Fort Lauderdale Cops Using Bike Registration Law to Racially Profile Blacks, Public Defender Says; Chief Responds UPDATED

Categories: Crime

Code20Photog via Flickr Creative Commons
On a sunny morning in 2011, Ellsworth Knowles Jr. was pedaling his bike through Fort Lauderdale, steering for the Midway Food Market at NW 11th and NW 1st Street. Before the outspoken African-American commercial painter hit his destination, plainclothes cops in an unmarked car rolled up, he says. They wanted to know if he had proper registration for his bike.

By then, Knowles, then 43, knew the routine. He says that he and others in his neighborhood had been stopped before. Under a Fort Lauderdale ordinance, city residents are required to register their bikes with the city. The police can impound bikes that are in violation. But according to Knowles - and now the Broward Public Defender -- cops regularly use a registration check as an excuse to detain people they deem suspicious - especially black people.

"This law was passed and designed for no other purpose than to stop black people," Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein tells New Times. "It's pretty clear that it's racial profiling."

UPDATED: Chief Franklin Adderley responds below.

See also: Lauderdale Cops Accused of Racial Profiling, but Their Actions May Be Law of the Land

"Essentially what they do, they'll stop you without any probably cause whatsoever," Knowles says.

As Knowles tells it, the police tried to search his person. He says he angrily told them to back off - throwing in a "blue-eyed, dog-smelling cracker" or two for effect - and argued that the ordinance didn't pertain to him because he didn't live in the city. In response, the cops smashed his chrome-trimmed black beach rider against the ground, warping the wheels, he claims. Court records show he was cited for license not carried, a bicycle brakes violation, and a bicycle regulation violation. Knowles says he refused to accept the citations. Knowles was charged with battery in 1989, and grand theft in 1995.

The banged-up bike aside, Knowles says the real problem is the whole reasoning fueling the stops. "They just can't use the fact that you may not have your bike registered as a precursor to stop you," he says. "We feel we're in imminent danger whenever we walk out the door because of the negative history of dealing with the police."

See also: Blacks Are Arrested for Weed Almost Four Times as Often as Whites in Broward

On Friday, Finkelstein delivered a letter to the State's Attorney office alleging, "[O]fficers are profiling minorities and stopping them for failure to have a bicycle permit." According to a review performed by investigators in his office, Finkelstein says black males made up 96 percent of the individuals slapped with ordinance violations between January and May of this year. Since December 2010, black males have made up 85 percent - 395 out of 437 - tickets issued by the department. "Only 2% of tickets issued for bike permits are issued in neighborhoods east of U.S. 1, which are predominately white," the letter reads.

Finkelstein told New Times,"biking while black" is just an extension of the patterns his office has seen with police targeting minorities in cars and walking the street.

When New Times spoke with Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Franklin Adderley, he questioned Finkelstein's motivations and denied allegations of racial profiling.

"Let's tee it up in a community forum, me and Finkelstein," he told New Times. "Let's let the black community decide who they want to follow on this."

According to Adderley's own stats, the city has issued 3,180 citations since 2010, with 1,964 of the violators black and 1,135 white. But more than a numbers game, Adderley seemed to take issue with the idea that his department is preying on the black community while the Public Defender is looking out for their best interests, or that a white guy riding down the street selling crack from his bike in Rio Vista wouldn't be stopped by police.

"Where I rest my head at night is in the black community, and I don't see [Finkelstein] at our community meetings when we're talking about our concerns," he said.

Adderley said that members of the community, concerned about drugs and crime, haven't complained about police officers using the bike ordinance inappropriately.

Also, he said that Finkelstein job is to represent the very offenders causing problems in the black community. "Some of his comments are probably more appropriate for his closing arguments," he said. "My job as the police chief in Fort Lauderdale is I have to manage crime every day. I have to manage the community's concerns."

Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help

Who commits more violent crime? 

Where are the problem areas in the city?

if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it isn't a rose...  

if you want to stop crime, you go where crime exists.  not where its not.


