Seven Towns Team Up Against Dirt Bikers

Thomas MacMillan PhotoThree days before dirt bikers plan to descend en masse on New Haven, seven police departments have banded together to combat what one chief called “urban terrorism.”

East Haven Chief Brent Larrabee offered that epithet at a press conference at New Haven police headquarters Thursday afternoon featuring top brass from seven police departments.

Top cops from Branford, East Haven, Hamden, New Haven, North Branford, North Haven and West Haven announced they are teaming up to crack down on illegal ATV and dirt bike riding in the seven towns.

Police unveiled a new anonymous tip line—(203) 946-6098—and asked people to call with information about where people are riding and storing dirt bikes. People can email tips, including photos and videos,.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

New Haven Sgt. Karl Jacobson (pictured), of the Criminal Intelligence Unit, announced that police have learned that dirt bikers plan a Sunday ride in New Haven. He said police are prepared to enforce laws prohibiting dirt bikes on city streets.

New Haven police are at a disadvantage when they try to enforce those laws; they don’t chase after dirt bikers, for fear it might lead to injury of bystanders or cops or riders. Police instead rely on covert surveillance of dirt bikes and dirt bikers, trying to find out where bikes are stored, and putting together warrants for arrest. They had success with these techniques last year.

The state legislature has approved laws that give the police more tools to combat dirt bikers. And new local ordinance jacks up the fine for illegal dirt biking from $99 to $1,000.

Thursday’s press conference marked the beginning of an effort to step up enforcement efforts further, by joining forces across town borders.

“The borders between our communities are invisible,” New Haven police Chief Dean Esserman said. The police chiefs “speak with one voice,” he said.

Jacobson said police are ready for May 25. “We know you’re going on to our city that day,” Jacobson said. If anyone is found riding a dirt bike illegally, he said, “we’ll seize it.”

Lt. Herb Johnson and Sgt. Vincent Anastasio—top cops in Fair Haven and the East Shore, respectively—spoke about how dirt bikers have plagued their districts. They referred to it as a quality of life issue involving kids on bikes.

East Haven’s Chief Larrabee (pictured) disagreed. In East Haven, it’s not kids and it’s not just a nuisance, he said.

“It’s almost urban terrorism the way they surround cars now,” Larrabee said. He said dirt bikers swarm around cars in a manner than can be very frightening and dangerous, especially for older drivers.

“They’re not children,” Larabee said of the riders. “They’re really, in my view, terrorists.”

Police from Branford and North Haven said their problems with dirt bikes have to do with bikers tearing around in parks.

“We’ll be deploying our own ATV in open space areas,” said North Haven’s Capt. Mark Genovese.

Chief Esserman closed the press conference with a final plea for information. He called on people to take pictures and videos of dirt bikes in action or at rest. If you see a dirt bike in your neighbor’s yard, phone in the address to police. If you see a truck with a dirt bike in the back, write down the plate number, Esserman said.

With the public’s help, police can “put a stop to this dangerous behavior,” Esserman said.

“We need to do everything possible,” said Fair Haven Heights Alder Rosa Santana, “because people are afraid.”

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posted by: Mark Oppenheimer on May 22, 2014  7:57pm

And then there’s the way they tear through our parks, endangering our children.

And so help me, don’t write “there’s nothing else for young people to do for fun.” First, they’re not all “young”—some are adults, who really should know better. Second, there are lots of other things people can do for fun.

posted by: Jones Gore on May 22, 2014  9:15pm

If it is illegal to ride these bikes in CT, and if what the owner of Power Sports is correct in that there is not place to ride these why are the allowed to be sold.

Although I think people should be arrest for riding these, it should be illegal to sell them in CT.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on May 22, 2014  9:57pm

Any plans to crack down on the parents of underage dirt-bikers?  These kids don’t get these vehicles without some adult involvement.  The dirt bikers who go back and forth, back and forth, up and down Colony Road, making a bloody awful racket, are in their early teens.  They are illegally riding a motor vehicle on a public road, and they incidentally fail to obey traffic rules.  Their parents surely know about this, and turn a blind eye.

