- - Tuesday, April 11, 2017

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 Patch.com 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 pepper-spray 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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