City lawmakers, police double down on ATVs; 52 seized in 1 month

Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements on Monday said the department has seized 52 illegal ATVs from city streets in the last month. The news comes as the City Council considers a resolution urging the mayor to enforce existing bans on ATVs. PBN PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO

PROVIDENCE – City lawmakers are doubling down on taking illegal all-terrain vehicles off the streets as police also renew their own pursuit policies, seizing 52 in the last month.

The Finance Committee on Monday approved a resolution urging Mayor Jorge O. Elorza to enforce the existing ban on ATVs. The unanimous vote, which will be sent as a recommendation to the full City Council, comes amid public outcry over the increasing presence and safety problems posed by the bikes and their riders.

The resolution, introduced in July by Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan, who chairs the Finance Committee, and Council President John J. Igliozzi, does not change any policies around ATVs. Instead, it calls on Elorza to enforce the existing laws, which ban off-road vehicles on streets and sidewalks and allow law enforcement to seize and destroy those they catch.

In an interview with PBN earlier on Monday, Igliozzi criticized the Elorza administration for not applying its own laws around ATVS, creating what he described as an atmosphere in which riders from across the state feel free to traverse the city streets and sidewalks.

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“The city has sent the welcome mat for that type of behavior,” Igliozzi said. “They [riders] realize the city has not taken law seriously.”

Police Chief Hugh Clements, who spoke to the Finance Committee on Monday, also said officers backed off pursuit of illegal riders after a scooter crash in October 2020 that left its rider, Jhamal Gonsalves, critically injured. While Attorney General Peter Neronha did not charge either Providence Police officer involved, and the city has denied responsibility, a federal lawsuit alleges excess use of force. 

Following the incident and ensuing protests, police “backed off in pursuing those types of vehicles,” Clements said.

However, more recent attention on the problem, prompted  in part by another high-profile incident in August in which a woman was dragged from her car and beaten by an ATV rider, have spurred police to renew a more active pursuit strategy.

The department has seized more than 50 ATVs from city streets in the last month – compared with 200 vehicles that were confiscated over the course of several years prior, Clements said.

He credited the success to ”targeted operations” in which officers go out on a planned search for groups of riders.

While the tactics appear to be working, the resolution serves as a reminder both to the administration and to the public, Igliozzi said.

“There seems to be some ambiguity,” he said of public understanding of city laws around ATVs. “We want to make this clear, concise and specific.”

Ryan during the committee meeting offered words of support for city law enforcement. But Igliozzi questioned whether the city was fully committed to tackling the problem.

 “If we’re able to deal with serious drug dealers and prostitution the way we have, I still can’t believe we’re not able to address a bunch of young adults riding around on ATVs,” he said.

Elorza in an emailed response Monday said, “The use of illegal ATVs and dirt bikes present a danger to the public and will not be tolerated. We have been aggressive in pulling over, seizing and destroying over 200 ATVs and dirt bikes in recent years and the Providence Police Department continues to take these illegal vehicles off our streets. The city and the Providence Police Department are committed to working with partners to continue this approach to make sure that the illegal and dangerous use of these vehicles is addressed.”

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