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    Local News
    Saturday, November 26, 2022

    NL Police aim to crush illegal dirt bikes, ATVs

    New London ― Police have amassed a collection of 30 dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles that have an appointment with a scrap yard crusher.

    Held at an undisclosed location for safe keeping, the stored vehicles were accumulated over the past four years as part of the attempt to address what police say is an ongoing problem ― the reckless operation of the off-road vehicles on city streets.

    Police Captain Matthew Galante said complaints about the vehicles come in on almost daily basis during the late spring, summer and early fall. The issue is something that is happening in urban areas nationwide where there are no legal places for the riders.

    The problem in New London comes despite an ordinance passed in 2018 formally prohibiting ATVs and dirt bikes from city streets, imposing fines and allowing the department to keep seized bikes for auction or destruction. Bikes determined to be stolen are returned where possible.

    The ordinance also bans the sale of gasoline to the dirt bikes and ATVs, and Galante said gas stations are one of the places where bikes are seized. Otherwise, he said, “They’re not stopping for us.”

    The city’s ordinance was passed as an emergency measure to address “an urgent public need” which at the time, police said was an out of control problem. Police say the riders, many of them male youths, can be seen performing tricks, intimidating drivers, weaving in and out of traffic and riding the wrong way on city streets.

    Local police union President Joshua Bergeson said the department is trying its best, but state regulations bar police from giving chase and tie the hands of officers. The department follows the Statewide Model Pursuit Policy and the New London Police Department’s Pursuit Policy.

    Under the statewide policy, officers are barred from pursuing any motor vehicle unless the driver or passenger has committed a “crime of violence.” Offenses such as infractions, property crimes and even stolen vehicles don’t justify a chase under the state guidelines.

    Aside from the fact the bikes are not registered or insured and not street legal ― many don’t have brake lights, head lights or turn signals ― Bergeson said the real problem is the danger to the public and the riders themselves.

    Riders, under the city ordinance, face $1,000 for the first offense of illegal riding, $1,500 for the second and $2,000 for the third and any subsequent offense. Passengers are subject to $100 fines.

    The department issued a public service announcement this summer calling on the public’s help in identifying illegal ATVs and dirt bikes. Galante said the department has received numerous tips and photos “which is appreciated,” but the problem persists.

    In one recent incident, an officer suffered a minor injury when he confronted a dirt bike rider at a Colman Street car wash.

    New London resident Kat Goulart was in line at an adjacent fast-food restaurant and caught some of the action in the Sept. 16 incident.

    Goulart said a police cruiser was parked at the car wash and three dirt bikes were circling the cruiser. She said she flashed back to an incident several years earlier when her car was surrounded by a group on scooters who proceeded to kick her car and yell.

    “Seriously, they’re doing this to cops now,” she said.

    Goulart said she didn’t see the entire incident but did witness a dirt bike rider drive at an officer and the officer grab the bike.

    A short video posted on Facebook of the incident shows the officer at the car wash approaching the bike and wrestling the bike from a rider with other dirt bikes driving around.

    “I found out later the police department had seized an ATV or dirt bike earlier in the night and they were ticked off, giving the cops a hard time,” Goulart said.

    Goulart posted photos of the police response to the incident with the overwhelming majority of people echoing her sentiment that, “We’re sick of it.”

    Public Works Director Brian Sear said he had not heard of any reports of damage to public property from the riders.

    But Goulart said frustration has reached a boiling point for many.

    “We’re out there doing our thing and these kids are out there driving like idiots, putting us at risk,” Goulart said. “If I run a stop light or have a brake light out (police) will pull me over. You break the law, you get pulled over and accept your ticket. It’s really frustrating that these guys are blatantly breaking the law. It’s not fair.”

    Goulart, who is chair of the Police Community Relations Committee and former member of the city’s Economic Development Commission, said there was at one time a subcommittee set up to explore the possibility of opening a dirt bike park at Bates Woods Park. But in part because of liability issues, Goulart said there was no political will for such a project.

    Galante said the department would continue to work with the public and continue seizing bikes in an effort to curb the problem. A date and place for the destruction of the seized vehicles has not yet been set.

    g.smith@theday.com

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