City Looks To Tame Dirt-Bike “Wild West”

In the war against the scourge of illegal dirt biking, the city may have unearthed a new weapon—the ability to seize bikes and impound them.

That was one idea to emerge from a brainstorming session last week with three aldermen, a police lieutenant, and a lawyer with the city’s corporation counsel office. The group convened in City Hall as part of an ongoing effort to explore legal options the city might pursue to make it harder for dirt bikers to tear around the city frightening neighbors, flouting traffic laws, and even hitting children.

The perennial whine of two-stroke engines has again filled the air as dirt bikes hit the streets this summer. Click the play arrows above and below for a sample.

The bikes are not street legal, but cops have a hard time catching riders because of the city’s no-chase policy, which prohibits cops from pursuing them, for safety reasons.

Police have tried a variety of tactics to crack down on the dirt biking menace, from boxing them in to trying to find out where they’re stored at night.

When they are able to catch them, cops can ticket or arrest the rider and have the bike towed. The rider can then pick up his bike at the towing company lot, provided he proves his ownership and pays a fee of about $80. In some cases, cops can seize the bike as evidence, if an incident involves a more serious crime than operating without registration or insurance, said Lt. Jeff Hoffman.

At Thursday’s meeting, Hoffman joined Aldermen Justin Elicker, Jorge Perez, Al Paolillo, legislative liaison Matt Smith, and city lawyer Alison Lanoue to talk about what else the city can do.

Elicker said the most important idea to come out of Thursday’s meeting was a realization that the city’s ordinances allow cops to seize bikes in all cases, even if they are not evidence of a greater crime.

When a bike is seized, it’s harder for a dirt biker to get it back. Instead of just going to the tow yard and paying a fee, the rider has to go through a court process to recover it, Elicker said. When the cops seize a bike it might mean the bike stays off the streets longer.

“In New Haven, very few to no people that own a dirt bike are planning to operate it legally,” Elicker said.

Elicker said the law in question is Section 29-133e, among a set of laws covering “mini cycles,” a category that includes “Pocketbikes, mini bikes, mini cycles, mini sport bikes, mini motorcycles, mini dirt bikes, chopper scooters, motor scooters, bicycles with helper motors.” The ordinance states that police officers who catch people riding mini cycles on city streets may take the bike “into the custody of the New Haven Police Department, at the owner’s expense, pending a disposition of such property by court order or otherwise by law and proof of ownership…”

Thomas MacMillan File Photo“It’s a step forward without having to do anything,” Elicker said. The law is already on the books; cops can start using it immediately. “I think it’s a great thing.”

Lt. Hoffman said the police department is still working out the ramifications of the law and has not issued a new protocol on how to deal with dirt bikes. “Some logistical things have to be worked out first,” he said. The department would need to figure out where to store the bikes, for one thing.

Asked about Thursday’s meeting, city Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden said the city is looking into how it can use local and state laws to get ATV and dirt bikes off of city streets. Legal analysis is “still underway,” he said.

Elicker said the city is also looking to see if it has the ability to charge dirt bike riders a daily storage fee if cops seize their bike, which could make it even harder for them to get their bikes back on the street. If the city doesn’t already have that power, the next step would be to work on creating some state legislation to create or increase fees, he said.

“We welcome any new tools that the state legislature or board of alderman can give us,” said Lt. Hoffman. “We’re working with both legislative bodies to see what we can come up with.”

Thursday’s meeting came after a push by a new anti-dirt-biking coalition called Stop Illegal Traffic (SIT), which has been using SeeClickFix and Facebook to ask people to call and email the mayor and ask him to create stronger policies on dirt biking. Lee Cruz, one of the founders of the group, said SIT quickly realized the city has been trying to do just what the group had concluded was necessary: Find new and stronger legal avenues to prevent dirt biking on city streets.

A Shame

Thomas MacMillan Photo“It’s ridiculous out there. It’s like the wild west,” said David MacQuarrie (pictured), who’s run New Haven Power Sports on Whalley Avenue for 40 years. He said he’s used to seeing packs of dirt bikes zooming past his store, which sells motorcycles, scooters—and dirt bikes.

