Police prepare for illegal ATV and dirt bike traffic in New Haven area

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You can hear thunder in the distance.

Unregistered ATVs and dirt bikes arrive – from West Haven, through New Haven and on to East Haven and sometimes Branford or Hamden – roaring through the streets of cities and towns they are not allowed to ride on.

Wheel up in the face of oncoming traffic. Scare some motorists, exasperate others.

As spring sets in and summer approaches, driven by the lure of attention on social media, it’s only a matter of time.

But runners take note: the police have tweaked their games to be better prepared. They talk to each other and coordinate their movements. They even have a regional law enforcement network to exchange information that didn’t exist a few years ago.

And increasingly, they’ve put in place stricter orders that will cost runners who get caught.

“If you come to New Haven to ride a bike (an illegal, unregistered ATV or dirt bike), you’re going to lose your bike and it will cost you $1,000,” the city’s deputy police chief said. , Karl Jacobson.

“The city has an ordinance” passed a few years ago, Jacobson said. “Fined $1,000 for riding an illegal ATV or dirt bike on city streets – subject to arrest.”

The charge: reckless endangerment.

“We can seize the bike,” although the owner has the option of calling a hearing officer, he said.

So far this year, the city has issued seven $1,000 fines, Jacobson said.

The New Haven ordinance, which the Board of Alders approved in December 2020, is being used as a model to tighten things up elsewhere – including Bridgeport – although New Haven has used ordinances in New London and Springfield, Mass., as models for his law, Jacobson mentioned.

Under the city’s current ordinance, first-time offenders illegally driving one of the city’s vehicles face a $1,000 fine, up from $99 previously. For a second offence, the fine increases to $1,500. All violations beyond that are $2,000.

Additionally, gas stations must post signs advising that they cannot sell gas to dirt bike and ATV riders – and for every illegal driver who fills up at a gas station, the owner could be liable to a fine of $100. (It’s normal for gas stations to sell fuel for ATVs or bikes that are on trailers, Jacobson said.)

“We’re also working with other communities on this, especially West Haven and East Haven,” Jacobson said.

New Haven police also have a 24/7 anonymous tip line that people can call to report illegal bicycling activity or planned events, he said. The number is 866-888-TIPS — or texts can be sent to 274637 (CRIMES).

In New Haven, it’s also illegal to drive ATVs or dirt bikes on private property unless the drivers have the owner’s permission — and if so, city noise ordinances still apply, said police spokesman Officer Scott Shumway.

New Haven police officers are also now equipped with dash cameras to help with law enforcement and the city will soon install additional surveillance cameras throughout the city as part of a $3.8 million expense. of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, Jacobson said.

West Haven Police Chief Joseph Perno said one of his biggest fears with large groups of ATV and dirt bike riders circulating on city streets is road rage. motorists they might block or scare away.

“When people are driving and seeing these groups, I think it would be best to pull over to the side” and wait for them to pass, Perno said. Road rage “is a very honest concern – and there have been crashes among the groups themselves,” he said.

“WHPD has open lines of communication with surrounding departments regarding the ATV/dirt bike issue,” Perno said. “There is a coordinated effort to identify the operators and, where possible, make an arrest. As with other departments, we are also talking to local service stations to try to gather information. »

West Haven works closely with other departments whenever there’s an issue — especially New Haven, because events often cross between the two cities, Perno said.

“There are hangouts everywhere and they’re basically in the New Haven-West Haven area,” he said. “New Haven has officers monitoring social media” and “when you see it’s going to be a good weekend,” police are gearing up, Perno said.

West Haven is also considering strengthening its ordinances to better accommodate ATVs and dirt bikes, but “we’ve seized bikes in the past” based on current ordinances, he said. “I’m looking at our pound right now. There are quads and dirt bikes there,” although “I can’t give you an exact amount,” Perno said.

East Haven Police Captain Joe Murgo said road rage was also a concern for him, and “and we’re just seeing an increase in that.” You just see the feeling that people don’t like that stuff.

“One, it’s so intimidating,” he said.

East Haven has also changed its ordinances in recent years to make the penalties tougher, and “we still reserve the right to seize these machines,” Murgo said. “If a conviction is pronounced, the bicycle is handed over to the organization that made the arrest.

“We have a whole machine storage container that we’ve seized over the years,” he said.

In recent years, police departments and other law enforcement agencies “have established a communication network” that allows them to share information about problems and suspects, Murgo said.

“It’s not just for mountain bikes. It’s for a whole host of law enforcement issues,” he said.

Organized rides “often go from West Haven to New Haven to East Haven,” Murgo said. “Sometimes they also go to Branford. When we start hearing about a big coordinated ride…all the agencies get together and come up with a game plan.

“We speak more frequently with New Haven, just because we border New Haven,” Murgo said.

“It’s difficult, because we’re not going to chase them ‘for security reasons,’ and they want to be chased,” Murgo said.

Meanwhile, “our phones light up with East Haven residents” asking, “Why don’t you stop them and arrest them?”

mark.zaretsky@hearstmediact.com

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