Covert Camera Crew Nabs 9 Dirt Bikers

Thomas MacMillan PhotosA gang of masked dirt bikers circled around an unmarked car, spitting, shouting and throwing rocks. They didn’t realize that they were giving the two cops inside the evidence they needed to put them in handcuffs.

One of the cops was Sgt. Karl Jacobson, working as part of special operation to crack down on illegal dirt biking in New Haven. For 10 weeks, he and his cops in the Criminal Intelligence Unit drove the streets in unmarked cars, filming dirt bikers and ATV riders breaking the law by riding on city streets.

The investigation, “Operation Bike Life,” this week snared nine people who have allegedly been tearing around town on dirt bikes. Police secured warrants for their arrest based on videotape evidence gathered by Sgt. Jacobson and others. The arrests come on the heels of six other dirt-biker arrests during 10 weeks of the operation.

Operation Bike Life marks an important shift in the way cops are tackling the problem of dirt biking: Police discovered a way to arrest the bikers without having to chase them.

Cops and elected officials marked the success of the operation with a Friday afternoon press conference at the police training academy on Sherman Parkway, featuring 11 of the bikes and ATVs seized.

Each year as the weather turns warmer, dirt bikes hit the streets, flouting traffic laws and zipping between cars throughout town. Neighbors have long complained about the onslaught, but police have had limited means to combat it. The police department’s no-chase policy prevents cops from pursuing the dirt bikers, for fear of causing injury to bystanders.

This weeks’ arrests included one juvenile and eight men between the ages of 18 and 40 from New Haven, East Haven, and West Haven. Police have secured a total of 16 warrants, for crimes including reckless endangerment, illegal operation, interfering, and risk of injury—a felony. They expect to soon make three more arrests on five warrants. Sgt. Vincent Anastasio said he’s already talked to two of those bikers, to convince them to turn themselves in.

Hill Alderman Jorge Perez (pictured), president of the Board of Aldermen, said that he and Aldermen Al Paolillo and Justin Elicker formed a group that met with police, state legislators, and the city’s chief administrative officer to work on a solution to the dirt bike problem. He saluted state Reps. Roland Lemar and Pat Dillon for their efforts at the state level.

Chief Dean Esserman thanked the Board of Aldermen for their efforts. “They made the department hear the concerns of the community.”

Esserman singled out Sgt. Anastasio for his efforts as well.

“Zero Tolerance”

In an interview Friday afternoon at police headquarters, Sgt. Jacobson, Sgt. Anastasio (pictured), and Sgt. Al Vasquez stressed that the recent arrests are just the beginning. The police department has “zero tolerance” for illegal dirt biking and will continue to go after bikers, they said.

Sgt. Anastasio has been battling the dirt bike menace for several years in his district in the East Shore. Operation Bike Life grew out of his efforts. “We just want to make a statement that the behavior will not be tolerated anymore.”

Jacobson’s Criminal Intelligence Unit—which usually works on gang intelligence, covert operations, narcotics—started videotaping bikers in town two months ago. They recorded them riding recklessly, doing wheelies in the middle of the road, and scaring pedestrians. They showed the videos to Sgt. Anastasio and other cops, who ID’d the riders.

On one of the first days out videotaping, March 29, Jacobson and another cop were filming bikers near Farren Avenue and Fulton Street in the Annex. “We’d been following them for 30 minutes, trying to get faces.”

The bikers spotted the cops and the camera. They knew they were being filmed, they didn’t know it was cops behind the camera, Jacobson said. Civilians also often try to catch bikers on tape.

Jacobson stopped at a light and a biker pulled up next to him and spit on his window, Jacobson said. He turned left on Forbes Avenue and bikes circled the car.

“My guy wanted to jump out,” Jacobson said. He told the officer not to grab the bikers, even though they were in reach; he wanted to keep filming. “We had to restrain ourselves.”

One biker kicked the car. Another threw a rock that hit the back with a loud thunk. Little did the bikers know that another unmarked car was following from behind, catching the whole thing on tape.

Jacobson, who deals with some tough people in his unit’s normal investigations, said he had initially been a little skeptical that illegal dirt biking was such a big deal—until he experienced firsthand what it’s like. “These guys are insane!” he said. “These guys are so blatant.”