I think the cops are crazy to call it terrorism, though—at least not the way it’s carried out in this neighborhood. Dirt bikes are a safety hazard and a major nuisance, but give me a break.  Dirt bikers are not out to hurt anybody.  They are a bunch of reckless and inconsiderate kids in love with noise and speed. 

Save the “terrorism” language for the damn GUNS.

posted by: ipsca on May 22, 2014  10:07pm

“If you see a dirt bike in your neighbor’s yard, phone in the address to police. If you see a truck with a dirt bike in the back, write down the plate number, Esserman said.”

Since when was owning a dirt bike illegal?

posted by: OccupyTheClassroom on May 22, 2014  10:22pm

When something is outlawed then only outlaws will something.

posted by: BenBerkowitz on May 22, 2014  11:20pm

Check #bikelife on twitter. they are reporting their own where abouts in real-time.

As an aside why the different phone number? What’s wrong with the regular phone number and SeeClicKFix where they have been reported for years?

posted by: Seth Poole on May 22, 2014  11:36pm

The crusade against street riders is getting completely out of hand.  The collective approach toward this issue is another way to criminalize being young and male in our city.  These kids are extremely talented on these dirt bikes and ATV’s, and instead of aiding in their efforts to hone these skills in the extremely lucrative racing and freestyle arenas, we write policy to hasten their descent into the criminal injustice system.  We should be ashamed of ourselves. Especially because no one is directing their gaze toward Libby’s and New Haven Powersports.  My only question is how many deaths have resulted from this “urban terrorism”?

posted by: citoyen on May 23, 2014  12:16am

Aha!  Apparently it *is* possible for officials to rally against a problem on our region’s streets.

So when are municipal police departments, and the state legislature, going to rally themselves, and enlist citizen support, against red-light runners??—who are much more common—and actually more dangerous—than the odious dirt-bike riders?

Drivers of all kinds in this region are *out of control.*  The outrages are visible every day to anyone on the streets, whether driving or walking or cycling.  We all know this.

It’s a lot easier to crack down on a bunch of stupid kids than on masses of ordinary drivers who break the law every day.

We’re able to create a groundswell against a relative minority, but not against ourselves.

Planners can sit at their drawing tables all day making nice designs for one-way streets and new traffic circles, but these are distractions.  They cannot really become solutions to anything until there is actual enforcement in these parts of basic driving standards by which we all need to live.

posted by: DingDong on May 23, 2014  12:37am

Legalize pot.  Criminalize dirt bikes.

posted by: FranklyShankly on May 23, 2014  6:46am

Come to Quinnipiac Avenue and sit in the parking lot of the abandoned restaurant and you will see them all day long. Just another thing that makes New Haven such a great place to live.

posted by: Ozzie on May 23, 2014  7:57am

The Police are obviously not going to chase the riders for fear of causing an accident and potential lawsuit. So here’s an alternative, get the help from State Police helicopter . These riders ( most who ride in wolf packs) are obviously going to bait the police into chasing them so let them go and have the State Police follow them.
    Once the riders pull into a rear yard then the local Police are notified where the bikes are at and the bikes are confiscated and the riders if found are arrested.i’ll bet most of the bikes are stolen anyway.

posted by: Carlos R. Galo on May 23, 2014  8:50am

@Seth P: I hear and agree with you. I really do. However, what would you say to the good folks who are—presumably like yourself—fighting the good fight and helping our youth, but who still feel like they can’t enjoy some peace and quiet on a Sunday in their own neighborhood? At its worse, this problem was a 12-hour motocross racing event on our streets held nearly every weekend in Spring, Summer, Fall, and even Winter during major snowstorms. The “kids” who really are 20 and 30 somethings with jobs—would ride at you during Nemo getting their kicks in while preventing traffic from getting through during a pretty major storm relief effort. Where was their compassion for people then?

I agree with you in that the use of the word “terrorism” by the East Haven Chief of Police is inappropriate and well misplaced here and I am certainly not an advocate for that type of criminalization; however, I am also not an advocate for communities to sit idle and continue to let their neighborhoods become places where “anything goes” so long as you don’t get caught. I think fostering an environment with lack of all consequence hinders every bit of the good that many of us do for our youth.

posted by: longlivenewhaven on May 23, 2014  9:09am

These dirt bikers – young and old – are an absolute nuisance, but it’s a bit of a stretch to call this something so colloquial as “urban terrorism.”

