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Buffalo Council members take on the issue of ATVs, mini-bikes and other unregistered rides

Buffalo Common Council Members continue to mull over proposed legislation that aims to toughen penalties and discourage the use of unregistered motorized recreational vehicles in the city. On Tuesday, they heard from city officials including a representative of the Buffalo Police Department.

Members of the Common Council's Legislation Committee say they've heard numerous complaints from residents in all parts of the city, about the use of unregistered motorized recreational vehicles. Some of the complaints include instances of large groups of riders traveling on city streets or through park spaces.

"It's been a long, long year a long summer in in my district, with ATVs, dirt bikes, mini-bikes, you know, riding not only on our side streets but now it's on our main streets," said Council Member Bryan Bollman. "Genesee, I have them burning through Lovejoy Street, they're tearing up our parks, and it really seems to get worse every year. It feels like what we have right now is not working."

The council is discussing a proposal to develop newer, tougher punishments to deter use of such vehicles. As part of a resolution now before the Legislation Committee:

"The City of Buffalo Common Council:

1) Directs the Department of Law to prepare legislation to increase fines and confiscate ATV’s, dirt bikes, and other recreational vehicles if there is a reasonable burden of proof that they have been driving on our City streets and in our parks; and

2) Requests that the City Clerk send a copy of this resolution to the Buffalo Police command staff, soliciting any suggestions and ideas they have to further this legislation."

Buffalo Police Captain Jeffrey Rinaldo was invited to the committee's meeting to take questions, including existing policy regarding engagement of those who are operating unregistered motorized recreational vehicles. He explained that there are specific criteria that must be met for officers to pursue such riders but, in most cases, they have a "no pursuit" policy.

"We've seen, over the course of the summer, people getting severely injured on these, even with no police involvement, just driving them in normal traffic," Rinaldo said. "People are slamming into cars, buildings, trees, fire hydrants. So to attempt to pursue them would just be extremely dangerous to the public, the person writing the ATV, and the officers."

That's frustrating for police. Rinaldo explained that, on a few occasions, ATVs have been used in criminal activities.

"Actually, we had an officer shot at on an illegal dirt bike while pursuing somebody," he said. "So, some people are using them for illegal means, but the vast majority are just people that think that they can ride these things on city streets."

Police have confiscated numerous unregistered vehicles this year. Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer estimates the city has impounded at least 50 since June, and noted that six were impounded on one day alone in September.

"We have changed our policy, and we are not returning these ATVs to the owners unless they are registered," Helfer said. "I think we've taken all the proper provisions to show that this is something that we do not tolerate."

Helfer supports newer punishments including higher fines. Rinaldo, meanwhile, wants to see more enforcement of registration.

"There should be some type of possible registration. If you're going to take it hunting, if you own property in the Southern Tier let's say, and you're using it strictly for recreational purposes, we don't wish to discourage that. But if it's not registered, you're probably not utilizing the manner in which it was intended," he said.

The Common Council's Legislation Committee tabled their proposed resolution for further discussion.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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