A dispute between a Silver Spring activist and Montgomery County police took a turn when he received an unexpected criminal citation: failure to register his bike with the county.
Steve Silverman, who received the misdemeanor summons, didn’t know the law existed.
Neither did state Del. David Moon, who was troubled by the requirement and turned to Facebook to warn his 5,000 friends.
His post received hundreds of comments after Moon urged Montgomery County council members to repeal what he described as a “stupid law.”
Section 7-4 of the county code requires residents to register their bicycles and display a county decal in a visible location on the frame. It also gives police officers the ability to confiscate unregistered bicycles and issue misdemeanor citations for lack of compliance.
The code allows the county executive to set a fee for bike registration, but there’s currently no cost, according to the Montgomery County Police Department.
Registration can be completed online and is listed as a theft prevention strategy by police.
But Moon said the law was an unnecessary enforcement tool that could trigger confrontations between officers and civilians. He was also troubled to learn that the county directs sales from impounded or abandoned bicycles to a trust fund for injured and retired officers.
“It sets up kind of a perverse incentive for police to seize bikes,” Moon said on Thursday. “I came to a pretty quick conclusion that this was a problematic law.”
Silverman — who runs a blog on constitutional rights — sparked discussion earlier this month when he posted a video of the dispute on YouTube.
It attracted more than 4,000 views and 269 comments after Moon shared the link on Facebook. Two council members are now considering legislation that would amend the law to make bicycle registration voluntary.
Both officers and the police department declined to comment on the interaction, said Officer Rick Goodale, an MCPD spokesman.
Silverman’s video shows body camera footage from Montgomery County Police Officer Christopher Brown, who pulled him over in June for running a stop sign while riding his bike on Grove Street near downtown Silver Spring.
Silverman said in an interview this week that he was pulled over minutes after stopping at the corner of Cedar and Bonifant streets, where he paused to record Brown and another police officer — Cpl. Jason Halko — speaking to a teenager on the roadway.
After police ended the conversation, Silverman said, he went over to the teenager and spoke to him briefly about the exchange.
“I waited a few minutes for them to leave, then walked up to him and basically asked, ‘Was that voluntary? Did you want to be detained by those officers?’” Silverman said.
Both officers saw him speaking to the teen before they left in separate police cars, he said. Silverman gave the boy his business card and left on his bicycle a few minutes later.
Brown pulled him over a just a few blocks away, Silverman said.
The body camera footage, which Silverman obtained from police, shows Silverman and Brown briefly arguing at the scene. Silverman said he was being penalized for giving “educational information” to the other man. Brown replied that Silverman was being ticketed for running a stop sign.
After speaking with Silverman for a few minutes, Brown went back to his car. From the window, he asked Silverman, “Quick question — do you just try to intimidate me because you don’t want me to give you a ticket? Or why?”
Silverman replied that he wouldn’t answer the question and began filming the scene.
Halko, who was also present, told Silverman that he did not have the right to record while he was being detained for a violation. Silverman said he disagreed. Halko then examined Silverman’s bicycle and told Brown that it did not have a county registration sticker.
Brown issued Silverman a criminal citation for failing to display the decal, which required him to appear in court, Silverman said. He hired a defense attorney, and his charges were dropped on Nov. 12.
Moon said the video raised concerns that the county’s bike registration law could be used as retaliation by officers who wouldn’t ordinarily enforce it.
“My worry is that, like many laws, it’s going to be used for selective enforcement,” he said. “It seems designed to give police additional power without making the community any safer.”
Police did not immediately respond to a request for data on how frequently officers enforce the law, either by issuing citations or impounding the bicycle.
After the surge in public interest, Council Members Tom Hucker and Will Jawando told Bethesda Beat they would introduce new legislation to amend the law shortly after the County Council returns from recess on Jan. 13.
Jawando said he was considering legislation that would repeal the law entirely or amend it to make bicycle registration voluntary. He also said he was interested in directing proceeds from impounded bikes to a different cause, such as a road safety education program for children.
Hucker — who chuckled over the number of people who commented on Moon’s post — said his office was drafting a bill that would make registration voluntary.
“I still consider this a pretty low-stakes bill,” he said on Thursday. “I don’t think police are pulling people over on Colesville Road and ticketing them for not having their bike registered.”