Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Why are the police so obsessed with seizing motor bikes?


It's true that motor bikes - regardless of the number of wheels - can be really annoying and, handled badly, dangerous. It's also true that the quad bike has become popular with a certain sort in and around Bradford. You see them charge by with a sort of 21st century version of Mr Toad perched atop the quad bike - all toot-tooting and laughing at the sheer fun of a loud, open and unsafe motor vehicle.

We also see young traveller lads helmetless on trials bikes - flouting the rules (and probably unlicensed and uninsured) as they go from whatever dirty spot they've been riding to the lock-up on the council estate. And we tut and shake our heads as we watch them go by - can't be right we mutter to ourselves. Something should be done!

And something was done. West Yorkshire Police decided (given that there was no real crime to deal with out there in the county) to set up a Nuisance Bike Team to deal with the problem - complete with their own bikes and the powers under the Police Reform Act 2002 to seize and destroy said 'nuisance bikes'. The result of this initiative looks something like this:

Officers called to Farlea Drive over complaints of an off-road motorbike being used on the road and causing a nuisance had to leave the bike because they could not disprove the owner's story that he had used it only in his garden.

But a Section 59 warning was issued, allowing officers to seize the machine when they were called back the following day over similar complaints about the use of the bike. 

So you've got a neighbour who doesn't like your bike. That neighbour calls the cops to complain and the cops call round and give you an order not to use the bike in an 'anti-social' manner. Next day the neighbour complains and the police steal - sorry seize - your bike. You've not committed any crime but the public authorities have taken your vehicle.

Yesterday in Bradford's local paper's online newsfeed there were three separate reports of the police showing off about them intervening to deal with 'nuisance bikes'. The typical action - showing just how busy these teams are - is along these lines:

They saw a man riding the bike on the grass land area, which had been churned up. They approached the man who was there with his three children and his female partner.

He was told the land was a public area used by dog walkers and residents, and the man claimed he thought it was a safe place to use the vehicles.

They were children's bikes but the man had been seen riding them around.

He was given a section 59 warning which allows officers to seize a vehicle if it, or the driver, are involved in anti-social behaviour during the following 12 months, and told to push the machines back to his address which was a short distance away. 

It's not just that this happened but that West Yorkshire Police deemed it to be an incident of such significance that they issued a press release. There is no suggestion that the man they've warned was acting unsafely or irresponsibly nor are we told there were clear signs saying motor bikes aren't allowed. Just that unspecified 'residents' had raised concerns.

The real problem here is summed up in another piece - another West Yorkshire Police press release - where it's clear why the problem has got worse:

New housing and increased protection for green spaces has caused nuisance quad bikers to take to roads and pavements in Bradford’s suburbs, say police.

Rather than using scrubland and unused fields, many now developed or secured with better fencing in recent years, anti-social motorbike and quad bike riders have been taking to the highways. 

We stopped the bikes going on rough land (under threat of their vehicles being taken) with the result that those bikes are now right in an amongst us - causing more nuisance that they ever did when they went to places like The Flappit at Cullingworth:

Mrs Bower began a petition to re-open the land for bikers in 2012, arguing that this would help cut the number of illegal riders on the district's roads and said it now has 500 signatures.

She added: "It is an online petition as well as a paper one so signatures are always welcome. This is not a forgotten campaign.

"Motorbiking is a sport and it's healthy for our youngsters to be occupied by things other than drinking copious amounts of alcohol, smoking cannabis and tobacco.

"As an off-road motorbike track The Flappit would be a great asset. It is historically a motorbike track, it has been used for almost fifty years. 

The land in question was closed a few years ago something that made Cullingworth a little quieter on summer evenings but which meant that there was no provision for off-road biking in Bradford. This suited the police and some pettifogging council officers (plus one or two vociferous residents) but merely shifted the proble - worse it was dispersed. Instead of one place where most bikers went, we have a multitude of places randomly chosen by the bikers. With the result that there's more nuisance, more annoyance and the need for an officious team of fussbucket coppers with the powers to take your bike.

Instead of spending huge sums of chasing anti-social bikes, it might have been a better to have worked with the bikers and other interested folk to develop a good, well-marshalled and accessible place where those bikers can go and ride. The opportunity at The Flappit has perhaps gone now but it would be a better use of council and police resources if they directed their efforts to making safe provision for off-road biking rather than threatening to take people's bikes away.


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