MacQuarrie said kids he’s sold bikes to come in now and then looking for papers to prove their ownership after their bike gets towed.

MacQuarrie said he always makes sure, when selling a dirt bike, that the buyer knows it’s not street legal. The bikes have “no blinkers, no mirrors, no lights,” he said. The knobby tires are designed for biting into dirt trails, and provide far less traction on an asphalt street. “They’re very unsafe.”

MacQuarrie said cops seizing more bikes isn’t likely to stop illegal riding. “Whether they collect them or not, I think that’s really going to change much.”

“Kids are kids. What are they going to do?” Dirt biking is better than being inside sitting in front of the TV or “out stealing iPods at Yale,” he said.

He said the ideal solution would be to give people a place to ride legally. He mentioned Milford Riders, a club track where dirt bikers can tear around to their hearts’ content.

New Haven’s problem is that dirt bike owners have no place to ride, he said. “It’s a shame. It’s the same in every city.”

Dirt biker Maajid Muhammad expressed similar sentiments this spring, at the court appearance of a fellow rider. He said dirt biking is a positive outlet for young people.  “It keeps you out of trouble. It’s something to do—riding bikes, having fun,” he said. “In New Haven’s there’s not a lot of activity the youth can get into.”

Asked about the rider who had recently run over the 7-year-old girl, Muhammad said, “Accidents happened. ... There are a couple of knuckleheads who can’t ride dirt bikes. That doesn’t mean you ban dirt bikes.”

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posted by: Wildwest on October 9, 2012  8:48am

“It keeps you out of trouble. It’s something to do—riding bikes, having fun,”....

It is trouble, its against the law for many reasons that I don’t need to list.

People that ride legally spend a ton of cash to do so and they don’t film themselves riding illegally in large groups all over the city blasting through stop signs and red lights.

I would have much less of a problem with these boys if they obeyed traffic laws and used the factory exhausts on these bikes.

posted by: anonymous on October 9, 2012  10:01am

The constant talk and press releases around this issue, year in and year out, is next to worthless. 

What residents actually want to see is

1) a monthly count of the number of bikes that have been ticketed and confiscated in their neighborhood, and

2) a sense of “responsiveness” when they call to report an illegal behavior like this. 

If residents don’t get an answer, or if they see that 10 bikes ere confiscated last year and none this year, they can take action.

The police and Mayor knew more than a decade ago that dirt bikes could be ticketed and confiscated, they were just too distracted to do anything about it.  They will continue to be uninterested in doing anything other than talk, until people hold them accountable for making the two changes suggested above.

posted by: HewNaven on October 9, 2012  11:01am

“Kids are kids. What are they going to do?” Dirt biking is better than being inside sitting in front of the TV or “out stealing iPods at Yale,” he said.

I didn’t realize those were the only 3 choices for kids in New Haven.

posted by: WestvilleAdvocate on October 9, 2012  11:25am

I cannot understand why, with all of our parks, the city doesn’t just open an ATV / dirt bike park.  Make a requirement that helmets and pads must be worn and that a legal guardian or, if 18+ years old personally, sign that the city is not liable?  Get them off the road, provide a place to ride, and satisfy everyone.

The current situation is ridiculous.  In Westville they tear through the park, intimidating park goers and law-abiding citizens.  My fear is that by not doing anything, which is essentially what the city’s stance has been up until now, something far worse than dirt biking will occur.  It is only a matter of time before one of the law abiding citizens snaps in the face of these dirt-bikers.

The other thing is that New Haven should be lobbying our state reps to require ANY motorized vehicle (ANY) to be registered with the DMV.  The under 150CC not having to be registered is an open door for interpreting the rules of our road in different ways.  By requiring all motorized vehicles to be registered, even off-road ATVs, the State will do a big part in helping alleviate the issues and law enforcement will have a real tool to impound and a reason to stop these riders.

posted by: BenBerkowitz on October 9, 2012  11:54am

Thanks for giving this issue the attention it deserves NHI.

