HUNTS POINT — To pursue or not to pursue, that is the question in Hunts Point, where reckless dirt bike riders have been tearing through streets and sidewalks, infuriating residents and frustrating the police.
Residents say packs of young riders speed through the neighborhood on the dirt bikes and ATVs, which are not street legal, popping wheelies and jumping curbs, disobeying traffic laws and endangering pedestrians and drivers alike.
The police say they are aware of the problem and addressing it, but that they must carefully consider the risks of any high-speed pursuit before chasing the riders — a response that some residents say is inadequate.
At a community board meeting earlier this week, after a local livery cab driver described the perils of sharing the road with the bikers, several other residents chimed in with their own grievances.
Lt. Hamilton Nuñez, a representative from the 41st Precinct, explained that officers stop reckless or unregistered riders whenever it’s safe to do so, but that their ability to pursue the bikers is limited.
“The department’s policy is they don’t want us chasing them,” said Nuñez. “A kid spills, kills himself — we get blamed for it.”
After the meeting, some community board members said they were dissatisfied with the response.
Robert Crespo, first vice chair of Community Board 2, said the police appeared “nonchalant” about a potentially deadly situation.
Last weekend, Crespo said, a dirt bike darted past within feet of him as he was taking out garbage from his home on Hewitt Place. If he had not frozen in place, he said, he would have been struck.
“They go anywhere between 40 and 50 miles per hour on a city street. They go up on the sidewalks,” said Crespo. “They know the police department can’t chase them.”
Jorge Ramirez, the livery cab driver who raised the issue at the community board meeting, said after the meeting that a fellow driver almost collided with a dirt biker a couple months ago. The biker careened around a corner and blasted the wrong way down a one-way street, forcing the driver to swerve onto the sidewalk.
“The police have this rule that they can’t chase,” said Ramirez. “The community’s really upset because [the bikers] could kill a little kid or something.”
Rafael Salamanca Jr., the board’s district manager, said the dirt bikers race all throughout the neighborhood, but that Hunts Point Avenue is an especially popular strip.
The lieutenant’s response at the meeting, Salamanca said, left the impression that the police are still struggling with how to curb reckless dirt bike riding.
“It’s a problem that the NYPD has not learned how to resolve,” said Salamanca.
At the precinct stationhouse, the commanding officer, Capt. Philip Rivera, said the police are actively addressing the problem.
“It’s something we’re watching closely and we do take action,” Rivera said, adding that there had been no recent accidents in the precinct involving dirt bikes or ATVs that he could recall.
He said that teams of officers are instructed to “box in” the bikers, forcing the riders to stop driving so that they can be apprehended. He also said precinct officers confiscate about one unregistered or illegally operated bike per week.
And he said that officers are authorized to pursue moving bikes if they believe it is necessary, but they must first “weigh the risk to the community,” since both chasing and not chasing the bikers can put bystanders at risk.
“We have to be very careful if we’re going to initiate a pursuit,” said Rivera.
Just one block away from the precinct house at the corner of Southern Boulevard and Longwood Avenue, bikers often perform wild tricks in the middle of the road, said Gilbert Arroyo, the manager of Hunt’s Point Library at 877 Southern Blvd.
“They come around with the four-wheelers, the dirt bikes, and they do wheelies, they show off,” said Arroyo.
Still, Arroyo said he recognizes the bind that police find themselves in as they try to shut down the bikers.
“I know the cops try their best,” he said. But, "It’s true that if they chase them, the bikers will hit somebody.”