Allentown police say residents and ATV riders driving illegally on city streets should prepare for more arrests in the coming weeks, as a long-planned crackdown on the vehicles gets underway.
Allentown police Capt. John Hill said the individuals arrested Friday and Saturday were part of a targeted enforcement focus on the illegal use of motorbikes and ATVs throughout the city. Seven people were charged and 15 vehicles were seized along with drugs and guns found during the arrests, according to police.
Allentown residents are no strangers to the noisy riders, which Hill said have a history of harassing residents and causing property damage by riding too close to vehicles and damaging paint and side view mirrors.
“We’re just always getting crushed with complaints about this,” Hill said of illegal riders.
At the end of last summer, Hill said the police department came up with strategies to enforce the activity and had plans to continue the efforts starting this spring. But the coronavirus pandemic and bouts of nasty weather have delayed this year’s response. That changed on the weekend, he said.
“It was successful. We wished we’d gotten more arrests, but nobody got hurt so yeah — I’d say it was a success,” Hill said.
The challenge is detaining suspects without an unnecessary show of force that would put the public, the riders and police in possible danger. The majority of dirt bike and ATV riders are adults, Hill said, and many times they’re not wearing a helmet.
“We’re not going to go on a police pursuit of dirt bikes and ATVs,” Hill said. “They’re illegal to ride on the street, but the infraction doesn’t rise to that level of force.”
So police have had to come up with more creative methods. When a resident calls in a report of a rider, police ask them to take a photo or get a sense of where they came from or are headed. Then, rather than dispatch an officer to the location, police can notify all city patrols about the rider, allowing everyone the chance to spot the rider and make a much safer arrest.
“They don’t usually just pull over when you put your lights on,” Hill said. “We can usually get them once they’ve stopped.”
The arrests on Friday and Saturday were made possible with some information, Hill said, that helped police understand where and when the city was expecting some motorbike and ATV traffic. Allentown worked with other jurisdictions, including Bethlehem, Whitehall Township and state police to coordinate enforcement. Without divulging too many details about the strategy, Hill said the saturation of patrols during the operation was key.
Police found riders without having to initiate pursuits, he said.
“They’d stop and we’d be there,” Hill said. “They didn’t know who was where.”
Charges announced Monday pertained to drugs or firearms found with the suspects, according Hill said.
Kelvin Toledo, 24, of the 700 block of West Liberty Street, and Jonathan Jimenez, 31, of the 100 block of North Seventh Street, both charged with carrying guns without licenses. Fattah Nevius, 33, of the 600 block of North Ninth Street, Felix Thaureaux, 64, of the 500 block of Allen Street, Zakeem Sellars, 40, of the 600 block of Fair Street, Keith Williams, 49, of Whitehall Township, and John Owens, 48, of no current address were charged with drug possession with intent to deliver.
Police cited others illegally riding the vehicles with violations that can carry hefty fines, Hill said. They seize the vehicles when a rider cannot prove ownership. Most drivers, police say, are not licensed and the vehicles are not inspected.
Hill said police aim to use similar tactics in the weeks to come and said he’s already received feedback from residents grateful for the efforts so far.
Morning Call reporter Sarah M. Wojcik can be reached at 610-778-2283 or [email protected]
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