Police Crack Down on ATV Joyriding

D.C. Metropolitan Area

by: Shantella Y. Sherman Special to the AFRO ssherman@afro.com
/ (Photo/Prince George's County Police) /
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Now that the weather is warmer officials across the Washington D.C. metropolitan area are challenged with curbing what have been described as “packs” or “bands” of teens on all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) driving on streets and sidewalks without regard for public safety.

Prince George’s County police released images of ATV riders allegedly driving recklessly at the National Harbor. (Photo/Prince George’s County Police)

Prince George’s County police say more than 100 riders on unauthorized vehicles were at the National Harbor, riding across medians, onto sidewalks, and against the flow of traffic at top speeds.  Police secured surveillance images of some of those ATV riders, while they were at a nearby gas station on June 30, and have asked the public to identify the riders for immediate arrest.  Some visitors of National Harbor expressed fear and concern over the sheer numbers of riders who kept both drivers and pedestrians trapped in place as they performed stunts, jumped curbs, and spun out.

“We didn’t know whether to run for the parking garage to get out of their way or stand in place because there were so many young boys tearing through onto the sidewalks and the roadway,” May Ellis, a senior traveling to MGM on a church bus trip told the {AFRO}.  “We ran back into the restaurant and waited for them to move, but it was terrifying.  They came out of nowhere.”

Videos posted to social media showed the riders making their way out of downtown D.C. by passing in between cars on crowded highways — some were even seen doing wheelies. Once at National Harbor, many revved their engines as they wove around cars and drove on sidewalks while pedestrians hurried out of the way.

“This will not be tolerated; it is egregious and malicious behavior,” Prince George’s County Deputy Chief George Nichols told WTOP.  “However, we will not meet reckless behavior with our own reckless behavior.”

These same riders are believed to have driven from the Harbor across the Key Bridge into Rossyln, Va., and into the District, where they were spotted on K. Street Northwest popping wheelies and driving against traffic.

“Don’t think you just got away with it; we will be knocking on your door and we will be coming to see you shortly,” Nichols said.

Deputy Chief Chris Murtha, who oversees patrols in the National Harbor area, said police often face a difficult dilemma: Any time they initiate a pursuit, they run the risk of starting a chase that can spin out of control, potentially causing death or serious injury to themselves, the suspect, or the public. Yet there are also dangers in not pursuing those actively engaging in reckless behaviors that jeopardize the general safety of the public.

The police said they were using the many videos captured by security cameras at National Harbor to identify and find those responsible. They also are hoping people in the community will offer help. “We need the public’s help to tell us who is riding these bikes,” Murtha said.

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser addressed the incident at a June 27 press conference where she agreed with tactics set by Prince George’s County, to identify riders and seize ATVs – without engaging young people on the streets and potentially harming members of the public.

“If you see your kid – who is generally a good kid – on television, you don’t want your kid to get into trouble.  If you know that dirt bike is in your shed or stored in your yard or if you are a gas station owner allowing big groups of people to fuel up at your gas station, you need to report them,” Bowser said at the press conference.

Illegal dirt bikes and ATVs have menaced Washington law enforcement for years. In December 2015, dozens rode from Arlington County across the Key Bridge and choked Georgetown streets before slowing the Capital Beltway to a crawl.

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