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Cops vs. Skateboarders: Issues in Property and Safety

Officer Rivieri, the officer featured in the video, was sued by the parents of the boy he attacked, but the case was recently thrown out of court in favor of Rivieri. But he may face department disciplinary action.

I recently saw this video of a Baltimore police officer yelling at and physically subduing a 14-year-old skateboarder. The video was posted in February 2008 and has been viewed on YouTube over 3 million times. But other than being popular, this video is not unique. A quick search on YouTube brings up a whole host of videos documenting the clashes between law enforcement and skateboarders, and these clashes have been taking place for as long as skateboarders have been on the streets. Sometimes it seems that skateboarders and cops are destined to be locked in an eternal battle over property, safety, and miscommunication.

As a parent, you want to make sure that your children are safe, but you also want to give them the freedom to pursue what they enjoy in life. There are a few main issues involved in skater/law enforcement clashes that might help us to better steer our skateboarding children away from confrontations with police.

Property Concerns

Most of the time, when police confront skaters it’s over issues involving private or public property. Some private property owners do not want skaters on their property, in front of their store, in their parking lot, etc., because they see skaters as a injury liability, and the same goes for public property. If a skater falls and seriously injures him or herself in or around private or public property, the owner or the city could be liable for that injury. To avoid being sued by a skater’s parents over their child’s high-injury-risk behavior, the city or private property owners deter skaters from practicing on the

A waxed curb

Example of a waxed curb

property through “No Skateboarding” signs and law enforcement patrols. As well, if a skater is caught skating on private property he or she could be charged with trespassing.

In addition to simple trespassing and the risk of potential injury, skaters often participate in defacing or damaging public and private property. Skaters use city features to do tricks. Objects like handrails, benches, stairs, curbs, or other concrete or metal structures can be damaged by skaters who use them to grind on, jump off, and jump onto. As well, most cities view the use of wax on concrete features as defacing public property, akin to graffiti. This damage costs the city money to fix, so it seems logical that they would want to keep skaters from damaging these features.

Public Nuisance

Concerns over property are not the only reason business owners and law enforcement don’t want skaters in certain areas. Because skateboarding is a very physical sport, not only does it pose an injury risk to skaters, but to other citizens as well. Not landing a jump or not having control of one’s board could cause skaters to run into other citizens in the immediate area, causing them injury. Depending on where the skating is happening and at what time, this can be a big concern for business owners who don’t want their customers hassled by skaters and law enforcement who want to keep citizens safe.

Skater fashion

Skater fashion

But beyond safety, many business owners don’t want skaters around simply because they do not have the image the business is trying to convey. In general, skateboarding is not only a sport but a fashion style that may include saggy pants, long hair, ripped clothing, and more. A business owner may be averse to letting these perceived shady characters skate on their property. And although, technically, only the fashion police can arrest you for looking grungy, law enforcement officers also want public places to look nice, so trying to persuade skaters to leave those areas might be viewed as a small-scale public beautification project.

Physical Threats

Although law enforcement has many reasons to enforce property and safety laws, that does not always mean they do so in an appropriate way. As evidenced in the video mentioned above, some officers will use force when they perceive that a citizen is being disrespectful or will not comply with verbal warnings. As well, law enforcement officers face potentially dangerous situations everyday and encounter a lot of criticism from the public and the media. Law enforcement is a high-stress job, and skaters who talk back, make off-color remarks, or don’t respect the law way be seen as a threat even if they pose no immediate physical threat at all.

Avoiding Police Confrontation

As a parent, it’s important to let your child know that law enforcement officers are mainly concerned with safety and property issues when it comes to skateboarders. Here are some thing to avoid:

  • Avoid skating on private or public property that explicitly states “No Skateboarding.”
  • Don’t damage property either by grinding on it or waxing it.
  • Show respect for law enforcement—even if you think they are in the wrong—showing respect will help avoid potentially dangerous confrontations. If the officer really is in the wrong, file a complaint. An officer who receives multiple complaints raises a red flag for that officer’s superior.
Skate park

Skate park

In areas where a skate park is available, help your child make use of it, so they can avoid confrontation with police. If you don’t have a skate park in your area, lobby your city council to build one and point out that creating such a park will reduce crime and concentrate skaters into one area. Overall, just keep in mind that police are not out to “get” your skateboarding son or daughter. They are just trying to keep your city safe and clean. If you let your child know what officers are most concerned about, you may help them to avoid potentially dangerous situations in the future and skate safety.

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17 thoughts on “Cops vs. Skateboarders: Issues in Property and Safety

  1. So if you can’t skate on public or private property, where can you skate? What if your city does not provide a skate park? Or if a private one is too expensive or hard to get to.

