HARLEM — Police cracked down on owners of illegal dirt bikes and all terrain vehicles in Harlem over the weekend, arresting three people and confiscating eight vehicles.
Anticipating increased dirt bike activity due to the warm weather, police say they deployed an initiative to stop the vehicles, which are illegal to ride on New York City streets because they don't have basic safety equipment such as mirrors or brake lights.
Police and Harlem residents regularly complain about packs of the riders zooming up and down the streets of Upper Manhattan. Residents of Upper Manhattan and The Bronx have complained about the riders for years when the weather gets warm. Residents complain the dirt bikes run red lights and drive on the sidewalk, endangering motorist, pedestrians and themselves.
One woman, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, said she saw over 50 bikers traveling on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard near 145th Street Saturday afternoon. More than 20 of the dirt bikes and ATVs were riding against southbound traffic, some while doing wheelies, she said.
"We are getting tired of this. These kids were playing dodge ball with traffic," said the witness. "They will continue doing it someone gets killed."
Around 5:20 p.m. Saturday, police on patrol said they spotted 28-year-old Donovan Hibbert of Harlem riding a dirt bike along Second Avenue. Police attempted to stop Hibbert but he dropped the bike and ran away.
Police chased Hibbert and he allegedly scuffled with the two officers before being taken into custody and charged with reckless endangerment, resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration. Two other abandoned dirt bikes were also recovered in the area, police said.
The officers were treated for minor injuries at St. Luke's Hospital and released.
Not long after, police arrested Samuel Lopez, 41, a Sanitation Department employee who they said was riding a camouflage-colored ATV north on Madison Avenue near 135th Street while weaving in and out of traffic and on the sidewalk.
Lopez was arrested while filling up the vehicle at a nearby gas station. Another ATV driver filling up at the station ran, abandoning a vehicle that was confiscated by police.
Lopez was charged with reckless endangerment, reckless driving and operating a motor vehicle without Insurance.
Also around 5 p.m. on Saturday, police from the 30th Precinct spotted Andy Hernandez, 21, of East Harlem riding an unregistered dirt bike near Broadway and 137th and 138th streets.
Police attempted to stop Hernandez, but he dropped the bike, jumped a fence, scaled a fire escape at 529 W. 138 Street and led police on a chase across the roofs of neighboring buildings until he was arrested on the roof of 503 W. 138 Street.
Hernandez faces a charges including reckless endangerment, removal of vehicle identification number, resisting arrest, 8 counts of criminal trespass and reckless driving.
Some local community activists say police shouldn't waste their time on crackdowns — instead recommending the city create a sanctioned dirt bike area for the riders to ride legally, and keep their time and police resources on serious crime and getting guns off the streets.
"The same amount of energy or more needs to go into finding out where these guns are coming from that are killing people on city streets and public housing," said Iesha Sekou of Street Corner Resources.
Sekou has joined with a group of dirt bike riders to create Bikelife, a group that has been advocating for the creation of a dirt bike park.
"We have to put our heads together to come with a solution. They are going to ride even with the risk of being arrested and the bikes being taken," said Sekou.
A long-time motorcycle rider who goes by the street name "Al Capone" is also one of the founders of Bikelife.
"To ride a dirt bike in packs down the street is illegal. It shouldn't be done," admitted Capone, who said police are within their right to crack down on riders. "But if you told people they can't smoke at all it would be unreasonable. There have to be allocated spaces for bike riding like there are for smoking."
Judging by the number of bikes out riding in packs Saturday, Capone said the activity only seems to be growing more popular, even after dirt bike riders have been killed in incidents with police and after last year's highly publicized attack on a man and his family by a group of motorcycle riders.
That incident left one of the bikers paralyzed from the waist down.
"The solution is to find some kind of compromise," said Capone. "People have a passion for this and it has become a culture."