It’s also completely unfair to make the riding of these bikes illegal. Yes, it’s a pain in the behind. You willingly moved to a city that has this problem, and therefore should have thought twice if something like “city noise” disturbs you.

Why does everyone want to take other peoples’ rights away from them? It makes no sense to me.

posted by: jim1 on May 23, 2014  9:39am

I will be out with my camera, and call in any bikers in Wooster Sq.

posted by: Mark Oppenheimer on May 23, 2014  9:45am

Seth P: That’s a joke, right? We have to wait until there’s a death to be mad about this? Kids zooming by my 3-year-old at 50 miles an hour through a PARK where no driving is aloud—I shouldn’t get angry about that? Also: where’s your evidence that biking is lucrative for any but a tiny minority of superstars? That’s your answer to this problem? Tell more young males that sports—a tiny, little-known sport at that—is the way up and out? Finally: I don’t want to criminalize being young and male; I want the laws against illegal dirtbiking to be enforced. Because this dirtbiking is dangerous. And cities should be less dangerous places, not more. Anyway, I’m guessing you’re not a dad, or at least not one whose been with your children when these dirtbikers are speeding through our parks.

posted by: 32knot on May 23, 2014  10:02am

The kids may not be terrorists but why do they hide their faces!!  they may not be hardened criminals but why do they run. The police do not want to put bystanders at risk but the riders have no problems at risking others safety. This is a huge problem and the ” boys will be boys…” attitude is out of place. this sounds like a great opportunity for police drones and the hated red light cameras to help deter these folks that are not a part of the community when they break the laws.

posted by: robn on May 23, 2014  10:15am

There is a commercial track available in Rocky Hill. One in Windsor was shut down by the city in 2011 because of noise complaints. If its impossible to have outdoor motocross in such a small state without it being a nuisance, the state needs to allow police to stop it. When I see a motorcycle riding on a sidewalk it makes me yearn for the good old days of caltrops.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 23, 2014  10:19am

Seth P,
In your opinion, how many deaths is acceptable? What is your opinion on street racing? Those drivers are extremely talented and pour a lot of money into their cars - should we encourage street racing as a way to allow people to show their talent and express themselves? Where do you live, can the street races be held on your street?

I’m a talented graffiti artist, can I draw one of my pieces on your house? I’ve really talented, trust me. I just want to express myself on the side of your house.

I’m also really good at picking locks. I would be able to make a lot of money in the lucrative thief business if it weren’t frowned upon by society and illegal.

It’s one thing to ride a dirt bike around with caution to have a bit of fun - I did it when I was younger. It’s an entirely different thing to ride recklessly and with malice intent towards others, which is what often happens. When I rode up and down the street in my friends go-cart, we waited until no cars were around and we didn’t go out onto busy streets and we didn’t slam the accelerator to the ground to make excessive noise. If neighbors asked us to stop, we did.

If someone’s smoking weed and minding their own business, I say leave them alone. If someone is blowing smoke in an officer’s face, I think that’s too far. Bike riders that are reckless and dangerous are going too far and this proactive police response seems appropriate.

posted by: Kevin on May 23, 2014  10:26am

Jones Gore, it is legal to ride the bikes on your own property or the property of another person who gives the rider permission. It is illegal to ride them on the streets or through parks.

posted by: Pedro Soto on May 23, 2014  11:04am

This isn’t just a New Haven issue, but is definitely part of a national regional trend that has flourished into #Bikelife subculture.

Yes, there is an unfortunate class aspect to this, for the main reason that dirt bikes and quads are cheap and don’t require proof of any license or insurance to purchase, so provide people with an easy way for individual mobility.

If this were the only case (people using these to get around the city), this would be one issue, but as the SeeClickFix reporting amply shows, the vast majority of these riders choose to use the city streets and parks as their personal playgrounds, with zero regard to any one else.

I hope this is the time that the enforcement actually sticks. Once confiscation actually starts to happen, and people are forced to pay $1,000 fines to get their quads back, there may actually be a shift in behavior. We’ve seen the press conferences, the enforcement actions before, with activity subsiding only to come back weeks or months later.

