The following is a guest commentary by the D. C Police Union:
Washington D.C. – If you live in or frequent the District, you’re probably familiar with roving bands of ATVs and Dirt Bikes traversing the city on public roads. You may also be familiar with the repeated stories of injuries and violence associated with this activity. You may also be asking, “Why aren’t the police stopping this?”
But here is the truth: DC Police Officers are doing everything they can to stop the use of illegal ATVs and dirt bikes but stricter penalties need to be enforced in order to deter the crime.
DC Police Union Treasurer Gregg Pemberton said, “ATVs and dirt bikes operating on city streets are not just a nuisance and illegal, they can be incredibly dangerous to innocent bystanders. Our officers are doing great work in apprehending illegal ATV and dirt bike riders with the resources they have and within MPD rules for pursuing suspects. However, when suspects are arrested, the OAG and DC Superior Court Judges have not been enforcing penalties that are strict enough to deter this behavior.”
On September 17, 2014, a 23-year-old woman was struck by a dirt bike being unlawfully and recklessly operated by a still yet unidentified man. The woman’s leg was nearly severed in the incident. According to witnesses, the suspect also wrecked after striking the woman; however, he jumped up, began laughing at the victim, and was then whisked away by another subject also on a dirt bike.
In March of 2015, a DC Police Officer tried to stop a rider, only to be swarmed and ultimately attacked by a group numbering in the dozens. And just recently, Charnice Milton, a DC Journalist, was murdered by a gunman who made his swift escape on an illegal vehicle. Unfortunately, stories like these are not uncommon. Almost every week another similar story is published.
There are now hundreds of videos posted to social media depicting what can only be described as reckless conduct that creates a grave risk to the community. These videos show riders using all types of illegal vehicles in every quadrant of the District. District residents know this behavior all too well as it has become increasingly widespread over the past few years. Citizens have been clamoring for a solution for as long as it’s been a problem and the department has dedicated resources and manpower with little to no impact on the issue. Many of the questions and complaints from the community suggest the police aren’t doing anything, and citizens even report that this behavior takes place in front of the police, who do nothing. So what’s going on?
The DC Police Union conducted research into the matter in an effort to discover what’s affecting this instability in our community. We gathered information from police databases and arrest records, along with public documents and court records from DC Superior Court. Here’s what we found:
- In the 15 months between January 1, 2014 and May 31, 2015, MPD made 147 Arrests for violations of DC Code §50–2201.04b Operation of all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes.
Considering the department’s “No-Chase” policy of not pursuing these suspects under any circumstances, officers still make an average of 10 arrests per month. The DC Police Union concurs with the fact that giving chase to these types of illegal vehicles creates a serious risk to citizens, officers, and even the riders themselves. This offense is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail, and a $250 fine. Frankly, the risks associated cannot be justified for what is considered a minor traffic misdemeanor according to the statute. Additionally, the fine for this violation was previously $1,000, until 2013 when the DC Council amended this statute and lowered the amount to $2501.
Of the 147 Arrests made by MPD the breakdown is as follows:
- 11 of the arrestees were juveniles.
- 42 cases presented to the Office of the Attorney General were ‘No-Papered’, meaning all charges were dropped against the defendant.
- 43 of the cases were papered, but were later dismissed through diversion, ‘Nolle Prosequi’ as part of a plea agreement to another charge, or want of prosecution.
- 33 of the defendants were found guilty.
- 18 of the cases are still pending a disposition.
When the juvenile and the pending cases were removed from the equation, 126 cases remained. Of those 126, over one third of them were immediately no-papered by the OAG. Then another third were dismissed though diversion (community service) or for other reasons. The remaining 28% were found guilty of Operating an ATV or Dirt Bike. Ultimately, just 33 of the 147 adults arrested by MPD were found guilty.
While the conviction rate seemed extremely low considering the rampancy of the problem and its effect on the community, we looked further into the data to determine what happens to the defendants who are found guilty.
Of the 33 defendants who were found guilty, DC Superior Court Judges doled out 371 days in jail, averaging about 12 days in jail per defendant. The interesting thing was this:All 371 days of jail time issued were also suspended. This means that none of these defendants were sentenced to serve even one hour of actual jail time. Furthermore, even though the fine is set at a maximum of $250, only two defendants were ordered to pay any fine at all. One defendant was ordered to pay $50, the other, $150. The remaining 31 were fined nothing. (Note: All of the 33 defendants were ordered to pay $50 into the Victims of Violent Crime Act fund, for a total sum of $1,650.)
Another interesting fact was that a number of these defendants were multiple offenders. At least five of the subjects we looked into had been arrested more than once, for the same offense; however, none of them saw increased penalties.
It appears that operating these illegal vehicles in the District carries less of a penalty than running a red light or even making a prohibited right turn on red, both of which are $150, in your legal, registered vehicle. It even seems that speeding 11 mph over the posted limit, the fine for which is $100, is worse than ATV and dirt bike mischief. All in all, the DC Council and Superior Court seem to agree that driving 36 mph on Massachusetts Avenue is inherently more of a violation and danger to the District than the precarious riders thatcan be seen all over YouTube.
It seems logical for a citizen to see this kind of dangerous criminal behavior going on and question why the police aren’t addressing it. The position of the DC Police Union is this: Our officers are doing what they can within the law and with the safety of the community in mind, but even when they are able to outwit and apprehend these scofflaws safely, the OAG and the Judges at DC Superior Court don’t agree on the egregiousness of this offense and how it endangers our community. This is not a failure of law enforcement; it’s a lack of enforcement from prosecutors and judges. In order to solve this rampant problem in the city, all agencies must realize its detrimental impact and hold defendants accountable. The sentences and the penalties must be more reflective of how the rest of us view this behavior: intolerable and highly dangerous.
We encourage all citizens with information about these crimes and/or the locations of these vehicles to contact the Command Information Center at 202-727-9099, text tips to 50411, or call 911 if necessary. Callers may remain anonymous if they so choose.