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Baltimore police say dirt bike crackdown is working

But Baltimore police say a dirt bike task force they started last summer is beginning to make a dent in the number of people riding dirt bikes. The pastime is illegal in Baltimore yet attracts riders who perform stunts and ride in traffic, often without helmets.

A year after a Baltimore police task force began cracking down on dirt bike riders tearing through city streets — gunning up and down straightaways, pulling wheelies, weaving through traffic, terrorizing motorists and pedestrians — police and riders agree its impact has been noticeable.

The four-person task force, which launched last July, has made 45 arrests and confiscated more than 200 bikes, Sgt. Christopher Warren said. As the peak summer dirt bike season begins, he says, the number of people who ride together in packs has dwindled.

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"We've sharpened all our tools, and I think this year will be even more successful than last year," Warren said. "I think a majority of the people who used to ride in Baltimore city are not going to ride in Baltimore city."

Rider Jule Perry, 31, said fewer riders have been willing to go out and risk getting arrested or having their dirt bikes seized. He said they have been coping by trying to ride in vacant lots or industrial areas instead of in traffic — but still are confronted by police.

"It's not even a third of how it used to be," Perry said.

Riding dirt bikes on city streets is illegal. But the pastime has attracted hundreds of participants, spectators and media coverage, making some riders stars.

Among the arrested in the current crackdown: "Wheelie Wayne," perhaps the city's best known rider.

Wayne — real name DeWayne Davis — is accused of running a chop shop for stolen bikes and parts. He faces 15 counts, including theft scheme and removing or obliterating serial numbers on dirt-bike engines. He is out on $25,000 bail while his case is pending.

Davis declined to comment. His attorney called the charges "pretty bogus."

"It's not what the police said it was," attorney Lawrence Rosenberg said. "It's not a chop shop. That's ridiculous."

Warren called the arrest significant.

"I think it signifies that this is a chapter in Baltimore that was not a good image for the city that's finally coming to a close," he said.

The task force is the latest in a series of attempts by police to get dirt bikes off the streets. In 2014, they they used undercover officers to infiltrate social media to penetrate the packs. In 2015, they closed lanes on Reisterstown Road, a favorite venue on Sundays.

The new task force was created to stamp out dirt bike riding altogether.

"We want to completely eliminate the illegal dirt bike riding in the city," Warren said. "And that goes for all parts of the city."

People who live in the corners of the city frequented by the riders complain that the noisy bikes are dangerous and frightening. Dirt bike riders have injured pedestrians, sometimes seriously, and killed at least one.

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Allison Blanding was struck by a dirt bike in the parking lot of the West Cold Spring Metro Station in Northwest Baltimore in May 2015.

The rider fled. Blanding, the 24-year-old mother of a young child, died the next day.

Police have said some riders are involved with drugs and guns. Warren said the task force focused first on identifying the riders. Many ride with T-shirts wrapped around their heads to hide their identities.

He said police zeroed in on the chase cars that follow the dirt bikes and film them to post on social media. Warren said some of those cars have been found to have guns or drugs in them, and police were able to arrest the drivers and seize the cars.

"The packs have dwindled down to less than 20 people," Warren said. "A couple years ago it was 50 to 100 people in a pack."

In the neighborhoods frequented by dirt bikers, perceptions of whether the task force has made a difference vary.

Bernice Wright lives near Reisterstown Road. She said she hasn't yet noticed any dirt bike riders. That means she can finally watch her television in peace again.

"On Sundays, Lord, you used to couldn't even hear the TV because they would be so loud," she said.

Neighbor Terry Jenkins had the opposite observation.

"They're increasing," he said, as three dirt bikes rode by on Reisterstown Road.

Carl Gilmore lives on Auchentoroly Terrace. He said he hasn't seen much of a change in the number of dirt bikers from previous years.

"About the same," he said.

Gilmore said he is a dirt bike enthusiast who nonetheless thinks the young men who ride in the streets are putting themselves and others in danger. He wants to see the city create a dirt bike park or another solution.

"I just don't want them to be coming out here and riding and causing accidents," Gilmore said. "They're endangering their lives and others. That's my problem with the situation."

Some officials have floated the notion of a dirt bike park so the bikers could perform their sport more safely. A spokesman for Mayor Catherine E. Pugh said it is "unlikely" such a park will be built anytime soon.

"Given the financial realities we are facing it can not be a priority right now," spokesman Anthony McCarthy said.

City Councilman Brandon Scott said he wasn't sure a dirt bike park would be as effective as people think it would be. Scott, vice chair of the council's public safety committee, said some riders get a thrill from riding illegally.

"I think it's important for folks to understand that dirt bike riding is not something that's going to go away quickly in Baltimore," he said. "It's a part of the culture for many."

Perry, the dirt bike rider, said he would use a dirt bike park — and stop worrying about the police.

"Even if they take up one big parking lot once a week," he said. "Police can be there or whatever. We just want to have fun."

City Councilman Edward Reisinger said police have confiscated dirt bikes in Morrell Park based on tips from himself and others. As a result, he said, he's seen fewer bikes.

"I think it's a success story the way it's working right now," he said. "But I can't speak for other districts."

M. Holden Warren, who is not related to the officer, is a filmmaker and photographer who has followed the dirt bikers in Baltimore and in Ohio and Paris. He said Baltimore is known around the world as the home of dirt biking.

The task force will "put some people off the streets for a little while, but they're not going anywhere," Warren said. "They're not going to stop riding dirt bikes. For me it's like the war on drugs. You're never going to legislate your way out of this. You're never going to arrest your way out of this."

He said the "burgeoning urban sport" is deeply embedded in the culture, and should be celebrated by the city.

"Who wants to go to another Cheesecake Factory when we have something that's internationally recognized and has a global following?" he said. "It's a global phenomenon."

He said officials should create a space for it.

Perry said his bike was seized by police last summer after he let someone borrow it. He got it back because it was properly registered in his name, he said.

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"People worry about getting their bikes taken, and arrested," he said. "Who wants to get arrested for something they love doing?"

Perry, who works at a warehouse in Lansdowne, doesn't appreciate dirt bike riders being portrayed as criminals.

"I work every day," he said. "I've never shot a pistol. But because I like to ride dirt bikes, they have to be stolen and I have to be a thug in the streets, breaking laws.

"It's not like that."

Perry predicted police would never be able to eradicate dirt bike riding in Baltimore.

"It's not going to stop," he said. "It's part of our culture."

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