Cities form task force to tackle ATVs, dirt bikes

The Cranston Herald ·

On the heels of the latest high-profile incident involving ATVs operating on local roadways, officials from Cranston and Providence on Tuesday announced a new partnership aimed at addressing activity they described as endangering public safety and fueling widespread community complaints.

“To address a problem like this, it takes all of us … Not just one city is going to be able to fix it,” Cranston Mayor Ken Hopkins told members of the media during a press conference held outside the netWORKri building on Reservoir Avenue.

“We all have a joint interest … and that’s making sure our roads are safe for everyone involved,” Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said, adding: “This is another example of how interconnected we all are … [This activity] easily shifts from one city to the next, goes in and out of city borders. So it makes a lot of sense for us to coordinate to the extent possible.”

The centerpiece of Tuesday’s announcement is the formation of what Cranston Police Chief Col. Michael Winquist called a new “ATV dirt bike task force” consisting of members of both the Cranston and Providence police departments. The partnership has been formalized through a memorandum of understanding, officials said, and existing mutual aid agreements are also being utilized.

Winquist said the creation of the task force resulted from a Monday meeting that included both himself, Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements, Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare, and both mayors. Hopkins called that meeting “productive and encouraging.”

Winquist and Clements largely declined to discuss specifics regarding new tactical and strategic measures aimed at curbing the illegal operation of off-road vehicles on city streets. Winquist said the task force will involve the sharing of “intelligence, physical resources and personnel.”

Both chiefs also said they have had discussions with their counterparts in other neighboring communities, and that the plan is to bring other departments into the task force.

“We plan on extending this,” Clements said.

The other new development to emerge Tuesday was a change in Hopkins’s planned approach to handling ATVs, dirt bikes and other vehicles when they are seized by police based on illegal roadway operation.

Hopkins earlier this month signed an executive order strengthening enforcement of the city’s existing ordinance regarding illegal vehicles and asking fueling stations to decline service to such vehicles. He also announced plans to seek a new ordinance, modeled after what is already in place in Providence, authorizing the city to destroy the vehicles once they are seized.

On Tuesday, the mayor said his plan now is to have seized off-road vehicles shipped to Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s capital and largest city, for use by police in that city.

“They have accepted our proposal. We’re just working on the details,” Hopkins said. He added that under the planned arrangement, Santo Domingo would pay for the vehicles to be shipped.

Elorza, asked if he would consider a similar approach in Providence, told reporters: “We’re looking at it … We’re open to that idea.”

The officials gathered on Tuesday uniformly and repeatedly characterized off-road vehicle activity on public streets as a dangerous nuisance.

“Many of our residents, rightfully so, are fed up and are fearful of being struck by these riders that operate with complete disregard for public safety,” Winquist said.

“We will not tolerate or allow this activity to continue … Our phones ring off the hook when they’re out there in certain neighborhoods,” Clements added.

The latest push to curb the activity comes following an incident last week in which police say ATV and dirt bike operators encircled police and one operator brandished a firearm.

The March 9 incident led to the arrest of Providence residents Isiah Allen, 23, and Chevin Gobern, 28, according to Cranston Police. They are each charges with reckless driving/drag racing/eluding a police officer, obstructing an officer in the execution of duty and disorderly conduct. Gobern was additionally charged with resisting arrest.

According to police, the response began just before 5:30 p.m. on March 9 following a report of approximately 60 off-road vehicles traveling south on Narragansett Boulevard toward Cranston.

Responding officers found the group at the Shell gas station on the city line, with some riders fueling their vehicles as others parked across the street.

Police say after one officer stopped on Narragansett Boulevard, “the group began to circle his marked police vehicle.” The riders then proceeded west, using Montgomery Avenue to head toward Broad Street.

In the course of the response, police say ATV and dirt bike operators blocked Montgomery Avenue, encircling and driving toward officers. One dirt bike operator, later identified as Gobern, is said to have fallen from his vehicle after skidding on sand. He then allegedly fled on foot, pushing an officer in the process.

Police say the rider of an ATV – later identified as Allen – also role alongside and pushed an officer. Gobern is said to have boarded Allen’s ATV.

An officer who went to retrieve the fallen dirt bike was then “surrounded by riders who were circling him and driving in his direction, nearly striking him,” according to police. Then, another member of the group, who work a chrome helmet and facemask and drove a blue dirt bike, “raised his shirt displaying the butt of a black handgun tucked in his waistband.”

Police caught up with the ATV carrying Goburn and Allen as it turned onto Elmwood Avenue from Broad Street. The vehicle then entered Route 10.

According to police, an officer “pulled in front of the ATV, at which time the ATV accelerated and struck the cruiser's rear bumper. The front push bar of the ATV became lodged under the cruiser bumper and came to a stop.”

Goburn and Allen allegedly fled on foot before being apprehended shortly thereafter.

During Tuesday’s event, Clements said it is police policy not to pursue off-road vehicles, given their ability of travel onto sidewalks and other areas and endanger community members. In instances such as last week’s response, when a firearm was involved, he said officers use their best discretion to address threats.

“It depends on the circumstances,” he said.

He stressed, though, that Tuesday’s announcement does not involve any change to pursuit policies.

Elorza echoed Hopkins in calling for an approach that addresses “everyone that enables those riders to be out there,” including gas stations, vehicle sellers and organizers of large rides.

“There is no one, simple solution … you have to attack it using every tool in the toolbox, and that’s our commitment,” he said.

ATVs, dirt bike, police