Res­i­dents, po­lice fed up with ATV packs on D.C. streets

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY JU­LIA BROUILLETTE

Packs of il­le­gal dirt bike and all-ter­rain ve­hi­cle rid­ers have re­turned to D.C. streets, stag­ing a brazen come­back after a po­lice crack­down last sum­mer, dur­ing which of­fi­cers con­fis­cated around 400 ve­hi­cles.

Greg­gory Pem­ber­ton of the D.C. Po­lice Union said the re­turn of the men­ac­ing pres­ence of ATV and dirt bike mobs is not a fail­ure of polic­ing but the re­sult of a re­fusal by pros­e­cu­tors and judges to en­force the law.

“Ev­ery sum­mer, when they dust off their bikes and start mak­ing a ruckus, peo­ple start com­plain­ing,” Mr. Pem­ber­ton said. “But po­lice are jump­ing through hoops to catch them.”

District of­fi­cers are ad­her­ing to a “no chase” pol­icy when it ap­pears that a po­lice pur­suit would be more dan­ger­ous to by­standers and other driv­ers than would al­low­ing the rid­ers to es­cape.

Still, po­lice are “do­ing ev­ery­thing they can” to stop il­le­gal rid­ers, Mr. Pem­ber­ton said.

“Of­fi­cers are savvy,” he said. “They out­wit these guys — they’ll catch them in traf­fic when they can’t go any­where, or at a gas pump. That’s where they make ar­rests.”

News re­ports and video footage of rid­ers are posted on­line around this time ev­ery year. The lo­cal news web­site re­ported on a group of nearly two dozen dirt bikes and ATVs en­ter­ing Ar­ling­ton County from George­town by driv­ing the wrong way around mid­night on Key Bridge. Ar­ling­ton County Po­lice tracked the group, which are legally not al­lowed on pub­lic high­ways, to pro­tect by­standers, but did not de­tail any rid­ers be­fore they re­turned to the city a few min­utes later.

In the past two weeks, sev­eral wit­nesses have taken to so­cial me­dia to voice com­plaints about the bike packs on city streets and call for a stronger re­sponse from au­thor­i­ties.

“Il­le­gal dirt-bikes & ATVs are a Bal­ti­more thing, not DC,” one Twit­ter user wrote. “As a Wash­ing­to­nian, I don’t want this on my streets be­cause it’s dan­ger­ous.”

Mr. Pem­ber­ton said, on av­er­age, po­lice make 10 il­le­gal ATV and bike ar­rests per month, usu­ally at gas sta­tions and in al­ley­ways, where rid­ers some­times ex­change ve­hi­cles.

But even when of­fi­cers are able to “out­wit” il­le­gal rid­ers, the city’s judges do not see eye to eye with po­lice on how to levy pun­ish­ment.

Data com­piled by the union found that be­tween Jan­uary 1, 2014, and May 31, 2015, D.C. po­lice made 147 ar­rests. But of those ar­rested, only 33 were found guilty and none went to jail. Mr. Pem­ber­ton said that in the year since the union gath­ered that data, “noth­ing has changed.”

Po­lice ef­forts are un­der­mined fur­ther, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Pem­ber­ton, by the D.C. Coun­cil’s 2013 de­ci­sion to re­duce the max­i­mum fine for il­le­gal rid­ing from $1,000 to $250.

“They called [the ear­lier fine] ‘ex­ces­sive,’ ” he said. “But why would you lower a fine that’s never im­posed?”

Ten­sion be­tween po­lice and il­le­gal rid­ers es­ca­lated in Novem­ber when an in­ci­dent caught on video ap­peared to show of­fi­cers at­tempt­ing to pep­per­spray one man on an ATV.

Over the win­ter, the sound of revving dirt bike en­gines in­ter­rupted a press con­fer­ence by Mayor Muriel Bowser, who was dis­cussing vi­o­lent crime in D.C.

The D.C. Of­fice of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral did not re­turn calls for com­ment.

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