Yes, If a Cop Stops You On Your Bike, You Should Give Them Your Name

A Somerville rider tried to skirt the law and wiggle his way out of a citation, but he failed and got arrested.

Officers in Boston and beyond have been cracking down on cyclists who run red lights, squeak through stop signs, and fail to obey the general laws that motorists must adhere to.

But the citations and interactions with police officers often call into question what’s expected of those traveling on two wheels, and what’s legal and illegal.

The latest flap involved a Somerville man who was arrested by police for failing to identify himself after he tried to bike through a red light near Webster Avenue this month.

According to police, on July 22, the cyclist, later identified as Matthew Szklarz, was coming down Webster Avenue when he allegedly passed through a light. An officer stationed in the area on patrol stepped into the cyclist’s path and signaled for him to stop. When he didn’t, the officer then blocked the bike with his body.

The officer said in a report that when he tried to write Szklarz a citation, Szklarz said he didn’t have to supply his name to police. “When I asked him his name, he told me that he didn’t have to give it to me. When I told him that if he did not identify himself, I would arrest him, he responded, ‘You can’t do that,’” the officer stated in his report.

But it turns out, he can. And he did.

When asked about the legalities behind the arrest, Josh Zisson, a bike lawyer in Boston, referred Bostonand later, Somerville Police did too—to Massachusetts General Law Chapter 85, Section 11E.

The section states that if a police officer sees a cyclist violate a traffic law, they can ask them both their name and address if they don’t provide identification. If the person being questioned by police refuses that request, or gives false information, they can be given a fine of $20 to $50, and can be arrested without a warrant.

Unfortunately, Szklarz had to find out the hard way by putting his interpretation of the law to the test. “I handcuffed Mr. Szklarz. His bicycle was transported to the station, and Mr. Szklarz, who had identification, was booked in the usual manner,” police said of the arrest.

Lesson learned.


Steve Annear Steve Annear, Digital Writer at Boston Magazine sannear@bostonmagazine.com