THE BRONX — Police precincts around The Bronx have joined forces in recent weeks to combat illegal dirt bike riding, officials say, following complaints from residents and even the borough president about bands of reckless riders who storm the summer streets.
The precinct commanders have met to discuss ways to curb the problem and have also erected checkpoints and raided storage spaces and repair shops — sometimes in multi-precinct operations — to catch the unlicensed bikers, police sources say.
“It’s something that The Bronx is taking seriously,” said Capt. Philip Rivera of the 41st Precinct in Hunts Point, a dirt bike hot spot. “We know that it’s a problem.”
But some residents question whether these measures will work, especially since bikers know police typically try to avoid high-speed chases.
And they note that large groups of dirt bikers appear to be riding as freely — and dangerously — through the borough as ever.
“I hear in meetings that they’re putting a plan together,” said Rafael Salamanca Jr., district manager of Community Board 2, which covers Hunts Point.
“But as someone who lives in the community, I haven’t seen progress,” Salamanca said. “I see [dirt bikers] taking over the streets.”
Last month, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. wrote to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly to request a formal action plan to halt the swelling ranks of dirt bikes, which are not legal in the city and unlikely to be licensed or insured.
Diaz said the dirt bike riders go “unchecked throughout the neighborhoods” and endanger “anyone that crosses their path.”
Since then, the Bronx precinct commanders and representatives from other city agencies have met to share “best practices” for confronting the bikers, Rivera said.
On Tuesday, one sergeant and four officers from the 41st Precinct teamed with cops from another Bronx precinct on an operation targeting locations where dirt bikers are known to gather, such as gas stations, repair shops and storage spaces, according to an officer.
Last month, officers in the 43rd Precinct, which covers Soundview, raided a mechanic’s shop, arresting several people and confiscating five dirt bikes, an officer there said.
Meanwhile, cops in the 40th Precinct, in Mott Haven, confiscated dozens of unregistered bikes on a single day in June at a checkpoint by the Third Avenue Bridge, sources said.
But despite the crackdown, the riding rages on.
A dirt biker was seriously injured Friday and remains in the hospital after a car rear-ended his bike and fled the scene in Claremont, part of the 44th Precinct, police said.
In Mott Haven, huge crews of 50 or more riders on dirt bikes, four-wheelers and motorcycles have converged at gas stations along Bruckner Boulevard on recent weekends before embarking on wild rides through traffic, witnesses said.
“They do wheelies, they put girls in the backseats,” said Louis Lamboy, owner of an auto repair shop across from a BP station at East 139th Street and Bruckner Boulevard where the riders meet.
“They got no plates," Lamboy added. "They could kill somebody.”
An employee at another local business who gave only his first name, John, said the bikers sometimes drive the wrong way down the busy boulevard or cut across lanes.
“They don’t care about anything — they go this way, that way,” he said. “It’s really terrible.”
Others in the area say they have watched bikers speed down the road performing stunts, while fellow bikers film them and others control traffic.
“They just go and block traffic like they’re police escorts,” said a firefighter based at a station on East 138th Street. “It’s pretty wild.”
Some blame the bikers’ brazen flaunting of traffic laws on police officers’ reluctance to engage in pursuits.
Cops, including Rivera, insist they will pursue bikers if necessary, but that they must first consider the potential risks to bystanders and the riders themselves.
In March, an elderly pedestrian in Allerton was struck by a dirt bike during a high-speed police chase, and last August a dirt bike rider was killed in Hunts Point when a cop car rear-ended his bike during a chase.
In his letter, Diaz said that checkpoints and repair-shop raids did not address dirt bikers’ “unsafe riding and the violations of traffic laws.”
Even some cops acknowledge the limits of such strategies.
“Once [bikers] see a checkpoint, they’ll just go on a sidewalk,” one officer said. “They’ll drive like nuts — then they could hurt somebody on the sidewalk.”
Meanwhile, some dirt bike riders have asked for a city-sanctioned space to ride legally.
Alberto Natal, 22, who lives in Port Morris, supports that idea and said that, as long as the bikers don’t hurt anyone, they should be allowed to ride.
“I really don’t see what’s wrong with it,” he said.