Moe Hernandez has been living in Westchester Square for 30 years and said the dirt bike problem has never been this bad.
“They are all over the place. And it’s like gangs of them. It's not only one or two. It’s like 10 to 20 bikes, you see them roaring down the street,” said Moe Hernandez.
Hernandez is bound to a wheelchair and said people like him, with mobility issues and seniors in the area, are especially vulnerable.
“I myself, I can't jump out of the way that quick,” Hernandez said. “It poses a danger in the way they ride the bikes. Sometimes they are on the sidewalk with them or riding in the street and they are with their wheelies and all this stuff.”
And it’s because of these concerns that City Councilmember Mark Gjonaj is proposing a bill that would increase the penalties for people caught driving dirt bikes and four-wheelers that are not street legal, or drag racing on city streets. Gjonaj said incidents have spiked in recent years and wants to increase the current fines from $500 for the first offense to $750. Repeat offenders will be hit with a $1,500 fine, up from $1,000.
Gjonaj said, increasingly, the vehicles are connected to other criminal activity, pointing to this week’s armed carjacking and shooting on the Washington Bridge by a group of dirt bike riders.
“It’s becoming a weapon and means of escape, knowing that no one will chase you. The image that it really presents is that we are in a city of lawlessness,” said Gjonaj.
Enforcing the beefed up fines will take some work, because current NYPD rules prohibit officers from chasing those breaking this law.
“We are not allowed to pursue, but the way we get around this is we wait to see the dirt bikes refueling at a gas station or, as the councilman said, if we get info that a place is storing illegal dirt bikes, we investigate that angle. And that’s something that often leads to large seizures of dirt bikes,” said Isaac Soberal, NYPD Captain from the 45th Precinct.
According to the NYPD, from January 1, 2021 to June 3, 2021, police seized 322 dirt bikes and ATVS and issued nearly 7,500 summonses for the illegal vehicles. That’s welcome news to Yasmin Cruz.
“I always looked both ways, but now I look four ways,” said Cruz, the executive director of the Westchester Square BID. “I was actually crossing my office and there was a green light and unfortunately one of those illegal dirt bikes came straight at me. I had to go back. He even got scared and he was apologizing to me.”
Gjonaj is urging the public to notify police if they see or know anything.
Tipsters can get up to $100 for information that leads to the seizure of an illegal ATV or dirt bikes by reporting it to 1800-577-tips.