Police in the largest city in western Massachusetts are continuing a crackdown on dirt bike operators that started after a violent assault on law enforcement officers.
During the past two weeks, Springfield police have confiscated six dirt bikes and a moped, arrested six people, and issued one criminal complaint in a newly adopted “zero tolerance” policy on people operating unregistered vehicles recklessly on city streets.
City cops adopted a new hard line approach late last month after a dirt bike operator they were attempting to arrest allegedly hurled a chunk of concrete at the head of an officer and smashed a brick through the window of a police cruiser.
"That brought out some anger," said Acting Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood. " If that is the game plan they have, then we have to step up our game. So, we've put some money into it. We have overtime details specifically for the dirt bikes illegally on the streets."
Clapprood ordered police to go undercover on motorcycles and bicycles to apprehend illegal dirt bike operators, without resorting to dangerous pursuits.
" We don't want them to get hurt. We don't want other people to get hurt during a pursuit," said Clapprood. "We've been forced to come up with other ways and we are doing it and it is working. We are using undercover cars, undercover motorcycles, using cameras from crime analysis, identifying these kids and then sending them the citations."
Dirt bikes, and similar vehicles designed for “off-road” use, cannot be registered for street use in Massachusetts because of a lack of proper safety equipment. Additionally, police in Springfield, and other cities, say one of the top “quality-of- life” complaints they receive concern dirt bikes.
Police say there are complaints about the noise made by the machines, operators performing stunts in the middle of busy streets, and riding in groups that weave in and out of traffic and frighten other motorists.
Since last year, three people have died in dirt bike crashes in Springfield.
" We are doing the best we can to disrupt this public nuisance." said Clapprood.
She said adults may not be fully aware of the consequences when they purchase a dirt bike for a teenager to use.
" We've got to push the educational part of it too," said Clapprood.
The Springfield police also want tougher laws.
The Springfield City Council voted last month to petition the state legislature to allow police to seek a court-ordered forfeiture of confiscated dirt bikes following a first offense.
Additionally, a proposed ordinance sponsored by City Councilor Orlando Ramos would set fines ranging from $500-$2,500 for offenses related to operating off-road vehicles unlawfully on city streets.
"These dirt bikes are everywhere and its not just a nuisance, a quality of life issue, but a public safety issue," said Ramos. "We want to make sure we give our law enforcement officers the tools they need to address the problem."
The proposed ordinance is expected to be on the agenda for final approval at the City Council’s July 15th meeting.