“The community deals with this every day,” said Anastasio.

Jacobson said bikers should beware. They can never know now when they’re being filmed by cops in unmarked cars, to serve warrants later. “No more riding around thinking they got away,” he said.

Jacobson said word has been circulating among the bikers that the cops are for real this time. He showed an image on his Blackberry of an Instagram photo one of the bikers posted: a picture of Jacobson’s business card with a comment below, “This ain’t no joke.”

Jacobson said his unit has a database of evidence on bikers: names, addresses, photos of riders and their bikes, information from social media.

Cops have also been working closely with prosecutors on “in-rem” seizures. In regular motor vehicle crime seizures, a dirt bike can be towed to a lot, where the owner can reclaim it for a fee. An “in-rem” seizure is used when the bike is evidence of a more significant crime, like a reckless endangerment. In those cases, the police seize the bike and keep it as evidence. Of the 16 bikes cops have seized, one has been an in-rem seizure. Police expect to convert four more to in-rem status.

A new state law will soon give police yet another tool in the fight against dirt bikes. The bill, which has passed both chambers and is expected to be signed by the governor, will allow the city to impose a $1,000 penalty for a first instance of illegal dirt biking, $1,500 for a second, and $2,000 for a third. State Rep. Dillon led that effort.

East Rock Alderman Justin Elicker, a candidate for mayor, released a statement Friday praising Chief Esserman and the police department for the crackdown. Elicker has been working on the dirt bike issue for some time. Click the video to watch him confront a teenaged dirt-biker at an aldermanic hearing he convened last November.

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posted by: Curious on June 7, 2013  12:50pm

AWESOME!  Esserman and Elicker getting results.  This is great.  I had started to think this was a lost cause.  It is nice to see a solution working.

posted by: kcgalo on June 7, 2013  1:30pm

Good work Chief Esserman, and all those who are part of Stop Illegal Traffic on Our Streets and who have helped by signing the online petition, repeatedly calling the non-emergency line, etc!

posted by: GoodNatured on June 7, 2013  1:35pm

HOORAY!! This is the kind of patient, low-key work that gets results.  I’m not surprised that it’s Esserman and Elicker who pulled it together.

posted by: Fairhavener on June 7, 2013  1:40pm

This is certainly a step in the right direction towards really fixing this glaringly broken window.

However, I am not so quick to give Esserman great credit here: he’s been brought into caring about this issue kicking and screaming. Justin on the other hand has been on it for the better part of one year.

posted by: Truth Avenger on June 7, 2013  1:41pm

Thank you to State Representative Patricia Dillon (of Westville) for her recent legislation increasing fines for illegal dirt bike use on public thoroughfares. In order to make sure that dirt bike outlaws remain in check, it is essential that citizens notify police when violations occur.  Working together,civility can be restored with a better quality of life for the majority of citizens who respect the rule of law.

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on June 7, 2013  2:13pm

Thank you to the police officers who have done their job tirelessly.  Not quite sure what Elicker has done to merit praise (other than sending out a press release) above any other alder person. 

I am more curious to see where this ends and whether it has any impact on dirt bike riding at all.  My guess is that there will be negligible impact.  That is not to say that the work was in vain, it is just work and deserves to be praised.  However, a more permanent preventative measure needs to be put in place.

posted by: We are bikelife on June 7, 2013  2:33pm

So it makes sense for the police to waste tax payer dollars to arrest kids for riding dirt bikes rather than sending them to arrest and prosecute drug dealers, murderers and thieves? I understand that, yes they are breaking the law, but in reality these could be another 20 kids on the streets of New Haven slinging crack and dope. New Haven is the fourth most dangerous city in the country and according to police their biggest problem is apprehending underage kids riding dirt bikes. The police need to spend a bit more time tracking down the real criminals and leaving these kids alone. I could understand if they were continuously ruining private or city property, but they aren’t.

posted by: Cedar Hill Merchant on June 7, 2013  3:01pm

Great News and Great Team Work!! So thankful some progress has been made before someone gets seriously injured! These bikes are DANGEROUS! Many Thanks to Chief Esserman, NHPD and Alderman Justin Elicker for a job well done!!

posted by: TheMadcap on June 7, 2013  3:32pm

I’m going to take a wild guess that We are bikelife is one of these people who rides bikes around the city.

