Belleville calls on state officials to allow police to pursue ATVs, motorbike riders

The Belleville Mayor and Council are calling on state officials to relax directives that prohibit members of local law enforcement from engaging in vehicular pursuits, except in rare instances.

Specifically, the relaxation of directives adopted in 2020 and slightly revised later would assist Belleville police in cracking down on a surge of illegal all-terrain vehicle (ATVs) and motorbike riders who are joyriding on public roads.

Often riding in packs ranging from dozens to more than 100 in towns from Belleville and across the state, these riders pose a threat to themselves and law-abiding motorists, pedestrians and cyclists, the township mayor said.

“And they seem to especially enjoy taunting local police officers who are limited by directives to deal with these bad actors and do their stated job: keeping residents safe,” Mayor Michael A. Melham said.

According to a resolution passed at the Belleville Mayor and Council meeting Tuesday, June 27, “neutering police officers and local departments, who want to perform their constitutional duties, is leading to not only increased public-safety issues, but can be directly related to increased lawlessness in our once quiet communities.”

A copy of the resolution, which also calls for tougher penalties on these ATV and motorbike riders, will be forward to Gov. Philip D. Murphy, Attorney General Matthew Platkin and the state Legislature.

“If dangerous ATVs and dirt bikes were roaring by the governor’s mansion in Middletown, day and night, you can bet this would be a top issue for the attorney general, rather than directing our police departments to just blindly stand down,” Melham said. “So, because the ongoing issue in Belleville along with many other suburban and urban communities, I must ask Gov. Murphy: ‘What’s the difference?’”

Belleville moved to pass the resolution after it became the latest municipality to see a surge in nuisance ATV and motorbike use.

A disturbing video captured dozens of ATV and motorbike riders roaring down Washington Avenue. Many of them were recklessly riding on their back tires as motorists hurried to move out of their way.

To minimize these kinds of incidents, several municipalities have adopted ordinances making it illegal for gas stations to fuel up ATVs and motorbikes at their pumps.

Melham said Belleville officials are also working on introducing a similar ordinance, he but doesn’t think that it can go far enough to stop the rise in illegal ATV and motorbike use.

“There’s only one thing that will help keep our roadways safe from these brazen bad actors, and that’s restoring the police’s ability to pursue and arrest them,” Melham said. “I hope our state officials realize the gravity of the situation. I hope it doesn’t take a horrific accident or the death of law-abiding motorists to realize we need to give police every chance to stop these riders.”

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.