Jan 4, 2024 - News

Philly's off-roading seizures plummet

Illustration of a dirt bike with handcuffs in place of the wheels.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

The number of illegal dirt bikes and ATVs seized by Philadelphia Police dropped 58% over the last two years, per city data obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: Off-roading is a consistent nuisance for city residents who have rallied for quieter streets. It's also among the "quality-of-life" issues that new Mayor Cherelle Parker directed Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel to prioritize as part of her public safety declaration.

Driving the news: The seizure of illegal dirt bikes and ATVs has steadily trended downward post-pandemic.

  • The police department seized more than 890 off-road vehicles in 2020 and 2021 but then just a combined 376 in 2022 and through the first 10 months of 2023, per police data.

Of note: That figure would've been lower had police not conducted a citywide operation in October that led to the confiscation of 23 dirt bikes and ATVs.

  • The operation came after a motorcyclist was captured on video destroying the back of a woman's vehicle in Center City and then pointing a gun at her.

How it works: The city's traffic laws allow police to issue fines and impound illegal dirt bikes and ATVs that are being stored publicly, even if they're not being ridden.

  • All seizures are stored at a city impound lot with violators given a hearing before the Office of Administrative Review, which decides whether the vehicles are returned to their owners.
  • Retained dirt bikes and ATVs are scrapped with the city receiving between 1 and 5 cents per pound, police spokesperson Cpl. Jasmine Reilly tells Axios.

What they're saying: Pandemic shutdowns likely contributed to a spike in seizures in 2020 and 2021, per the police.

  • But they consider those years "statistical outliers" and pointed out they mirror increases in other crimes seen in Philadelphia and nationally.
  • "You have to keep in mind how atypical crime in general was during those years," Reilly says.

The big picture: In addition to cracking down on off-roading, police dealt with a spate of illegal car meetups last summer, including one that turned deadly and pushed city lawmakers to pass a law increasing fines for drifting.

The bottom line: Police say fewer people are willing to risk having their off-road vehicles seized now that they're aware the department is focused on them.

  • Many who once parked their bikes and ATVs in public have taken to stowing them away in private garages, they say.
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