It’s almost like, the police can do multiple things at once, like halve the murder rate in one year, and arrest idiots tearing through city streets on dirt bikes.

posted by: PH on June 7, 2013  3:37pm

@we are bikelife

The article states that 8 of the 9 arrested bikers are ages 18 to 40.  Those aren’t kids and they shouldn’t be treated like them. Even if they are under 18, if they are operating vehicles then they are subject to the same driving laws as the rest of us.  Driving a motorized vehicle at 80 mph, doing wheelies on the wrong side of the street, blowing through stop signs and red lights, flying past my children in the front yard and my mom crossing the street at the corner, damn right I think it should be a police priority.  Furthermore, if these “kids” are breaking this many laws this blatantly, and kicking cars and throwing rocks at people, I think there is a pretty good likelihood they are already breaking the drug and assault laws as well. Once they kill a child—and at this rate it is just a matter of time before that happens—then they will be murderers too.  So yeah, I’m happy to see my tax dollars being used to stop these maniacs before they get the chance to kill a person.

posted by: Curious on June 7, 2013  3:40pm

Wow.  So initially I thought this was fantastic, but I didn’t know that it was the undercover team doing this.  It’s great to nail these kids if they are threatening people and damaging cars….but why pull undercover cops off cases?

These cops should ride the bus undercover for ten weeks, and get some intel on the numerous people who openly talk about who they are buying their drugs from, and where.

“For 10 weeks, he and his cops in the Criminal Intelligence Unit drove the streets in unmarked cars, filming dirt bikers and ATV riders breaking the law by riding on city streets.”

posted by: disconnect on June 7, 2013  3:42pm

“We are bikelife”, yes, it makes sense for police to expend resources to combat reckless endangerment and the general state of lawlessness that not chasing these scumbags down promotes. See also broken windows theory. And believe it or not, it is possible for police departments to attempt to combat rape, murder, robbery, AND dirt bike scumbaggery, all at the same time.

posted by: anonymous on June 7, 2013  3:47pm

If convicted, let’s hope that these violent felons are locked away for a very long time. 

Can we arrest the rest of these violent people before they assault more citizens, so that more residents can enjoy their summer without being run over by an ATV or having rocks thrown in their face?

posted by: swatty on June 7, 2013  3:54pm

‘bout freaking time!

posted by: HewNaven on June 7, 2013  3:58pm


posted by: FrontStreet on June 7, 2013  4:13pm

Atticus Shrugged:

Last autumn, when I sent out a letter to all aldermen asking them to address the issue of dirtbikes/ATVs, Justin Elicker was the only alderman to take the time to respond and begin a dialogue of how to address the issue. He arranged meetings with community leaders to devise a strategy of how to get city hall to act.  He took the initiative to organize a public hearing on the issue before the aldermen’s committe on public safety.  He liasoned between the community, City Hall, and new haven reps in the state legislature to push through the new law on fines for illegal vehicles.  And he took the time to talk to NHPD about useful tools (laws) for them. 

HOORAY FOR NHPD.  This is an enormous quality of life issue that plagues cities like philadelphia and baltimore.  They have been unable, due to size and intensity of the problem, to stop the gang activity, but looks like New Haven may have a chance. 

And thanks to all the people who signed the petition earlier this year, urging the CT legislature to pass the law.  Also the many who showed up at the alderman committe meeting on public safety this winter.

posted by: Curious on June 7, 2013  4:20pm

Wow, looks like public enemy #1.

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 7, 2013  4:24pm

The Madcap,

Unless you have documented information about NHPD stopping murders before they happen, I would conjecture that the halved murder rate is just part of the ebb and flow of violence.  These numbers go up and down regularly over time.

posted by: P Christopher Ozyck on June 7, 2013  4:32pm

Can we use the traffic cameras to catch these guys?  If a camera can take a picture of the face of someone running a red light and license plate,  can’t we catch these guys running reds? 

