Salt Lake City police operation results in arrest and citations during weekly 999 bike ride. | News | Salt Lake City Weekly

Salt Lake City police operation results in arrest and citations during weekly 999 bike ride. 

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click to enlarge Riders participating in the 999 make a pit stop under the Interstate 15 ramps on Thursday, May 30 - BENJAMIN WOOD
  • Benjamin Wood
  • Riders participating in the 999 make a pit stop under the Interstate 15 ramps on Thursday, May 30

The Salt Lake City Police Department conducted an enforcement "operation" during the 999 community bike ride on June 6, issuing 9 citations and making one arrest, according to information released by the department on Thursday.

While the nature of the citations and arrest was not disclosed in the materials released by the department, spokesperson Brent Weisberg said those actions were largely related to riders on electric motorcycles, though some bicycle riders were issued warnings for improperly lighting their vehicles for the ride, which occurs after dark.

One e-motorcyle rider was arrested after fleeing from the police, while citations were issued to other motorcycle riders who had improperly registered their vehicles and, in one case, for a stop sign violation. Weisberg said that while the weekly 999 ride is traditionally bike-oriented, an increasing number of electric motorcycle riders have been present, accounting for an uptick in unsafe and potentially criminal behavior.

"I think that's what is also generating some of the concern for safety," Weisberg said.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall regularly hosts her own community bike rides, which differ from a critical mass ride in the sense that Mendenhall's rides include pre-planned routes and police escorts. Andrew Wittenberg, the mayor's spokesman, said law enforcement around the 999 is not meant to discourage participation by riders.

"Recent enforcement efforts led by the Salt Lake City Police Department are not intended to restrict community events but rather to ensure the safety and well-being of riders, pedestrians and neighbors," Wittenberg said. "While Salt Lake City supports community traditions, like the 999 Ride, reasonable public safety measures must continue to be enforced."

The police department said that during the 30-month period between January of 2021 and July of 2023, there were roughly 200 calls for service related to the weekly ride, which sees bike riders gather at 9 p.m. on Thursdays in the 9th and 9th neighborhood, before following an unplanned and impromptu route throughout the city. That call frequency translates to roughly 6 calls to the police every month, or a little more than 1 call each week.

Asked how that frequency compares to service calls related to daily rush hour traffic—which sees drivers gathering at routine places at routines times of day, resulting in high levels of pollution, property damage, injury and death—Weisberg disputed the comparison.

"Rush hour is not an organized event that is happening in our city," he said. "These [999 riders] are people who are coming together in large numbers."

The department's announcement described "criminal activity associated with" the weekly critical mass ride, such as public intoxication, criminal mischief, assaults, the blocking of roadways and noise ordinance violations. "These impacts are unfair to local businesses and community members who otherwise support this ride," the department stated. "The actions of some of the participants are negatively impacting community members who are forced to spend their resources and time to clean up and repair property damage."

And while the term "operation" was used in the department's announcement, Weisberg said police activity on June 6 was not a formal operation "per se" and declined to comment on whether similar police efforts would be applied to future rides, including the one expected to take place this evening.

"I can't speak to the future of law enforcement activity," he said. "We know that tonight is Thursday. We expect this event to happen again tonight. We are asking those who are going to participate to focus on safety and engage in this event appropriately."

One resident who participated in last week's ride said that while he was approaching 9th and 9th, he was warned by other riders to turn around and gather at Liberty Park, due to an atypical police presence at the traditional gathering location. He said when he entered Liberty Park, he found roughly 150 riders preparing to depart from the basketball court.

Beyond the time and location of where to begin the ride, there is no formal organization or leader of the 999. Individual riders participate for as long or as little as they like and large clusters of riders frequently divert from the main group to pursue their own preferred routes, not unlike driving behavior. In 2018, a 999 rider was struck by a train and died, but otherwise there are no documented cases of a rider striking and killing another person, unlike the roughly two deaths per month caused by drivers on Salt Lake's streets. (Currently, 2024 is trending below that rate.)

Weisberg said it can be "confusing" for drivers traveling near the ride to be surrounded by hundreds of cyclists, and he encouraged any such individuals to refrain aggressive reactions and behavior that could escalate tensions with ride participants.

"Let the event pass," he said. "Hopefully, the event is passing without any problems, but we do know there are a small group of individuals who have caused problems—and that has been documented."

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Benjamin Wood

Benjamin Wood

Bio:
Lifelong Utahn Benjamin Wood has worn the mantle of City Weekly's news editor since 2021. He studied journalism at Utah State University and previously wrote for The Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News and Entertainment Weekly

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