The largest city in western Massachusetts is looking to crack down on an all too common urban nuisance – illegally operated dirt bikes.
Law enforcement in Massachusetts can ticket and fine people who are caught unlawfully operating a dirt bike on a public street. But the Springfield Police Department wants to be able to take the offending vehicle out of commission permanently.
"What I would like to see is that it is siezed and it is destroyed," said Springfield Police Sergeant Mel Kwatowski, who heads the department’s traffic division, as he endorsed a proposed local ordinance that would allow officers to confiscate and seek a court-ordered forfeiture of off-road vehicles in cases where the operators are cited for driving dangerously, exceeding noise limits, or storing the vehicle inside a residence.
The Springfield City Council Monday will consider petitioning the state legislature to approve a special act that would allow Springfield police to impound recreational and off-road vehicles and seek a forfeiture hearing.
City Councilor Orlando Ramos, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, sponsored the legislation.
"When it is the legal owner who is illegally operating the vehicle on the roads we want to make sure we create a process to give our law enforcement officers the tools they need," said Ramos.
Separately, the City Council will consider an ordinance that would stiffen fines for breaking existing laws about off-road vehicle use. Some violations would carry a maximum penalty of $2,500 for a second offense.
Dirt bikes racing up and down streets, weaving in and out of traffic, and revving engines are among the top “quality-of-life” complaints directed to the police, according to Springfield Police Department spokesman Ryan Walsh.
Since last October, three people have been killed in dirt bike crashes in Springfield.
"It is everything from a public safety issue to a nuisance in the city," said Walsh.
Police do not attempt to pursue dirt bikes on city streets, but will use surveillance cameras, tips from neighbors and other sources to identify the operators and find out where the vehicles are being garaged.
" They are monitored, but not pursued," explained Walsh. "When you pursue them it becomes a dangerous situation for everyone involved."
He said the police are currently storing about 40 dirt bikes that were confiscated and have gone unclaimed by their owners.
" Right now they are just sitting there in a storage bin, so crushing them would be an option to get rid of them," said Walsh. " If you resell them a lot could end up getting back in the wrong hands again."
In addition to dirt bikes, the proposed act in Springfield would apply to all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles.