NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Illegal dirt bikes and ATVs have been an issue in New Haven for years, but police are using new tactics this summer to combat them.

Police have seized five bikes and issued several $1,000 fines for illegally driving an off-road vehicle this year, but that’s just the start. 

Officers are conducting details twice a week to make arrests and seize bikes. It can be dangerous to go after riders, so police have been using drones and surveillance cameras to track groups.

“You want to look out for the safety of the dirt bike riders,” said Lt. Derek Werner with the New Haven Police Department Criminal Intelligence Unit.  “The intent to pursue or chase them, there’s a high probability they’ll get into a car crash and get seriously injured and we don’t want that.”

Police said many riders are from other states and are bringing illegal vehicles and fuel on U-Hauls and trucks. Chief Karl Jacobson said in the past, getting these wheels off the road deters other riders from coming.

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In 2015 and 2016, the department made more than 50 off-road vehicle seizures and also seized U-Hauls. As a result, riders avoided the area. 

The city is also taking a proactive stance this year. To slow down riders and drag racing, the city is planning to install speed tables on Sargent Drive, like the ones on Long Wharf Drive. 

Police said there are some obstacles:

“One of the biggest challenges is trying to follow, because the groups will identify these cars even though they’re unmarked as police officers and then leave the area,” Werner said.

The other struggle is not having enough staff. 

“We need personnel to do it,” Jacobson said. “It takes a lot because you can’t just run them off the bike or chase them. It’s not safe for the riders or the citizens.” 

Two years ago, the city passed a law prohibiting gas stations from selling gas to anyone riding dirt bikes and ATVs. Police said most gas stations have been following this rule — and they’ve cited a handful that haven’t. 

According to Werner, some gas stations have received backlash after refusing to sell gas to riders. Werner said the recommendation is to sell the fuel and then report it to police. Officers will then use surveillance footage to identify the driver.  

“We don’t anyone to get hurt,” he said.

The video below aired in our 11 p.m. newscasts on April 25, 2023.