I’m curious if you could also look into the onslaught of illegal motorcycles with straight pipes on our city streets.

Please see the issue on SeeClickFix which also already has 60 votes since this weekend when I reported it.

If the motorcycle noise on State Street is not curbed I have decided that I will leave for health and comfort reasons. Given all that we have put into the street I would hate for this to be the reason that we have to go.

If you feel the motorcycle noise on State Street needs to be curbed please vote here:

posted by: anonymous on October 9, 2012  12:08pm

If my street had the level of motorcycle noise that State Street experiences every day, I would be packing up immediately. 

As it stands now, the street is absolutely not a livable place, unless you are a student or shift worker who spends little time at home and sleeps from 3AM to noon every day.

posted by: MXRacer36 on October 9, 2012  12:56pm

If i lived in New Haven i would rather hear 2 strokes (which sound awesome) then people getting shot. And riding around dirt bikes is alot better than doing drugs. If the people get hurt and crash they will learn a lesson, to wear a helmet next time!

posted by: MXRacer36 on October 9, 2012  1:06pm

Why not just open a legal place to ride dirt bikes / ATVs? this would solve so many problems. and i would rather hear a 2 stroke ripping down the road (which sounds great!) than people getting shot! why doesn’t the police crack down on the many drug dealers in the city than the people that just ride around a dirt bike? its so easy for a 15 year old to get a bag of weed or coke or something. its easier than riding a dirt bike the way the people in the video do! If the people that ride around the city crash or something, they will learn a lesson, to wear proper gear!

posted by: Gauss on October 9, 2012  1:15pm

If there is no place to ride perhaps they should buy these bikes. There are lots of other things to do in the city besides riding bikes, shooting guns or stealing. What about mountain biking in one of the parks? Not so cool, I imagine, and it requires some actual skill instead of just money and gas.

posted by: RCguy on October 9, 2012  2:32pm

Yes-  a Private Motocross Club in Milford… now that’s a great idea. I wonder what elements will have to come together in order to build a private motocross club in West Haven.

posted by: RCguy on October 9, 2012  2:46pm

Some nice shout-outs in the credits of one of the videos:

posted by: Stephen Harris on October 9, 2012  5:57pm

It’s about time. I’ve called and talked to police officers a number of times to no avail. The bikers run red lights and stop signs all the time. Someday someone will get run over and killed.

posted by: FrontStreet on October 9, 2012  10:23pm

Best solution may be for state legislature to pass a much simpler law.  Impound and dispose of bike with no option to return to “owner”.  Maryland state legislature passed this type of law to help Baltimore deal with its very chaotic and dangerous urban dirtbike culture. 

Macquarrie should be happy that New Haven has not been as agressive as Baltimore in trying stop illegal use of dirtbikes.  No dirtbike or ATV sales allowed within Baltimore city limits.

posted by: Russell Street Libertarian on October 9, 2012  10:41pm

These dirt bikers are irritating,  but having to live with them in a jurisdiction filled with law enforcement officials that were either completely ignorant of the law OR outright lied at every bloody community meeting all summer about having to release bikes to the owners is INFURIATING.  Is Elicker mistaken or misinterpreting this law?

If not, one Sgt. whom, I was told, was “in charge” fed me the same story about the “bust he made last week” twice a month all summer.  A gritty tale about chasing two boys on a mini bike that he was forced to return to the kids grandfather up in Wallingford.  Six times, I heard this story between June and August, never a new one.  And each time he tells me this tale, he gave the bike back at the end. 

One of my neighbors said, “If calling the police gets no response, I will have to assume the same thing about calling the ambulance when they hit the pavement.  Why bother.”

posted by: Teacher in New Haven on October 10, 2012  7:17am

This is just one of many reasons that people move out, and one of many reasons they are unlikely to move back.

Say what you will about taxes, crime, and services… but this is just one of many quality of life issues that actually make day to day life in the Elm City less attractive. 

