When the Police Seize Your Bicycle

It was a great evening, an invitation to the opening night of the Fine Arts Biennale at the Grand Palais Ephemère. The works for sale were museum-grade (with prices to go with them!) and champagne was being served to one and all. There is no better way to enjoy fine art than with a bottomless glass of champagne in hand!

But then, a whole section was cordoned off and an enormous crowd had formed; Macron had arrived. No sweat. I had visited the whole fair and was about to leave. When I finally retrieved my things from the cloakroom and got outside, there was the first hint of trouble. Macron was leaving with his eight-car cavalcade (we, the taxpayers, pay for all these cars, gas, and people for a single person to visit the fair) and we could not cross the driveway where his car and his court of cars were about to leave the underground parking lot. And my bicycle was just on the other side of that driveway.

And even worse, my electric bicycle was no longer attached to the railing I had locked it onto. What to do? The police informed me that the bicycles in the area had been taken away (in case of a riot, someone could take off a front tire and throw it at the president was the reasoning). I would find the bike at the Commissariat de Police of the 7th arrondissement, a 20-minute walk away or two metro stops and a walk. And all I had wanted to do was to get home and nurse my champagne high.

A cold walk in the dark later, there I recognized my bike chained up outside the commissariat. I was received inside by a young, indifferent police officer, who wanted nothing better than to see my back. But I wanted proof that the police had taken my bike for I wanted someone to pay for my broken locks. I was told to go the next day to the Town Hall of the 7th arrondissement and ask for the Contencieux. Fully aware of the need for proof for any administrative undertaking, I insisted on getting an official paper stating that the police had taken my bike. The officer handed over the night’s register of events and told me to take a photo which I duly did. But not finding it official enough (Hey! What’s a telephone photo worth? Although, in fact, later I learned that it was so official that it was illegal for me to have a copy!) I persisted in demanding a signed document asserting that the bike had been taken by the police and the locks broken. This I got, in the form of a letterhead document in administrative ambiguity.

When I finally got my bike unchained and started off, I found the front brake did not work at all. So I tried to get back into the commissariat, only to be told to come back the next day to file a complaint. Thus, home I pedaled with a simple back brake should I need to stop, the champagne euphoria of the evening long gone from my system. 

The next day armed with copies of the register, my receipts for the locks, the “main” document, and pictures of the broken locks in the bike basket in front of the police station, I left my far-flung home in the 20th arrondissement to cross Paris back to the chic 7th arrondissement town hall.

“No, Madame, there is nothing we can do for you. We do not handle such problems. You must telephone the Contencieux and explain the matter.” 

Putting the next turn of my administrative peregrination on hold for another day, I decided that while I was in the 7th arrondissement I might as well return to the police station to file my complaint against the police. 

At the entrance to the police station, I was questioned as to my reason for being there. The statement that I wanted to lodge a complaint against the police did not go over well with them. Unwilling to allow me into the station, they asked for proof concerning my bike’s removal, and at the shock of seeing my copy of the night’s register, which should in no way be in the hands of unauthorized individuals, they accompanied me to the information desk and duly confiscated the paper. 

At the information desk, I was greeted with disdain and a refusal. I was, of course, not in the right place, but in fact had to go to the “Contencieux.” As one person was trying to find where, in fact, I should address my complaint, I insisted with another that the night police shouldn’t be sending law-abiding citizens all over Paris to the wrong places and that we should be informed correctly, I was given all the reasons no fault could be found on their part which freed them not to take action: “It has nothing to do with us.” “They have their “chef” who should take care of them.” “We don’t see them as we don’t work at the same time….” To get me gone, they printed out an information sheet with whom I should contact.

Intrepid, the next day I took the risk and bicycled to the Musée d’Orsay. But not totally unconscious of possible peril, I stopped on my way home at my favorite bicycle repair shop to get the brakes taken care of. Obviously, the bike had been badly manhandled; the cable had been totally detached from the front brake. They fixed it in a jiffy while I aired my discontent with Macron and the police.

However, it seems that my administrative scavenger hunt was not over. While they sent me to call the préfecture, which I did, and after following all the six steps of pressing at least one of two numbers to choose from, none of them corresponded to the Contentieux. So I simply pressed for the switchboard. Surprisingly, they answered within seconds, put me through to someone who had nothing to do with the Contencieux, who then, finally put me through to someone who was well-informed on how to go about getting my dégradations de véhicule reimbursed. It had, like everything else, nothing to do with the telephone numbers I had originally been given. As at the commissariat, I mentioned that everyone should be informed correctly as to the procedure. He answered that they had been, but the recipients did not seem to have paid any attention to the information. It was then his turn to complain, that he was tired of getting phone calls like mine and having to waste his time which could be better spent. I commiserated profoundly and he gave me the correct e-mail address (no telephone) at, in fact, the service des affaires juridiques et du contentieux

I immediately got to work on the email explanation of the case complete with receipts, pictures, and official documents. An hour later I sent it off to my son to correct the French: no errors allowed in any official correspondence if we want to be taken seriously.

Three weeks later, no response. So I sent the email again asking for a confirmation that it had been received; a notification came back immediately that it had gone through. 

Tonight, five months later, to my great surprise I have received a reply. In predictable bureaucratese, they are sorry to inform me that “the outcome of the investigation in accordance with the elements which have been communicated by the judiciary authorities whereby the removal of [my] bicycle had been carried out by police services to ensure security near this sensitive site … that [they] cannot reserve a favorable follow-up of my application to be compensated, since no heavy fault by the public services of justice has been characterized” (my word-for-word translation). And if I disagree with this outcome, I can take them to court.

But we all know what happens when we try to fight city hall. Thus, a sad end to a story whose moral is: keep yourself and your bicycle as far away from Macron as possible, and don’t park any place near where he might want to drive by.

Photo is the picture of my bike the police kindly asked me to take the night it was damaged.

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