And 100% Agree with Mark Oppenheimer and others. The idea that we should allow this because kids have “nothing to do” is ludicrous.

posted by: PDCH22 on May 23, 2014  11:18am

Lately in East Haven they have stepped it up a notch. They are surrounding cars, reaching into them as if they going to hit you, spitting into cars and kicking them enough to do damage. They’ve done this to the elderly and those with young children in their car, they don’t care.  They have torn up people’s lawns for yelling at them. People are scared, as they should be, they *are* acting like a terrorist gang. A lot of these are not kids, they are 20 & 30 year old men who cover their faces to be able to terrorize people without being easily recognized. They believe they are above the law and cannot be stopped. This has gone beyond irritating noise, ignoring traffic laws and being a nuisance, they have crossed the line. It’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt or killed if it’s not stopped.

posted by: connecticutcontrarian on May 23, 2014  11:52am

I find the “urban terrorism” language to be a gross exaggeration. That said, I applaud the crackdown on illegal dirt bike riding. Especially after my family and I were nearly plowed into by a young man over the weekend who rode his dirt bike down the sidewalk before riding into oncoming traffic.

Seth P. I appreciate your passion BUT this is in no way trying to criminalize being a young male. This isn’t some misguided effort to make it a crime to wear sagging pants or to feed into suburban panic about a mythical “knockout game” problem. dirt bike riding is illegal and dangerous. Perhaps it would be more constructive if you and others who feel that way raised money to construct a dirtbike park or track. Or pushed your legislators to create a licensing program and inspection process for bike riders akin to what’s required for motorcycles. Barring that, this is nothing more than a tragedy waiting to happen.

posted by: Brewski on May 23, 2014  12:09pm

Thank you for taking this so seriously! Deadly “recreational” activities like this deserve the full attention of enforcement and prosecution. I agree with citoyen that more enforcement is necessary for ALL deadly drivers. A no-tolerance policy for speeding and reckless driving would dramatically reduce deaths. There is no reason that we, as a society, should be so permissive of deadly behaviors.

posted by: JohnTulin on May 23, 2014  1:30pm

Just Sunday, at the corner of the Blvd and Edgewood, I watched a pack of these kids tear down the middle of the lane while cars were stopped, through the light causing on-coming cars to swerve all over road, and then they sped into the park doing wheelies.  Save Edgewood park by stopping these kids.  Save lives by stopping these kids. 

Don’t these vehicles coast a few grand each? Just imagine if their parents invested this money onto a college fund - instead of “extremely lucrative racing and freestyle” skills.

But its the city’s fault…. racism/classism…. nothing to do in the city….blame the teachers while you’re at it? 

Getting so old.

posted by: Call it as I see it on May 23, 2014  2:29pm

Those of you starting with Seth, that feel this is not a serious matter, come visit NH soon. When your sitting at a traffic light with several “kids” circling around you on ATV’s and Dirt-bikes with bandanas covering face their steering you in the eyes, let me know how you feel.  I don’t think these are “kids” with much talent. In most cases the patents of these “kids”  don’t have a interest what’s going on outside the home.  Let the Police do their job and we should be thanking the other Police Departments for their support. Let’s hope the Police control this issue before we have some frustrated citizens address it.

posted by: yim-a on May 23, 2014  2:44pm

These aren’t just kids goofing around on dirtbikes.  Take a look at “12 o’Clock Boys”, a documentary on dirtbike gangs in Baltimore, for better understanding of the dangerous phenomena.  The film is available on HBO On Demand.

Social media fuels the gangs.  From cities throughout the US,  they post videos that show ever larger gangs of dirtbikes and ATVs performing evermore dangerous stunts, wheelies, and seriously dangerous traffic maneuvers, 

It’s clear on the HBO documentary that some see them as a manifestation of disenfranchised urban males,  yearning for voice and power.  In my more liberal days,  I might have taken a similar, sympathetic view.  But as a homeowner in Fair Haven,  I have grown to really, really dislike, even abhor,  the dirtbikers.  They absolutely pose a threat to quality of life and stability of neighborhoods, as middle class folk like myself begin to doubt the ability of the city to provide just a minimum of safety and security.

posted by: concernedcitizenNewHaven on May 23, 2014  4:16pm

posted by: concernedcitizenNewHaven on May 23, 2014  4:27pm

How do you give people who feel powerless a sense of power? How do you give members of the community a sense of freedom?

