LONSBERRY: RPD chief's weakness leads to dirt bike problem

Saturday afternoon, in the 100 block of Kellogg, a guy on a dirt bike with no helmet and no license plates blew past two cops. They lit him up and gave chase. He refused to stop. They pushed him. He lost control at Massena and Sabine and the bike went down. The guy got up and ran. A cop ran after him and caught up to him a block down Sabine. The guy fought with the cop. The cop won.

That left a bruised and swollen mug shot and a whole slew of charges.

And one less dirt bike rampaging through city neighborhoods.

That was in Syracuse.

The same day, a guy posted a GoPro video of himself on a dirt bike going the wrong way on St. Paul and driving past or directly at four separate police cruisers. In one instance he seems to drive straight at the front of a cop car, playing chicken with it on a major city thoroughfare, apparently taunting the officers and their department.

Nothing happened.

That was in Rochester.

What a difference an hour on the Thruway makes.

“Bob, I’m an RPD sergeant,” one message began. “Our pursuit policy strictly prohibits the pursuit of any motorcycle. It also prohibits any pursuit based on vehicle and traffic offenses alone.

“It drives my guys nuts that they can’t do anything. But, the policy is the policy.”

Another officer said, “Our hands are tied. The citizens are fed up and we can’t do anything.

“The motorbikes never comply and stop. They take off every time, leaving us in a peculiar place.”

The subject is roving bands of unlicensed dirt bikes and four-wheelers moving through Rochester neighborhoods. They shut down streets, move in and out between cars, block both lanes, drive directly into oncoming traffic, ride on the sidewalks and across people’s yards. They are loud and dangerous, and residents complain to the police department and their elected officials.

“People in our area are so fed up with this activity,” said a 14621 resident. “I live across from Pulaski Park (Ave D, Carter, Gothic, North) When it was nice out last weekend, in the 70s, there were kids in the park playing and a lot of people out. At least 30 of these bikes came from nowhere and basically raided the park. 

“No regard for anyone or anything in their way. It was ridiculous.”

And it is all public. Not just done, but boasted of.

There is a YouTube channel devoted to a group of illegal Rochester dirt bikers. In exceptionally well produced videos, they ride wheelies down city streets, close off traffic, ride on the sidewalk, and basically demonstrate that they are in charge and in defiance.

They know the police are on a chain.

“The chief’s office encourages officers to drive by illegal activity,” one command officer of the Rochester Police Department told me. “Good officers are scared of discipline. You never get in trouble for doing nothing.”

I have a photograph of a motorcycle that, though illegal, at least has a headlight. An officer beside it is purposely cropped out.

“I tried stopping this one last week,” the officer said, “and the driver did not stop. 

“I broke the rules and followed him for multiple blocks. I would have (been) fried if the chief’s office had known. The driver bailed and I towed the bike.

“It was a complaint from a local citizen that couldn’t take it anymore.”

And it was a complaint from a citizen that led to an incident on Easter on Northampton Street that resulted in the chief showing a grainy video and announcing the suspension of two officers. The security video, taken at night, showed a Rochester police cruiser follow a dirt bike into a driveway. Two officers then got out, approached the motorcyclist, lifted him from the bike and took him to the ground and handcuffed him. 

The bike had no lights, no plates, no insurance and no registration, and the guy on it had no license.

The chief said the video was troubling and there was going to be an investigation. He said nothing about the illegal operation of the motorcycle or the larger problem it represented.

Nor did he mention that the officers involved had been slowly following the bike for several blocks, motioning for it to pull over. Nor did he mention that they could not turn on their lights or siren because of his policy. 

Nor did he mention that the officers were there in the first place because of a citizen complaint brought to the department’s attention by a member of the City Council. 

Nor did he mention that the two officers involved are among the most respected, trusted and accomplished in the department. Both were field training officers with rookies shadowing them. One is among five department-wide nominees for Officer of the Year and has been honored for getting illegal guns off the streets.

Citizens are plagued by these dirt bikes and four wheelers. A particularly bad one is complained about to a member of City Council. She relays the complaint to the police department. Two officers are put on it.

And they are hung out to dry.

While the videos of dangerous and illegal activity keep getting posted, and families fear the safety of themselves and their children, and the chief tells us the problem is bad cops.

While he himself has not done a thing to stem this problem and secure his streets.

“I don't think this police chief is doing a very good job,” the 14621 resident said. “I feel like his hands are tied on what he can do.

“I don't feel this neighborhood is very well taken care of. I have so many people, including myself, that call police and they don't show up at all, not all the time but a good part of the time it is hard to get an officer when you really need one.

“I am not anti-police, I believe with anything there are good and bad, but I truly feel bad for a lot of them for the amount of crap they have to deal with on a daily basis and how they are criticized so harshly for everything they do.”

And I feel bad for people who live in a city where the police chief and mayor turn a blind eye to this scourge of illegal dirt bikes and four wheelers. It is a danger, and a quality of life issue, and a growing problem.

A problem which a weak chief and his foolish policies are enabling.

Maybe the guy from Syracuse could come over for a few days and straighten things out.

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