When someone rides a dirtbike down the street they are displaying a callous and unacceptable disregard for their fellow citizens.  They are loud, illegal nuisances.  And every single one of them (the dirt-bikes not the kids) represents not just an individual, but a whole family of people who don’t give a crap about anybody around them.

If you buy one of these for your kids, if you ride one of these on the street, if you run from the police when you are seen, you deserve not only the condemnation of NHI commenters, of your friends, and of your community, you deserve some kind of punishment.

On a personal level, in a city that puts so much blood and treasure into building and maintaining great schools, I think someone should note the homework that these kids might be doing.  What future does dirtbiking buy you?  And in what way is it better than having the education and the money to live in a place where your neighbors respect you enough not to wake you up at all hours of the night for a cheap thrill?

posted by: ISR on October 10, 2012  8:30am

How do you legally get your bike to the legally designated riding area?

posted by: Claudia Herrera on October 10, 2012  9:22am

After seeing these videos we all know how it’s feels, the upsetting and frustrations. We have not laws and control in others, ok I get it.

BUT QUALIT OF LIFE SHOULD BE A priority in New Haven.The City can start by enforcing laws in small things are happening all around New Haven.LCI needs more proactive laws, strategies and actions! Did I say enforce the laws? Take serious small complaints. One Word PREVENTION. These people know there are no laws to stop them and where we have them,there are no applied! No control. Wow Laws.

posted by: HhE on October 10, 2012  10:59am

MXRacer36, given your name, I would imagine you really like the sound of a two stroke dirt bike.  As someone who enjoys running his chain saws, I like the smell of two stroke fuel and bar oil.  Yet most of us do not care for the sound of dirt bikes; running up and down our streets, nor breaking the still of the woods (and I take a shower and a change of clothes before I go out into polite society).

While it might make sense to find a location of a public dirt bike trail, it does open up issues of liability and all that.  I also think that would not necessarily solve the problem (albeit, it might reduce it), as clearly, we have a large contingent of people who enjoy riding dirt bikes in an illegal and dangerous manor, and see nothing wrong with that. 

When people sanction their immoral conduct with the lame excuses like “At least I’m not shooting anybody.” we have a systemic cultural problem.

posted by: robn on October 10, 2012  11:13am


If a kid (parent?) can budget $1500-3000 for a motocross bike, they can budget another $250 for a carrier like this…

posted by: anonymous on October 10, 2012  11:21am

Teacher in New Haven is 100% correct. 

The hundreds of millions per year that we are investing in schools are absolutely worthless if this is the type of behavior we allow on the streets. 

New Haven Schools are guaranteed to fail if we let our environment decay like this.

posted by: stash093 on October 11, 2012  1:38pm

To Russell Street Libertarian - I am Sgt. Anastasio,Please don’t insult me like that in this public forum ..You know who I am and I didn’t tell that story 6 times because if I did you would have remembered that the grandfather is from Ansonia not Wallingford and I made him make me a promise that if I gave it back to him he would keep it in Ansonia ,he kept his promise, besides if you came to more than one meeting you would know that Sgt. Zona and I have been on a crusade about this issue since the beginning of the summer and we both have seized over 50 dirt-bikes and atvs throughout Fair Haven and Fair Haven Heights.I have brought pictures of those seizures and photos of the men we have arrested to the Community Meetings. The Police and the Board of Alderman,Corporation Councel have been working behind the scenes to find a resolution to this issue…No one is more frustrated than we are about this matter because I listen to all your frustrations and I cant put a stop to it without stronger laws…So please don’t minimize our efforts out there because we are trying!!! Just know that chasing them is not an option!!

posted by: Truth Avenger on October 11, 2012  3:54pm

I have harbored fantasies of stringing up a couple of lines across the road when these selfish yahoos go tearing up the streets with their noise-searing dirt bikes. They look foolish showing off at their age.  They run with impunity and at the expense of neighborhood tranquility and safety.  That simply should not be tolerated. Does sugar in the gas tank still work to disable a bike?  When they finally crack their heads open on the pavement like so many melons, sympathy will be in short supply.