As a white middle class community member, my freedom comes from my ability to get in my car and drive. I don’t obey all of the laws, yet I don’t go around blatantly endangering people. If I want to feel like an outlaw, I go up on 91 and do 91 for a mile and then back off.

Every day driving to work I see people who have very little freedom. They are standing at bus stops waiting. Freedom don’t wait. Freedom just goes.

Dirt bikes and quads cost a lot less than a car. Don’t need a license. Easy to escape justice. Perfect freedom.

I value MY OWN life and the lives of others too much to go tearing around.

But I bet it is a helluva lotta fun.

So, take all that money that you collect from the fines, and build something. You tore down the Coliseum that at least gave people something to do on a Friday night. That would have been a beautiful place to have dirt bike shows.

As long as there is a rush involved, kids and adults will do it. Find something that gives people a thrill.

posted by: Eva G on May 23, 2014  4:49pm

From an above commenter: “It’s also completely unfair to make the riding of these bikes illegal. Yes, it’s a pain in the behind. You willingly moved to a city that has this problem, and therefore should have thought twice if something like “city noise” disturbs you.”

I have lived here since 1970. I grew up on York Street, one block from Yale New Haven Hospital. I will happily sleep through the sounds of ambulances and fire trucks. I lived on Willow near the highway: happily slept through the motorcycles raging to and from Archie Moore’s and the trucks barreling to and from i-95.
None of them upset me. The dirt bikes and ATV do, in fact, terrify me, and they more than terrify my daughter. Many drivers in this city scare me, every day, but the ATV folks take it to a new level. My level of rage on this subject is ugly; I cannot believe people defend this activity. I just cannot wrap my brain around it. Riding the ATVs was never legal here. It’s not the illegality of them that’s new.
What’s new, relatively speaking, is their presence in cities. I didn’t move here thinking, “oh, sure, ATVs, no problem.” The ATVs being here is new. If anything, the way I see it, the ATV riders should revise their behavior to accommodate me, and every other law biding person who just wants to get around town without getting killed, for god’s sake. It isn’t city noise that disturbs me. It is callous disregard for citizens’ lives and civil behavior. THAT’s what disturbs me.

posted by: Bumphus on May 23, 2014  9:15pm

Couldn’t the police use drones to track these bikes?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 24, 2014  9:40am

I want to see a crack down on Jay Walkers, Mopeds who run red lights.Cyclists who run red lights and stop signs and aslo ride on side walk. SkateBoard rides who hold on to the back of peoples cars.I hope WTNH does this.

Over several days of taking footage, ABC7’s cameras captured dozens of cyclists in different parts of D.C., blowing through red lights.

posted by: Mozart on May 24, 2014  12:16pm

Like most problems there has to be more than one approach to solving it. Illegal activity has to be addressed. But let’s also look at how these seven towns might provide a place for these kids to enjoy their chosen activity. I’m not condoning their actions, just recognizing the fact that riding a bike, dirt or otherwise, is a valid sport and any effort we can make to prevent them from being a danger on the streets that doesn’t involve law enforcement should be explored. Where did kids skate board? Where did they play stick ball and basketball before parks accommodated these? The only place they could at the time - the streets of course. But just to be clear. This only works for those who want a safe place to ride. It will not work on those predisposed to illegal activity as a sport. For them, by all means go get’em.

posted by: HewNaven on May 24, 2014  1:59pm

Couldn’t the videographers AT LEAST be brought in for questioning? Ostensibly, they know the riders and they knowingly record illegal activity for entertainment and profit. They are well known on social media sites as they promote their own video productions. The riders are inspired by being made famous on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, etc. But, the videographers themselves are the ones responsible for making the riders popular outside of their own neighborhood and social circle and they encourage a ‘one-better’ approach with riders perpetuallly doing more daring stunts amidst public traffic. This scenario couldn’t happen without the videographers. People are wondering why this is a relatively recent phenomenon despite the ubiquity of ATVs in cities for decades. It’s because easy, video distribution was never so readily available as it is today. Some of the NHV riders are ‘respected’ in other cities, simply because someone took the time to produce a flashy video that highlights their riding and shared it on the internet. AGAIN, this is ILLEGAL activity that is being recorded and PROMOTED by the performers and videographers, and the videographers often using their OWN NAME as it can sometimes promote their ‘art’ and ‘business’.

