CLEVELAND- Cleveland police Monday explained their pursuit policies after a mob of illegal ATV and dirt bike riders recently took over city streets. The city also released body cam video of a traffic officer on a dirt bike being hit by an ATV.
The incident happened Sunday, August 11, and shows a Cleveland police officer trying to stop an illegal ATV rider at East 55th Street and St. Clair Avenue.
As the sergeant approaches, the rider rams the officers bike, knocking him off of it.
The officer gives chase and catches up to him, but the rider refuses to pull over. Two officers continue, but after several minutes, they terminate the chase.
"In the event that someone, be it the person being chased or the officer does go down, there's a high risk for injury, so obviously we want to limit the amount of pursuits out there," said Cleveland police Sergeant Jennifer Ciaccia.
Also on Sunday, a resident’s home surveillance camera on West Boulevard shows more than 100 dirt bikes and ATVs parading through West Boulevard, even on tree lawns.
"Our officers get very frustrated that they can't enforce the laws that these guys are breaking," said Jeff Follmer, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association.
Follmer says many officers disagree with a city policy that does not allow them to pursue off road vehicles with police cruisers.
"They cannot pursue in a car because that's extremely dangerous and it's not effective," said Sgt. Ciaccia.
"The whole Edgewater was terrorized by these motorcycles and there's not a thing we can do; in my opinion, some of the actions that these motorcycle people are doing rise to felonies," Follmer said.
The officer assaulted on Sunday was patrolling with one of seven special bikes that Cleveland police have for off-road enforcement.
"When the dirt bikes go off road to grass or through field, we're able to do it. It's multi-purpose bike; it can go on-road and off-road," said Cleveland police Lt. Gordon Holmes, who oversees the city police dirt bike unit. The police division received three of the bikes as part of the increased security during the Republican National Convention in 2016.
City leaders say they are still studying how to build an off-road track that could also include educational opportunities, allowing riders to turn their passion into a profession.
"These are people who have a passion for doing what they do, so the question of whether or not we can create opportunities to allow them to do it legally," said Cleveland’s chief operating officer Darnell Brown.
"We're not going to chase our way out of this problem. If you are in the neighborhood and you know maybe where these bikes are parking or you know where they're gathering to go out into an organized drive, that you would call our officers," said Ciaccia.
Ciaccia says cities across the country, especially in the Midwest, are dealing with the issue.
Several Cleveland city leaders traveled to Baltimore last week to look at a program where they help off-road bike enthusiasts learn trades and train for careers related to bike riding.
The city of Cleveland also plans to hire a consultant to look at building a bike track that would not cost the city to operate. Although CPPA President Follmer believes the riders get a thrill from breaking the law and questions how effective a track would be in deterring their actions.
Anyone with information about illegal ATV or dirt bike activity is asked to contact Cleveland police on a special hotline number: 216-623-5230.