CLEVELAND — Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley put out a warning on Wednesday afternoon, urging any would-be sellers of all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes to be diligent and cautious if coming to Cleveland to make a sale.
Since January 2020, nearly 100 dirt bikes or ATVs have been reported stolen in Cleveland as a result of private sales. Oftentimes, those stolen vehicles later re-emerge as part of massive, illegal meet-ups in which hundreds of riders clog city streets and highways, take over intersections and potentially put other drivers in danger, O’Malley said.
The issue of large packs of illegal dirt bikes and ATVs on city streets has long been a thorn in the side of law enforcement in Cleveland and, to a lesser degree, suburban police departments. Meet-ups that attracted hundreds of riders from around the region, including as far as Detroit, have occurred multiple times since the beginning of the month and have resulted in Ohio City being inundated with dirt bikes and riders taking over portions of Interstate 90.
According to radio dispatch logs, Cleveland police officers have largely been prohibited from pursuing or engaging the riders. CPD officials have previously cited the potential safety risks that pursuits create for the dirt bike riders themselves as well as the general public. O’Malley said if authorities could reduce the number of stolen motorcycles and ATVs on the road — or at the very least reduce the opportunities for dirt bikes and ATVs to be stolen — it could potentially reduce the size of these illicit dirt bike meet-ups.
“By trying to flux out these people from being victimized, I’m also stopping these dirt bikes and ATVs from being added to our existing problem,” O’Malley said.
O’Malley said the Crime Strategies Unit has analyzed the growing trend of dirt bike and ATV thefts that occur during private sales, which led to a staggering number of commonalities. Of the 90 reported thefts since January 2020, more than a quarter of them have occurred in the area near Broadway Avenue between East 55th Street and Interstate 490. Additional pockets of concentration have also been found in the Hough and Collinwood neighborhoods.
The overwhelming majority (83) of the thefts involved dirt bikes or ATVs that were listed for sale via Facebook Marketplace. Nearly half of the victims traveled from outside Cuyahoga County and nearly a third of the victims were from out of state.
O’Malley said the victims were often lured into bringing the dirt bike or ATV to Cleveland through the promise of the buyer paying for delivery. More than two dozen of the thefts involved counterfeit money.
“When the [suspects] take the test drive, they ride the dirt bikes and the ATVs into the sunset never to be seen again by their lawful owner,” O’Malley said. “I don’t want to see any more people lured to Cleveland with the belief that they are going to get their dirt bike sold or ATV sold and being robbed again.”
O’Malley said the thieves have been successful because they have been taking advantage of the victims’ unfamiliarity with the area.
Ryan Bokoch, an assistant prosecutor and the supervisor of the Crime Strategies Unit, urged would-be sellers to insist on meeting prospective buyers at designated e-commerce exchange spaces that are featured at a number of suburban police departments. Better yet, Bokoch said, sellers should insist that buyers come to them.
“If you’re meeting somebody and you’re not familiar with this area or you’re not from this area, don’t consider anywhere to be a safe spot,” Bokoch said.
Investigating and ultimately recovering these stolen vehicles has been incredibly difficult, O’Malley said. With many of the stolen vehicles being used by those riding recklessly and illegally during the large scale meet-ups, the issue is only multiplied.
“It’s just another reason for when an officer attempts to stop these bikes… nobody is going to want to pull over if they are on a stolen motorcycle,” O’Malley said. “It’s destroying the quality of life that people can’t safely traverse down Kinsman, Lee, Broadway or down Dennison [and] Clark. As we saw several weeks ago, they’re going into [inner ring suburbs].”
The roaming packs of dirt bike riders have only grown to frustrate O’Malley even more, especially considering CPD’s reticence in pursuing them.
“I can’t control the Cleveland Police Department. As you know, it’s destroying the quality of life in our community,” O’Malley said. “Do I care about it? Hell yeah I care about it. But I can’t control the Cleveland Police Department. I can’t force them them to enforce basic traffic laws. When I see I-90 closed on a Sunday afternoon, I care about that but I can’t stop it.”
O’Malley said he remains hopeful that all of Cleveland’s inner-ring suburbs and the Ohio State Highway Patrol begins to take a concerted, coordinated effort in “bringing some sanity to the situation.”
“Nobody wants any of these individuals to be hurt. But... the people that are lawfully driving and occupying the roadways, we don’t want them hurt either,” O’Malley said.