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by Peter Moskos

October 25, 2008

Dirt bikes in Baltimore

If you don't live in Baltimore, it's hard to understand just how big of a problem this is. If you do live in Baltimore, you may not realize that this problem doesn't really exist anywhere else.

The bikes themselves weren't illegal. But riding them is. It's a strange rite of Spring in Charm City.

You may remember a story last year [update: the original story is lost, but in the follow up, the kid's mom lost her lawsuit.] about Baltimore Police (in the Eastern) locking up a 7-year-old black boy for "sitting on a dirt bike." Some had a field day talking about the "racist" policing and "zero-tolerance policing."

We're not talking peddle bikes. We're talking motorcycles and motorized 4-wheeled all terrain vehicles. And we're talking packs of them, doing wheelies, zooming on streets, sidewalks, and parks. They're loud and dangerous.

What proceeded the kid's detention was the kid's mother calling 911 to say her son had been assaulted by police... after police had the nerve to stop the 7-year-old from driving an A.T.V. down the street. He wasn't "riding," says the mom; the motor was off. He was just "rolling down the street." The kid was 7. On a motorized ATV that can start with a key. So the police do their job and take the kid off the bike.

She wins the bad parenting award for 2007.

So police go back and take the boy to the Eastern. What else can you do?

We couldn't do anything else illegal motor bikes about it because police aren't allowed to chase. If they crash, they die. And then the police and the city are in big trouble. And if you did catch a bike, the rider would run. If you took the bike, the owner would just come back and reclaim it. From the Baltimore Sun:
A law took effect last month that allows police to seize any unlocked dirt bike - in an alley, driveway, front yard or street. A court can then order the bikes forfeited, and they are later destroyed. "The fact of the matter is that these dirt bikes drive people in neighborhoods nuts," Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said. "We're not talking about filling jails full of dirt biker offenders. We'll seize the bike, and it is game over." Stories of lawlessness jam e-mail inboxes of City Council members, who have struggled with the city's dirt-bike problem for at least a decade. Councilman William H. Cole IV recalls finding a website purporting to organize city rides. He skims YouTube for video clips of Baltimore riders showing off. Councilwoman Belinda Conaway recalled a group repeatedly circling Lake Ashburton as if patrolling it. The level of lawlessness can escalate. In April, a 19-year old man was sentenced to a 45 year prison term, with 10 suspended, for firing at city police officers who were trying to stop him from riding his dirt bike in the 1300 block of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Read the whole story in the Sun.

There's a good chance this will work.

[Update: It didn't]


Anonymous said...

Check this out....


"...are also favored by criminals who have terrorized the city in recent years, including a shocking case in late 2005, when a woman had her hand cut off by a thief on a motorcycle. News accounts concluded that motorcycle thieves were divided into gangs, including one called the Hand Choppers."

This has the potential to be a rather ugly cross cultural problem.

PCM said...

It's a little different because in Baltimore these dirt bike riders are not using the bikes to commit other crimes. They're just biking for fun (which is, of course, a crime).