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Dekmar suggests stronger off-road vehicle ordinance

LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar addressed the LaGrange City Council at its Tuesday work session about dirt bikes causing issues on city streets, as well as some ideas on how to address the problem.

Solutions presented involved amending the current dirt bike ordinance, 10-20-14, so that dirt bikes must be registered in the city and must meet a decal requirement. Dekmar said the city could consider instilling aggressive fines and impounding violating vehicles until compliance is achieved. Dirt bikes are not allowed on city streets and would not be under an updated ordinance.

“The way we will draft it … if we see the dirt bikes parked, and it doesn’t have a decal, then it’s a violation,” Dekmar explained. “If it’s in the city, we will enforce it.”

From April 30, 2020, to April 2021, LPD received 506 calls for service related to complaints about dirt bikes either in the city parks or throughout the streets, Dekmar said.

He noted that offenders tend to be out more during warmer weather and that the LPD saw a rise in complaints in March.

A challenge with the calls on dirt bike offenders is that they are usually between 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., which is also the peak time for service calls, forcing LPD to bring in special details to work the calls.

Dekmar presented high-resolution images of dirt bike offenders to council, noting that some will try to provoke officers into chasing them, which officers do not respond to.

“Because of an inherent hazard to pedestrians and other traffic, we are very restrictive in choosing when to pursue and when not to,” Dekmar said.

He said that most pursuits usually last less than a minute and that 90 percent of such offenses are for misdemeanor traffic violations.

In the last year, LPD has identified 89 different offenders, resulting in 110 citations or arrests, Dekmar said. He added that there has been an increase of riders covering their faces.

Councilmember Nathan Gaskin suggested that the NAACP be involved in the process due to a concern that the new policies would affect African American citizens.

“You say the numbers are up 70 percent … this is going to look like we’re picking on black folks,” Gaskin said.

Dekmar noted that 32 percent of offenders were caucasian, and that “race matters little over public safety.”

Ultimately, the council as a whole agreed that it needed to assist with the dirt bike issue and would await Dekmar’s suggestions in a later meeting.

“The council would like you to take some initiative to be more aggressive in crafting some procedures [or] policies … that, in your opinion and after reviewing them with your officers and the city attorney … would be helpful in addressing this,” Mayor Jim Thornton said.