Warren City Council asks police for help with off-road vehicle problem

By: Brian Wells | Warren Weekly | Published August 5, 2022


WARREN — On July 23, someone riding a stolen dirt bike attempted to flee from police. He crashed and may now lose his leg, said Warren Police Deputy Commissioner Bob Ahrens.

This is just one example of how a dirt bike, minibike or ATV on public roads can put others at risk.

At its July 26 meeting, the Warren City Council asked the city’s Police Department to evaluate options to help get these vehicles off the city’s roads.

“As I’m certain many of my colleagues have received complaints about these small vehicles traversing residential neighborhoods and even some of the main thoroughfares, I get increasingly concerned as the summer draws on that we’re going to have a serious accident involving what I typically see are younger people driving these vehicles,” Councilman Jonathan Lafferty said at the meeting.

Lafferty’s concerns were echoed by Councilman Garry Watts.

“It is a serious issue across the city,” he said. “It’s minibikes, a lot of minibikes, a lot of ATVs and some dirt bikes, definitely.”

At the meeting, Ahrens said these vehicles are illegal and were the most popular complaint the department was receiving.

“They’re out there,” he said. “When you see an ATV or minibike you remember it when it’s going down the road but when I put my officers looking for them, it ends up not being successful when they’re just sitting on the side of the road waiting for them.”

While there is no place in Warren to drive these vehicles besides private property, Ahrens said, many people are starting to drive them on the streets. But when his officers try to stop them, about 50% attempt to flee, he said.

Of the 50% that have been stopped, 90% have been impounded.

The majority of the time, the operators are unlicensed juveniles, Ahrens said, and pursuing them can put innocent people at risk. So, in addition to impounding these vehicles, the department is trying to get the word out that the parents will be responsible for their kids if they get stopped on a city street.

“There’s no easy solution to this, you do your best,” he said. “We’re trying to let the parents know they’re going to be responsible for these kids.”

Ahrens also said he’s working to make his officers “smart in their tactics” by following people operating these vehicles until they stop, instead of trying to pull them over on the roads.

“I don’t want it to sound defeatist, that there’s nothing we can do, we have to get the word out … Our guys have to be able to get out and use alternatives, follow them to their house, stop, talk to the parents,” he said.

City Council President Patrick Green asked if these vehicles had titles, and while Ahrens said many of them did, they didn’t have license plates, which presented a challenge to the department’s pursuits.

Councilman Eddie Kabacinski said he’d see a person operating an off-road vehicle with their infant on their lap. He also asked if people operating these vehicles were required to wear helmets.

“If they were on a standard motorcycle where it’s legal, then the parent does not have to wear a helmet … Obviously that parent’s got a problem and is not making good decisions,” Ahrens said.

The motion to allow the Warren Police Department to begin confiscating these vehicles that were operating in motor vehicle lanes and neighborhood streets passed unanimously.