A woman called the cops after seeing a dirt biker tear down Norton Street. Carlos Conceicao and Josh Kyle turned the corner wondering if the call was about the biker they’d been looking for. They had a “ghost” of an idea of how to catch him—on foot.
The idea: collect information to produce “ghost warrants.” And show that cops without wheels can have the last laugh.
The two walking cops (pictured above, conferring with Officer Renee Forte about the phoned-in report) from New Haven’s Dwight and West River neighborhoods know the names and addresses of the bikers they’ve started stalking this month. They know what the bikers look like. On this day, they’re hoping the phoned-in report might lead them to a man with braided dreads; he has burned enough rubber all over town to emerge as New Haven’s most-wanted outlaw dirt biker in the early stages of the warm weather mayhem season.
The riders speed around on illegal motorized bikes, pop wheelies in the street, weave around cars and pedestrians, drive against traffic, run lights, scare people, and laugh at walking-beat cops like Conceicao and Kyle along the way. They laugh because those cops can’t catch them.
“Our legs are not as fast as the dirt bike,” Conceicao acknowledged.
“Usually,” chipped in Kyle, “you get the smile: ‘Look at me cop! You can’t do nothing.’” Then zoom comes the show.
When that happens, Conceicao and Kyle remember the details. The rider’s appearance. The make of the bike. When and where. Then over time, as they walk their beat, they gradually gather evidence, see where people hang out, find out their addresses.
Based on that information, they’ve put together four arrest warrants recently for illegal quad and dirt-bikers. They call the warrants “ghost warrants” because the targets don’t get arrested at the time of the infraction. They don’t know the cops are coming for them.
The pair is working on two more ghost warrants, including one for the dreadlocked man, who has burned enough rubber all over town to emerge as wanted dirt biker number one in the early stages of the warm weather mayhem season.
Their mission grows out of two new trends in New Haven policing: the re-emergence of walking beats and the re-emergence of dirt bikers.
Three months ago, as part of an effort to revive community policing, the department began assigning teams of permanent walking cops in each of the city’s ten neighborhood districts. Conceicao and Kyle landed the gig in Dwight and West River, one of the toughest districts in town.
Meanwhile, police throughout town have pledged to stamp out the annual wave of illegal dirt-biking that starts annoying and outright endangering people each spring. (Read about that campaign here—and about one harrowing incident involving a 7-year-old girl at a bus stop here.)
The complaints have been coming in every day. On Wednesday a biker doing wheelies almost ran over Concaiceo.
In the past, the cops geared up the mobile “Quad Squad” to chase ATV drivers and dirt bikers in the act. Now supervisors worry about crashes resulting from such chases, about endangering kids or others walking the streets, Kyle said. So now it’s a new day, requiring new methods. Beginning with greeting people on streetcorners.
Hot & Cold
“How are you today, Mrs. Gatling?”
“Hey Randi. How you doing today?
To stand with Conceicao (at left in above photo) and Kyle (at right) at the corner of Chapel Street and Winthrop Avenue is to watch a steady procession of those greetings. Most are perfunctory, friendly. “I talk to people like I want people to talk to my grandmother,” said Conceicao, whose grandmother raised him. In other cases, someone will bike by with a wave, after which the officers relate their precise street addresses and details of their rap sheets.
The two make a contrast not just in appearance and background, but in temperament. Conceicao, 31, was born in Portugal and grew up in Bridgeport; he now lives in New Haven. Kyle, a 25-year-old product of Bristol, lives in suburban Southington. They clearly enjoy working together.
“Bridgeport, Southington—you can’t get more opposite than that,” Kyle noted. “But people are people.”
“I’m more emotional. He’s the laid-back guy,” Conceicao said.
“He gets revved up. I bring him down a notch,” added Kyle.
The pair has policed Dwight and West River on and off since graduating from the police academy in 2008. So they already knew a lot of people’s names before beginning the walking beat three months ago. Conceicao knew people so well, said his district manager, Lt. Ray Hassett, that he was able to identify six faces from a surveillance video of a Jan. 11 mob beating and enable police to arrest the perpetrators. (Read about that here.) “He knows everybody on his beat,” said Hassett, who recently nominated Conceicao for a regional policing award from the Exchange Club.
Ditching the patrol car has enabled them to talk more to people and learn more about them, Kyle said. As a result, the department’s detectives and narcotics investigators have begun calling him more for the skinny on suspects.
Kyle noted another advantage walking has over driving: the element of surprise. Down the block prostitutes regularly sat on milk crates, up to six at a time; they’d scram when they saw a cruiser coming from blocks away. Now, Kyle said, he and Conceicao will turn a corner on foot, close by, and catch them off guard; he said that has kept them away, at least during walking hours.
Not chasing radio calls in a cruiser also frees them up for random checks on ongoing complaints from neighbors. Like the one at 280 Winthrop. The house was abandoned. The owner wasn’t keeping it securely closed. Prostitutes were known to be working out of it. Two weeks ago Conceicao suggested popping in as he and Kyle walked by. They found three prostitutes standing in the front doorway. One had five outstanding warrants. As the officers spoke to her, a man and woman ran upstairs; the officers subsequently found them in the midst of a paid sexual act. The john started fighting with them: “He had a crack pipe in his right hand, a liquor bottle in his left hand,” Conceicao recalled. By the time they were done in the building, they had made six arrests.
