Up to 5 Years in Jail for Climbing Brooklyn Bridge, Senator Says

October 13, 2014 Updated: October 8, 2018

NEW YORK—It was a long way home for the two American flags replaced on July 22 atop the Brooklyn Bridge towers after German artists Mischa Leinkauf and Matthias Wermke took responsibility for the stunt.

The original flags were recovered in Germany, delivered to the local United States Embassy, then to the FBI legal attaché, who transmitted them to FBI in the United States, who handed them over to the New York City Police Department.

“The flags that were flying on the bridge that were taken down, are back home,” said John Miller, NYPD deputy commissioner of intelligence and counter-terrorism during a Monday press conference near the bridge. “They’re a part of the evidence in that case now.”

But Miller didn’t come just to bring the good news. He accompanied Senator Charles Schumer, who announced a bill that would make it a federal crime to pull such a shenanigan again.

“The laws are too weak,” Schumer said. New York trespassing law has a maximum penalty of one year in jail. “And it’s often three months,” Schumer said. “That’s not enough punishment to deter this behavior.”

He proposes up to five years in jail for trespassing on critical infrastructure, like bridges, tunnels, and power plants. But it also includes monuments such as the Statue of Liberty.

The bill is modeled after a federal law prohibiting trespassing on railroads, while borrowing the “critical infrastructure” definition from The Patriot Act passed after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“It must be made loud and clear … to any would-be trespasser, adrenaline junkie, potential criminal, or terrorist that the federal government and the NYPD take the threat very seriously,” Schumer said.

If the bill passes the city may put signs up alerting passersby to the law. “I wouldn’t rule it out. It’s not a bad idea,” Miller said.

Other Stunts

The city experienced several security breaches this year on structures that would be covered under the new law. In March, a 16-year-old boy slipped through a fence hole, past security guards, and climbed the 1 World Trade Center only to take a picture of himself.

In August, an activist group hung a Palestinian flag on the span of the Manhattan Bridge. A week later a Russian tourist Yaroslav Kolchin climbed to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge cables to take cellphone pictures.

Kolchin was arrested and tried. The prosecutor wanted three months in jail for him, but Judge ShawnDya L. Simpson refused. “It may not have been the smartest thing to do, but malicious? I don’t think so,” she said, according to CBSlocal.com. Kolchin was released after 90 hours of community service.

Schumer’s spokeswoman Meredith Kelly explained the new law wouldn’t necessarily send every trespasser to prison for years. According to Schumer’s press release, trespassers would be “fined and/or imprisoned for up to five years.”

The change will help to make a distinction between a harmless prank and a critical trespass.

Miller said, “It may be preoperational surveillance for an act of terrorism or something else,” he said.

Schumer, a Democrat, expects the bill to pass by March 2015 and mentioned he would ask Republican senator Peter King for help with bi-partisan support.

“This kind of law … usually passes pretty easily,” he said.

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