Last Sunday night, two Portland Police Bureau officers threatened to arrest Zoobombers for the first time in their four-year history of riding mini bikes down the hill from the Oregon Zoo every weekend.
The move appears to be part of a confused reaction by police to a June 4 crash on Highway 26, which landed a female Zoobomber in the hospital and drew media attention—some of it exaggerated.
crash, police met with a mediator, bike attorney Mark Ginsberg, and a representative of the Zoobombers on June 16. The bombers agreed to stop using the tunnel on Highway 26, which is currently closed to bike traffic.
But at a subsequent problem-solving meeting on June 20, Central Precinct Commander Dave Benson asked TriMet to try closing the Washington Park MAX stop early on Sunday nights, citing public safety concerns. The stop is used as a drop-off by the Zoobombers, who meet every Sunday evening near Powell's and ride MAX up the hill.
TriMet declined, saying the community relies on the stop being open, and that the Zoobombers have been cooperative over the last four years.
Then this past Sunday, June 25, near the Rose Garden in Washington Park, two officers told Zoobombers they would arrest anyone following the normal route through the children's playground, which is closed after 10 pm. One of the Zoobombers diverted riders to a different route.
The Zoobombers feel the police's approach has been inconsistent.
"Asking to close the MAX stop and threatening some of us with arrest seems inappropriate, given the tone of our earlier meetings with the police," says David, one of the Zoobombers' oldest continuous members. "It feels like they are progressing an unknown agenda."
This week, Commander Benson says he did not know about the threatened arrests. He says his intention is not to stop the Zoobombers, but to ensure they are safe. Lieutenant Mark Kruger of the bureau's traffic division—who was one of the officers who met with the Zoobombers earlier this month—was surprised to hear Benson had asked for the MAX stop to be closed last Tuesday. He also said the officers threatening arrest on Sunday night were not from the traffic division.
Kruger added: "If the Zoobombers do it safely, I've got no problem with them. My concern is that somebody is going to get killed, and if that happens I can guarantee that the Zoobombers will no longer exist."