Meanwhile, little kids were walking by the block with their mothers. In the two weeks since the bust, the kids haven’t been walking by hookers on their way home from school, Conceicao claimed.
Catching dirt bikers on foot is trickier, of course. It takes patient fact-gathering. It takes time. And some luck.
Like an opportunity that arose last week.
It arose three days after Conceicao and Kyle were walking on the sidewalk and saw men in their 20s working on a dirt bike and a quad in a Sherman Avenue driveway. The officers surprised them when they walked up to chat.
“Hey guys,” the officers said, “keep it in the yard. Don’t ride them in the street.”
Then, three days later, another officer, David Tortino, asked Conceicao and Kyle to take a ride with him in his cruiser. He needed back-up as he responded to a call.
While they drove they noticed those same young men riding the dirt bike and quad recklessly first around Edgewood and Orchard, then around Chapel and Sherman, weaving in and out of traffic. Tortino put on his lights and siren. They turned right onto Sherman and disappeared.
The three cops continued cruising. They passed the house on Sherman. Conceicao, riding in the back seat, banged on the window divider behind the front seat.
“Dave! Stop!” he called.
The three cops hopped out onto the driveway—and found the young men trying to slip their vehicles down Bilco basement doors.
No such neat ending followed the call that came in Monday afternoon about the dirt biker on Norton Street.
Officer Renee Forte was sent to the call. She pulled up to Conceicao and Kyle to relay the info. They hoped it was the dreadlocked biker—one more report they could use in building a ghost warrant case. But the caller mentioned nothing about dreadlocks. And the age she described was too young.
Still, the woman described a house where the bikers had come from. The dreadlocked man lives there, along with other young men reported to be bothering the neighborhood with their illegal riding. The woman had previously complained about the same house.
The three officers went to the house. In the backyard they found some young men, their father, and a little girl in pigtails. No sign of the dreadlocked man.
“Your neighbor is complaining about the noise from the dirt bike,” Forte informed the father.
No one here has been riding dirt bikes, the father responded.
“He was riding the bike,” the pigtailed girl interjected, pointing to a teenager.
The officers took note, said nothing in response. They departed; Conceicao and Kyle returned to walking the beat.
Soon after, back at Winthrop and Chapel, they saw three young men walk by across the street. The group included one of the young men from the house they’d just visited. The trio also included the dreadlocked Public Dirt Bike Outlaw #1.
The trio stared ahead, avoiding the officers’ eyes. They crossed into Monitor Square Park, then onto Batter Terrace. At that point they kept looking back, stealing glances.
“They’re doing reverse intel,” Conceicao noted.
A ghost, he said, may soon show up at the dreadlocked man’s door.
Related stories on new neighborhood walking beats:
• Fair Haven’s Walking Cops Follow Drug Trail
• Dear Abby—Er, Officer Mark (The Hill)
• Walking Cops Check In On The Champ (Dixwell)
• “Super SWAT Guy” Walks Mellower Beat
• The People Talk, The Cops Walk
• Wynne & Benedetto Start Walking The Beat (Downtown)
Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:
• Shafiq Abdussabur
• James Baker
• Lloyd Barrett
• Maneet Bhagtana
• Sheree Biros
• Paul Bicki
• Scott Branfuhr
• Dennis Burgh
• Rob Clark & Joe Roberts
• Sydney Collier
• David Coppola
• Roy Davis
• Joe Dease
• Milton DeJesus
• Brian Donnelly
• Anthony Duff
• Robert DuPont
• Bertram Etienne
• Paul Finch
• Jeffrey Fletcher
• Renee Forte
• Marco Francia
• William Gargone
• William Gargone & Mike Torre
• Derek Gartner
• Jon Haddad & Daniela Rodriguez
• Dan Hartnett
• Ray Hassett
• Robert Hayden
• Robin Higgins
• Ronnell Higgins
• William Hurley & Eddie Morrone
• Racheal Inconiglios
• Juan Ingles
• Paul Kenney
• Hilda Kilpatrick
• Herb Johnson
• John Kaczor & Alex Morgillo
• Peter Krause
• Peter Krause (2)
• Amanda Leyda
• Rob Levy
• Anthony Maio
• Steve McMorris
• Juan Monzon
• Chris Perrone
• Diego Quintero and Elvin Rivera
• Stephanie Redding
• Tony Reyes
• David Rivera
• Luis & David Rivera
• Luis Rivera (2)
• Salvador Rodriguez
• Brett Runlett
• David Runlett
• Marcus Tavares
• Martin Tchakirides
• Stephan Torquati
• Gene Trotman Jr.
• Kelly Turner
• Lars Vallin (& Xander)
• John Velleca
• Holly Wasilewski
• Alan Wenk
• Stephanija VanWilgen
• Michael Wuchek
• David Zannelli
• David Zaweski