really busy right now". They should just say we are "out patrolling making sure Google bicycles are secure, so handle any property crimes yourself or by filing an on-line because we don't have the time and, hey, Google is our number one priority"!


1 person likes this
Posted by Lector
a resident of North Whisman
on Feb 28, 2019 at 6:09 pm

Lector is a registered user.

No way should police be concerned about Facebook's or Google's bikes. These companies need to regulate the bikes used by their ignorant employees by telling them not to litter these bikes all over. They need to set up a checkout system to keep track. They need to know which employees checked out bikes to ensure that these bikes are returned. We do not pay taxes to have our police put priority into keeping track of these bikes or resolving the issue that Google and Facebook have brought on themselves. The police have more important things to do like protecting the community and solving real crimes.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Why is it becoming increasingly impossible to open a restaurant on the Peninsula?
By Elena Kadvany | 28 comments | 4,851 views

Electric Buses: A case study
By Sherry Listgarten | 2 comments | 2,089 views

 

PRICE INCREASES MONDAY

On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Register now