Here’s at least one case where someone was alleged to have followed riders and recorded their illegal activity:

My hypothesis: if we can disincentivize recording and promoting this activity, the riders will be less motivated to ‘terrorize’ us.

posted by: Seth Poole on May 24, 2014  5:15pm

@ Carlos R. Galo, thank you for agreeing with my earlier contribution to this dialogue.  I do not want to see anyone get hurt, nor would I suggest that we look the other way on an issue that affects the quality of life of city residents.

@connecticutcontrarian,  “Perhaps it would be more constructive if you and others who feel that way raised money to construct a dirtbike park or track. Or pushed your legislators to create a licensing program and inspection process for bike riders akin to what’s required for motorcycles. Barring that, this is nothing more than a tragedy waiting to happen.”

Thank you for being the first to mention a solution to an existing problem. 

I am an empathizer when it comes to this particular topic.  It is by no means a new topic of contention amongst law abiding citizens who would like to enjoy a quiet weekend afternoon at home, or would like to spend time with their children in the park.  These freedoms should be the right of all people.

We have consensus from the voting population that the bikes in the streets area a nuisance.  We also have policy passed that increases the level of the penalty for committing said offense by more than 10 times the previous amount.  Can we now speak of the possibility of making spaces available for riders to be safe on their bikes?  They are being bought and sold every season, and will not just go away over night.

I am not a father, but do I have children?  Yes, I have dedicated my life to the positive development of our young people.  I advocated on their behalf to lower the voting age to 16 because they have not been able to voice their opinions and perspectives on key issues that are of major importance to them.  This would be a case in point.

posted by: robn on May 24, 2014  10:25pm

Providing a track sounds like a good idea except…
A) it would take an extraordinary amount of real estate which would suffer great environmental damage
B) there’s no place in new haven where this wouldn’t be a noise issue.
C) the private market has tried this elsewhere and failed
D) these riders are really more into transgression anyway
E) it wood be rewarding bad behavior

posted by: HewNaven on May 25, 2014  10:43am

These guys need gas, right? Why not ambush them while they’re filling up the tank? Worked for these cops:

posted by: Carlos R. Galo on May 25, 2014  11:05am

@Seth P.: find me on Facebook—let’s talk about some City-wide solutions.

FYI, I’ve tried reaching out in the past, with very little results; riders just wanted to keep “doing what they do.” I am willing to give it another shot and volunteer time to reach the younger ones in this group. I will leave the 20 and 30 year-olds adults involved however, up to their own devices.

Happy weekend.

posted by: Shaggybob on May 27, 2014  9:48am

Branford uses drones for firefighting and has been VERY SUCCESSFUL.

I would be willing to pay a few more $ in taxes if the city invested in a few drones to follow these “urban terrorists” to there nests. Seize and Destroy all bikes ! Stop selling them in the City !

If you have ever been surrounded by these thugs on the street and the fact that the law means nothing to them and I think you would agree the phrase fits.

What do you call roving gangs of bikers who cause havoc & intimidate the public? Misguided kids? I think not.

Giving them a place to ride is a waste of time, it’s the thrill of it their after.

posted by: Baba Alkebulan on May 28, 2014  11:50pm

FYI , they wear masks to not be criminalized for riding you would too.  Secondly it’s the law enforcement creating this stigma, before this the only terrorism in the community I see is from the police and the INDIVIDUALS who have chosen to use gun violence to solve minor disputes. Did anyone know that new haven practices it’s own stop and frisk policy even on the elderly.  “pot calling the kettle black is what I say” Don’t believe the dirt bike hype the city has more important things going on , obviously there is a niche for the youth to have something to do so why not embrace it and provide the space for dirt bike riders.