Karen Lin, Staff Photographer

In preparation for a summer of all-terrain vehicle, or ATV, and dirt bike riders driving on city streets, the New Haven Police Department and City Hall launched a deterrence campaign in an effort to increase awareness of its new set of penalties for motorists. 

In a Thursday press conference, Mayor Justin Elicker, NHPD Chief Renee Dominguez and NHPD Assistant Chief Karl Jacobson emphasized the provisions of the new ordinance approved by the Board of Alders in December. The new ordinance relies on fines to deter the motorists. Any individual operating a dirt bike or an ATV on parks, city streets or private property without permission will face fines between $1,000 to $2,000. The amount was previously $99 before the new ordinance. The police also have permission to seize the vehicles. Gas station owners are not allowed to provide fuel to dirt bikers and may face up to $100 in fines after an initial warning if they are found doing so.

Frank Cochran, of the Edgewood Park Green Team, said that this ordinance hopes to address the dangers that the dirt bikers posed. Cochran said that when the riders enter a park at a high speed, they pose a danger to themselves and park users.

“And more specifically, there was a time when they were doing this right around the children’s playground. … And I do remember talking to one of them one time and saying, ‘Hey, [there] are kids playing over here. You got to stay away from this,’” Cochran said. “And actually they did for a while. I don’t know what’s happened.”

Cochran added that the dirt bikers’ affinity for grassy areas poses a danger because parks are usually populated by pedestrians and dog walkers.

Elicker said that New Haven’s “difficult summer” dealing with motorists, dirt bikers and motorcyclists last year spurred this ordinance. He said that last summer, there was an uptick in dirt biking. He disagreed with the proposal that the city should just allocate an area in which dirt bikers can ride instead of posing fines.

“I think that you’re pretty safe to say that no neighborhood is going to want an ATV or dirt bike track near their home because it is noisy and disruptive,” Elicker said.

Assistant Police Chief Karl Jacobson said that these techniques are essential in keeping both officers and dirt bikers safe. Since the NHPD has a “no chase” rule with dirt bikers, Jacobson said that this ordinance affords the department more tools.

In October, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled against former New Haven police officer Nikki Curry, who injured a biker after causing a roadblock with her police cruiser in an attempt to bring the biker to a halt.

Jacobson added that the ordinance is aimed at changing behavior and limiting the number of arrests that the department makes.

“This is an alternative to arrest. $1,000 fine,” Jacobson said. “You lose. … And that’s a behavior changer.”

The punitive stance that the NHPD and City Hall have taken has attracted opposition. Iliana Pujols, the director of community connections for the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, and New Haven resident Brandon Scott wrote an editorial in the Independent last August opposing the new set of fines. The two argued the fines were unfair because they introduced the possibility of a new financial burden for residents in a city with high rates of poverty.

“For many members of New Haven’s Black and brown neighborhoods, riding together builds bonds within and between communities, brings joy, provides an escape, a sense of freedom, a way to let off steam, and a way to cope with trauma,” the editorial read.

The New Haven Police Department was founded in 1861.

Razel Suansing | razel.suansing@yale.edu

Razel Suansing is a staff reporter and producer for the City, YTV, and Magazine desks. She covers cops and courts, specifically state criminal justice reform efforts, the New Haven Police Department, and the Yale Police Department. Originally from Manila, Philippines, she is a first-year in Davenport College, majoring in Global Affairs.