When these guys threaten a young mom (as they did to my neighbor)  or threaten my family I will stick an object in thier spoke and incapacitate thier ride.  Thier rights are trampling my rights.

posted by: TheMadcap on June 7, 2013  5:00pm

Crime rates do ebb and flow, but they’re not disconnected from police action. The massive city/state/federal sweep some months back, community policing, meeting with the gangs and telling them if any murder is connected to a gang member, they’re going after everyone, solving old cold cases, greater connection with neighbors, all of these play a role.

I mean if these didn’t play a factor in it the end logical argument is why have a police force at all. Violence will just flow up and down naturally.

posted by: HhE on June 7, 2013  5:03pm

Hooray for Justin and the NHPD. 

Atticus Shrugged, do you read the same NHI I read?  Do you live in the same city I reside in?  Justin has been the elected official most one point on this problem (and a while bunch more). 

Yes, We are bikelife, it makes a huge amount of sense for the NHPD to “waste” tax dollars on arresting you tossers.  I hope they waste plenty more. 

I bet there are some dope slingers wondering why the police waste resources going after them too, and not solving “real” crimes. 

Our taxes would not be so high if there were not so many quality of life crimes. 

Bill Saunders , I am sure that part of the reduction in the murder rate is the ebb and flow of crime, and part is effective police work. 

Finally, thank you State Representative Patricia Dillon.  A meaningful consequence is an essential part of solving this problem.  The old $75 fine was a joke.

posted by: Xavier on June 7, 2013  5:06pm

Congratulations NHPD and the people of New Haven for this victory for safe streets and quiet neighborhoods.

Incredible restraint the police showed.

The New Haven Register actually put up the mug shots. Maybe one of these guys is a neighbor of ours.

posted by: BILLD23 on June 7, 2013  5:47pm

It’s pretty ridiculous someone on here said why bother them,  they’re not hurting anyone.  Excuse me,  but what about the throwing rocks at the car and spitting?  I’m sure that’s not the FIRST TIME. I’ve seen kids on dirt bikes in New Haven riding like they own the joint and they have come pretty close to hitting cars and causing Accidents. What happens when they hit a pedestrian and seriously hurt them or kill someone or themselves?  It’s going to happen someday,  watch.  Why don’t these kids go out and get a job and make something of themselves?  Why not pass a law that requires jail time eventually if they keep offending?

posted by: Truth Avenger on June 7, 2013  6:11pm

Getting these ego-driven show-offs off the public streets is a positive development.  I didn’t care for the video, which will no-doubt make a hero of the arm-swinging wheelie whiz.  Could also have done without the soundtrack and its repetition of words many will find offensive.  Just wonder how the rider, pictured going down Whalley-a major road in Westville, could ride with such impunity.  Riding down the same road in my station wagon at 40 miles per hour on this multi-lane state road, yielded a hefty speed-trap fine, even with all 4 wheels on the ground while moving with the traffic…  The Speed limit within City limits is 25 MPH. Seems the dirt bike riders should have been put out of business long ago based on their speeding alone, to say nothing of the reckless driving, noise nuisance and disturbing of the peace.  Better late than never, I suppose.

posted by: Rep. Pat Dillon on June 7, 2013  6:30pm

Great news! Enforcement is key.  There is no legal use on public roads, some riders threaten and terrify people for sport, and serious harm may result.
Several delegation members - Sen Looney and Reps Holder Winfield and Lemar - filed legislation and we cosponsored each other’s. I focused on increasing the penalty. If the Governor signs it, we can evaluate that and see if it’s helpful, or expand it later. Great police work!

posted by: Morris Cove Mom on June 7, 2013  6:34pm

This is great, but it left me feeling confused. Why, when I called the police department 6 times last month (4 times to 911, twice to 946-6316 as told to by 911) was nothing done in my neighborhood of Morris Cove? I told them there were 3-4 bikers speeding through stop signs on the corner of Hyde and Fort Hale. I told them that there was a little girl on a bicycle who was it harm’s way. I told them I saw the last name of one of the bikers, as he wore it on his jersey while speeding through the streets? is the chain broken (again) between dispatch and police?

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 7, 2013  6:52pm

Believe me Madcap, I love that the murder rate is down.
I don’t need to have another innocent teenager gunned down in eyesight of my front stoop.