    The type of dress you are describing – a whole lot of teenagers dress that way. I don’t think that police should harass anyone for the way they look. That is discrimination.

    And although most police are good people, I believe there are some bad-tempered police out there who use their position to unnecessarily harass teenagers.

    Buffalo, NY

  2. Unfortunately, citizens who are mistreated by those who are sworn to ‘serve and protect’ have very little recourse. Filing a complaint is a waste of time, as the PD will take no action, and will always protect one of their own (this is a perfect example — even with the unquestionable video evidence, this ‘officer’ is still wearing a badge and carrying a gun.) Sad, but true.

  3. Debi, i totally agree with you on everything. skating is a sport, why aren’t other teens who ride on wheels given equal punishment. im a skater myself, and ive noticed that the signs specifically say “no SKATEBOARDING” so you can roller blade and bike? What is that?!? it IS dicrimination because you can ride a bike no problem, but as soon as you step foot on a skateboard suddenly your some punk goin around doing bad things. no!!! we just wanna skate! why don’t people understand that??

  4. Pingback: Issues in Privacy and Policing: Taser’s AXON Camera | The Crime Map

  5. what about private property do some of you people not understand? it’s up to the owners discretion if they want to allow it. YOU are not entitled to everything in the world! I want to be an Olympic swimmer but oh there is no local pool in my town for example what do I do? Force someone to create one for me? No skatepark? As long as you are skating and not damaging anything on public property it’s fine.

    • as long as i can run and hide somewhere the police can’t drive (they’re far too fat and lazy to persue on foot) i don’t think twice about skating on private property. there is no skatepark in my area so my area is the skatepark. all y’all laws can eat a big d

      • True that mate. Street skating is the one thing i enjoy to do just skating local spots and enjoying it. Police have no right to tell us to f*** off because they see us skaters as scrubbers!

  6. Ok 1st off that cop is a major duche bag. he has no right to treat that kid like that the kids “back talk” didnt seem like much more than a scared wisper to me. that video made me want to hunt that cop down and punch him in the face. and yes i do agree that skateboarding a rail or something can cause damage but im a skate myself and everyday after school i happily skate in my school parking lot not disturbing anyone. if im asked to leave a spot, i leave it, we are not “street rats” just because we enjoy and up and coming sport. Honesly skateboarding has saved my life. you could say im a troubled kid with my parrents getting divorced and if skateing wasnt and outlet to me i would probably be involved with drugs and alchohal and all that other dumb shit people do. so before you go saying skateboarding is a bad thing, do the research. 100′s of acceptable thing are more dangerous than my outlet.

  7. Yes this article is a load of shit. Its so lame that people freak out about skateboarding. I could be jumping down the stairs on my feet, yet if a cop see’s me jumping down the stairs ON A SKATEBOARD it’s suddenly some insane crime.

    I doubt any court would seriosly rule that someone skating on private property without the consent of the owner would win in court. The lesson here: skate on private property when it’s not in use.

    And fuck public property that doesn’t allow skating on it. It’s the publics, therefore it is owned by “everyone” and anyone can use it. Legitimately damaging it intentionally is different, but what if i were walking up a public set of stairs and they broke somehow? Would I be fined like I would if I were caught skating on them? I’ve never seen anything get damaged unless you grind on it, and really who cares if curbs have a little wax on them, they still function as curbs and did you really care what color the curb is?

  8. THIS IS A COMPLETELY BIASED ARTICLE. police do not care about safetly, they care about quotas, control over the weak, and the need to feed their power tripping crave. adrenaline in their drug and forever will be. never call the police for help, they will destroy your life.

  9. I live in Newport, RI and 90% of the skateboarders display anti-social behavior toward authority. They totally disrespect the law, engage
    in property damage via graffiti, tagging, littering, swearing, bullying…and generally breaking the law. I say ban all skateboarding on
    sidewalks and public roads and malls or anyway we hav people gathering. Skateboarding should be used only in parking lots,
    and skateboard parks….

    How do these 12 to 22 year old kids have time to skateboard? When I was that age I was more interested in finding part-time jobs
    so I could buy a car, and save money for college? Its the parents fault because these are just spoiled kids who want to continue
    to be immature right into adulthood. Skateboarding for any one over the age of 10 is like sucking your thumb! A good sign of
    total immaturity! Skateboarding is another way to waste valuable time during a period in their lives when hardwork should be the
    goal.

  10. I’ve bwen ѕurfing onliոe more than 3 hours today, yet I never found aոy interesting article like yours.

    It’s pretty worth enough for me. In my opinion,
    if all wеb owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the internet will bе a lot moгe useful than ever before.

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