The road warriors rise with the summer sun, determined to claim Baltimore's streets, parks and alleyways as their own. They terrorize pedestrians and taunt motorists, zipping through neighborhoods on their motorized dirt bikes, often with little regard for public safety.
It is an issue of growing concern in many communities, police say. In an effort to curb the problem, the city Police Department recently purchased 30 dirt bikes to patrol areas where riders have been known to cause disturbances.
"We're hoping the dirt bike patrols will be a deterrent," said Maj. John E. Gavrilis, commander of the Southeastern Police District. On summer mornings youngsters often ride near the railroad tracks in his district, along the city-Baltimore County line.
"Here in the Southeast, I have industrial parks, recreational parks and commercial areas," the major said. "The bikes are going to be used in those areas, to go where cars can't."
Police are hoping increased patrols will help prevent accidents such as the fatal crash that occurred in May in Baltimore County. Two men from Turners Station died when the dirt bikes they were riding collided on Quad Avenue, an isolated road near Rosedale.
Most of the dirt bike riders are youngsters on speedy joy rides, violating traffic laws -- dirt bikes are illegal on Baltimore streets -- and evading police, Gavrilis said. However, he added, some of the riders are drug dealers darting through narrow public housing pathways.
In the early 1980s, Maurice D. "Peanut" King, now serving 50 years for running a $75 million heroin business, paid children as young as 10 $500 a week to run drugs in Baltimore on mopeds. Today the mopeds have been replaced by dirt bikes because they are faster and more elusive.
Southern District police have been using two dirt bikes, a Honda 250 and a Suzuki 350, designed for on- and off-road use, to track dirt bikes used illegally.
"We use the bikes extensively to increase visibility and mobility, especially in the parks and alleyways," said Lt. Clifton M. Cavey, Southern District's deputy district commander. "The bikes can deal with problems that regular patrols cannot. They're faster than foot patrols and can traverse alleyways that our cruisers can't."
The problems caused by dirt bikes are not new, police say, and extend beyond city limits -- in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties dirt bikes are allowed only on private property.
"I've seen the kids riding up and down the street without helmets, without regard for their safety or the safety of others," said Dave Mills, an Essex resident who works in Canton Industrial Park in Baltimore County. "They weave in and out of traffic all along Quad Avenue."
The Baltimore City Council passed a law two years ago requiring dirt bikes to be registered.
The task is made difficult by a police policy that prohibits officers from chasing dirt bike riders.
"We can't chase them because of the danger to civilians, to the riders and to the officers," said Gavrilis, who added that officers are allowed to follow the riders and can seize bikes from the homes where they are stored.
The violent crime task force and each of the city's nine police districts will receive three dirt bikes by the end of this month. The cycles, which will be modified for on-road use and clearly marked as police vehicles, were purchased for $111,000 from Pete's Cycles of Belair Road in Bel Air.
Pub Date: 7/15/96