But let’s wait to characterize the ‘numbers’ long term, rather than rallying around the dow-jones average of the day.

posted by: Wildwest on June 7, 2013  7:27pm

“Seems the dirt bike riders should have been put out of business long ago based on their speeding alone, to say nothing of the reckless driving, noise nuisance and disturbing of the peace.  Better late than never, I suppose.” Truth Avenger

I’m still completely shocked that the police finally decided to make a statement and do something.

Running old ladies off the road must be a real thrill for these children doing wheelies. Maybe when they grow up and move out of Moms house they can get some real bikes and try running some 18 wheelers off the road.

As far as Sgt. Jacobson, well sir, you must live in the suburbs. Thanks for getting it done anyways.

posted by: Guy Noir on June 7, 2013  7:35pm

Front Street-

Thanks for the information on Justin Elicker’s pioneering stance in recognizing the dirt bikers as a neighborhood menace.

Qualities and character of genuine leadership. Justin has my vote.

posted by: cp06 on June 7, 2013  8:32pm

This is good to hear and another example of how the NHPD is just getting better and better.

I understand that Elicker and many other Alders are concerned about this and have done some work, to varying degrees, on different aspects of this problem. What I don’t get is what Elicker had to do with this sting, specifically. I know he’s an Alder and running for Mayor. What does he do for work? I am wondering if he’s a police officer. Can anyone confirm? If he is a police officer, then it would make sense that he is credited with this in all the comments.

posted by: JMS on June 7, 2013  8:44pm

Great work. Would like to read more stories about this becoming a sustained and continued effort until the message becomes clear that this kind of illegal activity is simply no longer tolerated in this city. Arrest them. Take their bikes. Fine the crap out of them. Drag them and their parents into court. Go after the dealers that sell these products in this market where there are no viable legal riding areas to use their products. Make all of their lives as miserable as they make ours as residents. Thank you NHPD.


posted by: quinnipiacave on June 7, 2013  9:27pm

This is a very welcome step! I hope it continues.

posted by: HhE on June 8, 2013  7:21am

cp06, I know that nothing, including the work of the NHPD, happens in a vacuum.  Otherwise, the disastrous leadership of Chef Lemon would be of no moment or concern.  Like wise, the micromanagement of our mayor would not matter.

posted by: Claudia Herrera on June 8, 2013  7:40am

Thank you very much New Haven Police. I also applaud “zero tolerance” for illegal dirt biking.

Please do not neglect the racing cars that are fix in a way to make a very loud noise with the motors and played very loud music. Even if they are just park they played the music so laud that you can not heard what’s going on in your own home with the doors close. Please help. This people are annoying and disturbing the peace of many even in a very late/early hours, around 1 or 2 am or 5 to 7 am.

posted by: jdossgollin on June 8, 2013  2:09pm

Congrats on this the dirt bikes bother a lot of people. I still think though that there should be a way for people who just want to have a good time, not attack anyone or crazy stuff like these guys, to ride their bikes. In the summer time, kids are out of school, there’s not a lot of work, and if you’re not doing this stuff you’re not bothering anyone. I hope there can be a way for the kids who want to ride without bothering anyone to do that. I’d rather have them doing that than getting sucked into a lot of the other things going on in town.

posted by: TheMadcap on June 9, 2013  1:08pm

Reminder, these aren’t kids. One was under 18, the rest were above 20. God one of them was 40.

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on June 10, 2013  1:14am

This is nothing more than window dressing. This problem has been going on for more than a couple of years. To wait two years and expend what seems to be an enormous amount of time and resources to arrest only 9 bikers can hardly be called a victory. The readers who are applauding this effort are happy because finally some action has been taken. But its really just a drop in the bucket, and nothing has changed. At this rate we’ll take another 9 bikes off the street over the next 6 weeks. Find a more efficient way of getting these bikes off the streets, and do it in a way that worries more about the taxpayers safety and money and less about the legal rights and well-being of the bikers.

