Boston police crack down on off-road vehicles

Boston police have cracked down on the use of off-road vehicles in the city.
Boston police have cracked down on the use of off-road vehicles in the city.Boston Police Department

When the summer months roll around, Modesto Valdez keeps his 11-year-old son inside the family’s apartment in Mattapan.

At this time of the year, he said, the roar of motorized dirt bikes racing up Morton Street occurs like clockwork when the weekend nears. The drivers weave in and out of traffic while performing stunts.

“I don’t let the kids out in the summer,” Valdez, 42, said while standing in the doorway of his home. “The way they drive. . . . No one controls the speed for them. They go on the sidewalk. The people feel afraid.”

Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans has vowed to crack down on the illegal use of motorized scooters, dirt bikes, and ATVs, which are not only a nuisance to some residents but also have been tied to a wide variety of crimes from littering to homicide, law enforcement officials said.


A study conducted last year through a partnership that included the department’s Auto Theft Unit, the Office of Research and Development, and the Boston Regional Intelligence Center found that scooters and mopeds were mentioned in 292 incident reports during a seven-month period, from Jan. 1 to July 23. The data do not include dirt bikes and ATVs.

The scooters and mopeds were tied to one shooting death, two nonfatal shootings, six assault and batteries, three robberies, and one carjacking, said Boston police Sergeant Dan Humphreys, who heads the department’s Auto Theft Unit. About half of those off-road vehicles — 152 — were stolen.

“I’m looking for the community to help us,” Evans said. “If they know some young kids [or] if it’s their own children or someone in their building try to discourage them.”

Since May 26, the police department has seized 39 dirt bikes, motorcycles, and scooters and four dirt bike engines from homes in Dorchester and Mission Hill.


“They’re an obstruction to traffic,” said Mariam Halloway, 76, of Mattapan, who has found herself stuck behind reckless ATV drivers while on the road. “They race, [and] there’s a lot of wheelies and gymnastics.”

In March, police said they arrested two people on a motor scooter in Dorchester — a 21-year-old man and a 14-year-old boy who had a semiautomatic pistol tucked in his pants. The two were speeding the wrong way on Johnston Road, police said. The teen faces several charges including the unlawful possession of a firearm.

Police have said the bikes allow suspects to quickly flee from crime scenes.

“Now these young kids are endangering their own lives,” said Evans. “They’re riding in parks and going through red lights [and] they’re popping wheelies up and down Blue Hill Avenue.”

A camera captured three dozen people racing through the Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr. Tunnel May 27 on dirt bikes and ATVs. The drivers popped wheelies and caused traffic delays as other drivers trailed behind them.

“They tend to terrify the community, particularly if there are large numbers of them,” said City Councilor Charles C. Yancey, who sponsored legislation in 2005 requiring all motorbike drivers to wear a helmet and have a license. “It’s more than a nuisance; it can pose a serious threat to the community.”

The tunnel incident raised a number of safety concerns.

ATVs and dirt bikes are illegal on public ways in the city, police spokeswoman Rachel McGuire said. Scooters and mopeds are legal as long as they are properly registered and the operator is properly licensed, McGuire said.


In 2011, Mayor Thomas M. Menino launched Operation Kick Stand to target unregistered dirt bikes after a 4-year-old boy was shot in Hamambee Park in Dorchester. Police had believed the shooter was on a dirt bike. Some critics then slammed the initiative as an ill-informed knee-jerk reaction that should have focused more on guns and less on the bikes.

Now, the Boston Police Department and city lawmakers have teamed with the Registry of Motor Vehicles to draft legislation to create licenses for the off-road vehicles and to prohibit certain types of hazardous behavior, Humphreys said.

Police have a do-not-chase policy similar to other cities like Philadelphia and New York when it comes to such vehicles because to do so could pose a serious danger to the operator, other motorists, and passersby.

Instead, police have counted on tips from the community to learn where the bikes are being stored, Humphreys said. Groups of youth on the all-terrain vehicles have been spotted throughout the city.

Police have discovered that some off-road vehicles are being kept in potentially dangerous ways. Humphreys said he and other officers removed 15 of the vehicles from a garage in Roxbury in December.

“In a residential setting people will run unlicensed mechanic shops and there would be gasoline on the floor,” Humphreys said. “It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

But riding the all-terrain bikes has become a sport and part of a sort-of coming of age in urban communities. Drivers sometimes record the rides and post them to social media sites such as YouTube, showcasing riders doing a variety of tricks.


“We’re starting to see somewhat of an organization behind it,” Humphreys said. “They organize rides and it’s almost like a cult following.”

Dia Bleach owns an ATV and a dirt bike and has been riding the all-terrain vehicles since he was 18 years old. The Mattapan resident is now 32.

He often goes on rides with friends sometimes to Dorchester Park and a park in New Hampshire.

“I won’t be out here doing anything reckless,” said Bleach, who condemns the behavior of some riders.

For him, he said, it’s about the thrill of the ride, similar to that of motorcyclists.

“It’s the adrenaline. You get a rush out of it,” Bleach said. “It’s a feeling that goes behind it.”

Jan Ransom can be reached at jan.ransom@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Jan_Ransom.