Iliana Inocencio, 23, got off the R train at Brooklyn’s Prospect Avenue station to walk to her apartment three blocks away. Ordinarily, she would have been hustling home with her purse clutched tightly to her chest. But on Tuesday night, her handbag swung freely on her arm as she ambled home.
Inocencio felt at ease because Jay “Rocket” Ruiz, 46, had been waiting for her as she ascended the subway stairs to escort her home, like he has done for over 30 women since he began the Brooklyn Bike Patrol in September.
Ruiz decided to form a safety escort service after watching footage of a Park Slope woman getting mugged on the news.
“The woman was screaming at the top of her lungs and no one helped her,” he said looking at his feet as if embarrassed. “I wish I could’ve been there for her, man. It broke me.”
A day after seeing the broadcast, Ruiz began standing outside Park Slope subway stations holding a sign with his name, phone number and e-mail address that said he would walk women home for free. Two months later, the Brooklyn Bike Patrol is serving about 30 clients at 25 different subway stations. Ruiz can be seen at these stations nightly distributing flyers.
“I can’t even see violence towards a girl in a movie,” said Ruiz. “I see my mother, my wife, my cousins and all the women in my life.”
Crime has been up in the most unlikely parts of Brooklyn since spring.
“Park Slope is a pretty affluent neighborhood,” said Inocencio, who works as an actress in Manhattan. “You wouldn’t expect crime in this neighborhood, but I’ve been hearing about it since I moved here in March.”
Inocencio usually calls Ruiz twice a week. She said that even though she doesn’t come home past 11 p.m., she feels safer when she’s walking alongside someone who can protect her.
Ruiz has a chain on his bike he can use as a weapon in case he or his client is attacked. Though a physical attack has yet to occur, Ruiz has been verbally attacked on Brooklyn Bike Patrol’s Facebook page. He had to report these threats to the police.
Ruiz walks with his bike between him and his clients, so they don’t feel uncomfortable. Upon reaching their buildings, he wishes them a good night and departs once they’re safely inside.
Ruiz calling his service a “patrol” might be misleading. He doesn’t actually make rounds around Brooklyn neighborhoods on his bike looking for criminals. He just uses his bike to quickly arrive where he’s needed.
You might ask what drives Ruiz’s altruism. But the better question would be to ask whom.
Even without seeing the Batman tattoo his chest, it’s easy to guess from his black and neon yellow T-shirt and Batman-themed ringtone.
“I’m a lunatic when it comes to Batman,” said Ruiz. “I like what he stands for. He’s a cool cat.”
Ruiz claimed his motives have very little to do with imitating his favorite superhero, though. He said he’s more concerned with improving the public perception of his race.
“Most of the police sketches I saw were of Latino men,” said Ruiz. “I’m Puerto Rican, so I want people to remember me as the good Latino guy.”
When Ruiz isn’t out being Brooklyn’s Batman, he’s working as a dispatcher for Quik Trak Messenger Service, or spending time with his 15-year-old son Brandon and wife Stacey, who he’s been married to for 18 years.
“I’m totally proud of him for doing this,” she said. “Don’t let his toughness fool you, though. He’s a big teddy bear at heart.”
Even with arthritis in his hip, Ruiz used to be able to bike from Brooklyn to his daytime job in Chelsea five times a week. But now because of his night patrol duties, he said he bikes to work only three times a week with the help of two Advil.
Ruiz began the Brooklyn Bike Patrol on Sept. 14 as a one-man operation. Since then, he has added 12 volunteers. More men have shown interest in volunteering, but Ruiz doesn’t allow just anyone onto his fleet.
“I talk to someone for a week and then have them pass out flyers,” he said. “I feel them out. I ask questions like, ‘Do you watch porn?’ and ‘Have you ever hit a woman?’”
Ruiz requires all of his volunteers to carry identification. He also asks Brooklyn’s 72nd police precinct to perform background checks on them. “They’re all stand-up guys,” he said.
One of his volunteers, Rob Blatt, 30, works by day as an interactive marketing manager. He read about Ruiz’s service on a Park Slope blog and called Ruiz asking to help. He’s now the vice president of Brooklyn Bike Patrol.
“This is my neighborhood,” said Blatt. “I don’t want people walking around in fear that something terrible might happen. I have a wife and don’t want her to feel that way either.”
The Brooklyn Bike Patrol operates Sundays thru Thursdays from 8 p.m. until midnight and on Fridays and Saturdays from 8 p.m. until 3 a.m.
Though to Ruiz, safety doesn’t end once a woman has arrived home. If she routinely calls each week and Ruiz hasn’t received a call recently, he’ll send a text message to make sure she’s safe.
“I’m not saying I’m Superman,” said Ruiz. “I’m saying I’m dedicated to the safety of women.”
(Published in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Written for Reporting and Writing class Nov. 11, 2011)