posted by: Truth Avenger on June 10, 2013  9:07am

@NewHavenTaxTooHigh:  Cynicism never solved anything.  The fact that the problem of dangerous riding in the wrong places has been recognized IS a victory.  That meaningful legislation is in the pipeline, means that progress is being made, even if you want to characterize that as a “drop in the bucket.”
I would suggest that any “window dressing” is coming from those who take pleasure from indulging in contrarian perspectives, from those that always find fault with the work of those trying to make things better. You can be sure that the illegal biker’s rights will be protected.  Part of the problem has been, until recently, that they were coddled. Steps taken in the right direction, no matter how small, is always welcomed and better than giving up because the problem seems so monumental.  Readers on this thread are right to be thankful and optimistic that progress is being made.

posted by: Wildwest on June 10, 2013  9:40am

More than anything I’m happy the police finally decided the public was worthy enough to be filled in on these busts they made. In speaking with my local top cop last year he claimed that they were making busts on a regular basis which I had a hard time believing since they never let the public know about it. I know a few of the faces in this 9 man bust and they are regulars so maybe this 9 man bust will help. I’m sure we can expect more masks will be worn from now on…

Did anyone notice if it was more quiet this weekend in the city or was it hard to tell with all the loud Harleys roaring around town?

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on June 10, 2013  11:19am

@Truth Avenger - You’ve become so accustomed to the ineptitude of City government that you are happy with the smallest of crumbs. The legislation in Hartford is a step in the right direction, but yet another example of poor government response - 2 years to pass some commonsense legislation!

New Haven’s zero tolerance for dirt bikers is a total farce. The response sends the wrong message to those who disobey laws in New Haven. If this were happening in NYC it would have been nipped in the bud.

posted by: Fairhavener on June 10, 2013  1:27pm

@NewHavenTaxTooHigh: actually, NYC has been dealing with reckless and illegal dirt biking too: . Not to mention, Baltimore and Philadelphia where the problem is completely out of control. My hope has always been that in a City as small as New Haven, the problem could be identified and dealt with effectively and quickly—two things that had not happened until now.

This bust has definitely been a good step—but I hear and share other’s fears that this may just be a flash in the pan on the enforcement front. I sure hope not, the peace and quite that we experienced in Fair Haven this weekend was almost mystifying—I spoke with many neighbors and it was as though the sound has been there on weekends for so long that many either noticed it immediately when it stopped or conversely, didn’t notice it at all since they had internalized it. That’s only the adults, I can’t imagine the benefits it brought to children in the neighborhoods that could now hear each other laugh and play without needing to shout over yet another constantly revving engine, though, as mentioned the decibel shattering often modified “legal” bikes were still out, unfortunately. Those should be the next step for enforcement. 

I encourage the NHPD to continue enforcing quality of life ordinances for the benefit of all of the good, non-law breaking people living in our City’s neighborhoods. Broken windows like these have affected our neighborhoods for long enough now—and I know that people are sick and tired of it. Apathy in a community is a very bad sign and I certainly heard/saw some of it among members of the Fair Haven community last year when the dirt bike problem was at its worst.

posted by: michaelnogelo on June 10, 2013  2:13pm

For “We are bikelife” and any others who think these are just “underage kids riding dirt bikes” and not “real criminals.”

Dirt biker runs into 7 year old girl:

Dirt bike hits school bus:

And this from 2008, when a group of dirt bikers almost killed a van driver after one of the bikers rear ended him:

posted by: FrontStreet on June 10, 2013  9:22pm

No doubt much work left before the dirt-bike/ATV gangs disappear.  Unfortunately I don’t expect the lull in activity this past weekend to last the whole summer.  It’s taken years for the problem to reach it’s epidemic proportion, so will take some time to turn the tide.  But holding the perpetrators accountable and, next year, effectively confiscating their bikes with the $ 1000 return fee, should help to get the bikes off the streets.

Expect to see alot of masked bikers. Already a few that ride with masks and I assume the rest will catch on quick.

posted by: TIME 4 A CHANGE on June 11, 2013  10:37pm

Excellent JOB !!!! Keep our streets safe. Now would New Haven support a dedicated place for these people to ride, not on city property but on private land or leased land from the city. I am suggesting an organized motor sports park for them to ride that brings tax dollars to the city and a place for them to ride? I think it would work especially if the riders had an alternative to the streets. Then if they get caught they automatically loose their unregistered quad or motorcycle, licensed drivers get automatic 90 day suspension and underage riders have a year added on their age to get their drivers license.