PD chief suggests motorcycles to enforce ATV laws

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:48

    VERNON-Vernon Chief of Police Roy Wherry has proposed acquiring motorcycles for township to use in enforcing laws governing use of the motorized sports vehicles. Wherry presented his suggestions at the township council meeting July 8 before an audience of ATV riders as well as residents concerned with the effects of illegal riding in their areas. The council had previously solicited the proposal in order to stem damage caused by illegal all terrain vehicle riding at sites in the township such as Maple Grange. The problem of enforcing the ordinance, which prohibits ATV riding on public streets or property, is that when police pursue individuals riding illegally on the street, the riders turn off the paved road and police are unable to follow, according to Wherry. Other enforcement tools, such as signs prohibiting trespassing, are ignored, said Wherry. Gates to prohibit access to fields favored by ATV riders would not work, as the vehicles are designed to go around these types of gates. School programs designed to raise awareness of the issue are only somewhat effective, as ATVs are often purchased by parents who condone their use, according to Wherry. Wherry suggested the purchase of one or two motorcycles that would be street legal and still able to pursue ATV riders when they attempt to elude pursuit by going off-road. He said that he was not advocating a "routine motorcycle patrol," but noted that the motorcycles could serve additional uses, such as crorades. In addition to obtaining vehicles to allow for off-road pursuit of illegal riding, if a private resident can positively identify an illegal rider, that individual can swear out a complaint at town hall, said township attorney Joseph Ragno. The complaint would then be processed through the township judicial system. Some people, however, who do report the illegal activities have claimed they were being threatened and intimidated, said Janet Morrison, Vernon deputy mayor. She added: "That can not be tolerated." Paul Lankau, a resident of Storms Estates, brought with him a binder of photographs documenting illegal riding of ATVs on the streets of the development. Lankau has sworn out several complaints against illegal riding, but he added, he does not have a problem with the legal riders. "These folks I have no problem with -- I don't recognize anyone," said Lankau, gesturing to the ATV riders at the meeting. His comment was met with good-natured chuckles from several of the riders. Highland Lakes resident and ATV rider James Cook spoke before the council to address the problem of illegal riding and to ask for help in finding a place to ride. He would be willing to look into finding a private landowner who would permit ATV riding, but doesn't know enough people to ask, he said. "We're not the criminals so many people make us out to be," said Cook. Several council members suggested that the ATV riders look to private industry or a private landowner to find a place to ride. "Someone will do it if they can get money [for it]," said Vernon Mayor Ira Weiner. Weiner is in favor of raising the maximum penalty on the ordinance for more effective enforcement. He also added that he is not against ATV riding, but is against illegal riding. Environmental Commission member and Highland Lakes resident Brenda Susman also spoke before the council and presented several 8-by-10 photographs detailing damage to the environment at the Maple Grange property caused by illegal riding. Susman, who visited the property with the permission of the township manager, witnessed ATV riders on the property and photographed a dirt trail used by the illegal riders. The environmental effects from illegal riding are soil erosion, destruction of indigenous vegetation and destruction of wildlife, such as nesting birds in the fields, according to Susman. Councilman Phil Weiler suggested the riders investigate the possibility of forming a club on the order of a hunters' club, which would seek out large landowners and negotiate use of the land through paying a fee or other methods. "The private sector is much more capable of doing this [creating an ATV park] than any government could be," said councilman Jeff Patterson, who also encouraged the riders to investigate the private sector. "What I've seen tonight is some great dialogue," said Patterson. He added, it was important to continue to explore the options available to the township government and resident ATV riders.