What is the point of this law?  The very first I have ever heard of it, but it makes no sense.  Pretty sure no one has ever been killed by a bike.  How about registering something that can actually cause harm?

icculus17 topcommenter

cops didn't give a shit when I had two bikes stolen from my own property

KennyPowersII topcommenter

Is this warped piece of crap ordinance designed for adult bike riders only. How about a kid on a 2 wheeler with training wheels. Tell me all about fighting for freedoms. What is next, registering to walk?


Finkelstein is on point here. As a non-African American who lived in Fort Lauderdale and obeys the law, I had no idea that this law existed, and I'm an attorney as well who lived there off of Las Olas for five years. NONE of my several hundred friends have any idea that this "law" exists. Not one.Its beyond ridiculous, since its likely buried somewhere in the ordinance code and kept well out of sight. Welcome to Fort Lauderdale: where you can walk around with an open container on Himarshee (if you are white), but be stopped, searched, harassed and arrested for riding your bike (if black). Mr. Adderly, so you expect every citizen, especially poor ones, let alone wealthier ones, to read the entire ordinance code before getting on a bicycle before moving to that city? ENFORCEMENT OF LAWS IS DISCRETIONARY. Trust me, you are selective in that as well, as every cop is, Do we pull every driver over going one mile per hour over the speed limit? This is not some "closing argument" bs, but real-life harassment of ordinary people by you and your employees, without good reason.

Alex Johnson
Alex Johnson

Florida does not even inspect cars for safety anymore, but Ft. Lauderdale requires bikes to be registered. BS !


The Fort Lauderdale city registration is a joke.  It is not county wide, or state wide.  Other police departments in Broward don't have access to it, nor do used bike dealers.  The database does no real good.

To be effective we need a free, online state wide registration system, like facebook for bicycles.  The Broward Sheriff's office already has have such a system. See here:

Only proper state wide registration makes sense, because otherwise a bicycle just moves to the next city over and is sold there.  We NEED a state wide system, We NEED the ability for bike shops to register the sales, and we need a system that is easy to get all the existing bikes registered, either free on line, or maybe through your local bike shop.  We live in an internet age, one should be able to fill out an online form and upload a picture of your bike.

Requiring people to take time off work to travel to the central police station in down town Fort Lauderdale, with the bike, to register the bike in person is unreasonably burdensome, especially when the registration is so local it is all but worthless in terms of recovering stolen bikes. 

By state law, vehicle registration is regulated by the State, not cities.  It just makes sense that way.  Bicycles are human powered vehicles, so if cities want them registered the cities need to do it through the state.

Until the cites, counties and State figure out a common database where police agencies everywhere have access to the data, and used bike dealers can clear purchases against a current state wide stolen bike list, local registration is at best just theater, or at worst just local excuse to profile.  

If the Fort Lauderdale police really wanted to curb bike theft they would put out a few decoy bikes with electronic tracking, and run a sting to get both the thief' and the dealers in stolen bikes, the same way they run stings for hookers or drug dealers.


@Alex Johnson ever have a bike stolen???registration of bike give you half a chance of getting it back


@JMX2   when I lived in the city, I knew about the law and registered my bike.


@JMX2 We don't need a state or national database; we need less intrusion of our lives and properties, not more.  This ordinance, no matter how well intentioned, didn't create a safer community, it created far more distrust in our law enforcement.  Creating a bigger database will do the same and possibly far worse.  Creating a registry only creates more problems for the poor who can't afford cars and use bicycles as their primary means of transport.  We want to make it simpler and easier for them, not add to their already difficult lives.  Your last paragraph hits it right on the head, running programs that would actually catch thieves and fine them would be far more effective than ticketing an ordinary, law abiding citizen that didn't register his/her bicycle.  This is another case of government creating something that isn't necessary, and only hurts ordinary citizens.  The profiling is an obvious problem, but what about the fine these citizens are having to pay for such a ludicrous ordinance?  Really, is this making our streets safer?  It's just another form of taxation aimed at the lower and middle class.  The bad clearly outweighs the good here; Ft. Lauderdale should do the right thing and scratch the ordinance altogether.  

Now Trending

Miami Concert Tickets

From the Vault