Are Dallas Police Misusing the City’s Bike Helmet Law to Profile Suspects?

It may sound like an uncontroversial measure but enforcement of Dallas’ bike helmet law has become a contentious issue following evidence that police are unevenly enforcing the ordinance.

An article in the Dallas Morning News stated the bike helmet ordinance is not being enforced at White Rock Lake, in Lakewood, along the Katy Trail and along popular biking routes.

But one police officer has been on a mission to enforce it downtown, according to the report.

“And be sure to cinch up that chin strap in poorer neighborhoods, areas with large minority populations and places identified by Dallas police as crime hot spots,” reported the Dallas Morning News.

The article referred to “uneven enforcement of the bike helmet ordinance” in an analysis of the 339 citations issued and more than 60 arrests made since the start of 2013, according to a Dallas Morning News review of police and court records.

The article raises a question as to whether enforcement of the law has been less about protecting cyclists, as it was originally intended, and more about a crime-fighting tool that officers are using to stop and question individuals they suspect have been involved in crimes.

It seems suspicious that officers have been mainly citing people for the ordinance in low-income areas, many of which overlap with targeted crime hot spots where police are focusing a considerable amount of their efforts to prevent crime.

Some stops for a helmet citation turned into drug possession busts.

Vernon Hale, a Dallas deputy police chief, defended the level of enforcement, saying it’s “not uncommon for enforcement action to be clustered in crime hot spots.”

However, the uneven enforcement of the ordinance, which results in a $10 fine for the first offense, certainly feels like profiling.

The idea of heavy enforcement of minor crimes in areas in which more serious crimes are prevalent is nothing new.

In New York in the 1980s the police targeted the infamous “squeegee men” in the 1980s and went hard on enforcing jaywalking laws in the 1990s.

However, the enforcement of the bicycle helmet law appears to be skewed and not helpful in protecting people who could suffer very serious head injuries if they are involved in an accident and lack the protection of a helmet.