Leadership needed to halt illegal bike and ATV caravans impacting safety

By now, you will have likely watched firsthand or watched footage of the dangerous dirt bike and ATV caravans joyriding through our downtown. Many of you saw a parade of them on a recent Sunday on the Post Road. It will likely get worse this summer. These motorcades are doing wheelsies while driving on both sides of the roadway and sidewalks, and traversing fast through red lights.

Questions abound about why these reckless individuals are not being stopped by police while they threaten the lives of fellow drivers and pedestrians. The answer has to do with recently passed state laws that limit the ability of police officers to maintain the safety of the community.

The issue facing our police force is two-fold — first, the state enacted a strict no-pursuit policy. Police pursuits are only justified in limited scenarios such as a violent felon evading arrest, but it is deemed unjustifiable for officers to initiate a pursuit in “property crimes” (ie stolen cars) or vehicle infractions. The combination of a limited and vague pursuit policy with the removal of qualified immunity that protects law enforcement from frivolous personal personnel lawsuits has resulted in a lack of enforcement of basic traffic safety laws.

The current no-pursuit policy allows one of these ATVs or dirt bikes to flee from a police officer with limited consequences. If an officer attempts to stop an ATV or dirt bike (already operating recklessly), activates their lights and sirens and if that driver goes 15 feet and crashes and kills himself or another, the argument could be made that it was an unjustified pursuit for a motor vehicle violation.

When you combine this with the loss of qualified immunity protection for police — officers are now at risk of losing their job, home and financial well-being if it turns into a pursuit and an injury results. The combination of weak pursuit laws and limited protections for our men and women in blue has resulted in limited police enforcement options in putting a stop to these reckless ATV and dirt bike caravans that parade through our town. With no respect for the law and lack of consequences, these caravans will only continue over time.

So how do we solve this problem?

We need to our pursuit policies so law enforcement officials have the necessary tools at their disposal to address lawlessness, and we must restore qualified immunity. Just recently the Legislature had the opportunity to vote on an amendment to restore qualified immunity to protect police officers from personal liability. Over 10 brave Democrats in our House of Representatives joined with all Republican members to restore it. Fairfield state Reps. Jennifer Leeper and Cristin McCarthy Vahey voted with their party leadership against the amendment and it failed in a close vote. If elected, I will work on a bipartisan basis from day one to restore qualified immunity to protect the police officers who put their lives on the line for our community.

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