Nearly 100 dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles roared through National Harbor in Maryland on Sunday evening, with riders popping wheelies, zipping across sidewalks and weaving through traffic for nearly a half-hour.
The swarm of vehicles signaled the arrival of the annual battle between joy riders who say they’re only having a little fun and police who say that buzzing through public streets on such vehicles is breaking the law and putting lives at risk.
“This will not be tolerated,” said George Nichols, Prince George’s County deputy police chief. “Don’t think you just got away with it.”
Dozens of dirt bikes and ATVs descended on the busy shopping and entertainment area in Prince George’s County at about 8 p.m., police and National Harbor officials said. Officers attempted to pull riders over and stop them, but they ignored authorities, speeding through streets and sidewalks for about 30 minutes before clearing out, police said.
It is illegal to operate dirt bikes and ATVs on public streets in Maryland because they are not equipped with the same traffic signals and features that other road-ready vehicles have to safely operate on the road, county police Deputy Chief Christopher Murtha said.
Murtha called illegal operation of the vehicles on public streets “reckless, dangerous behavior,” and warned that police are working to catch and prosecute riders.
“They created a lot of havoc,” said Murtha, who urged the public to call with tips that can help lead to arrests.
Police launched a helicopter to follow the riders and investigators are reviewing video from social media and surveillance cameras.
The group of riders that hit the National Harbor is suspected to be the same swarm that rode through the H Street corridor in Northeast Washington the same evening, Nichols and Murtha said.
Kent Digby, executive vice president of operations at the National Harbor, said that while riders have come to the area before, Sunday brought out the most dirt bikes and ATVs with the longest disruption.
Digby said 150 cameras are in the area, and all the video from Sunday will be turned over to police.
“When they made the mistake of coming into the National Harbor, they came into a heavily monitored area,” Digby said.
Illegal dirt bikes and ATVs have menaced Washington law enforcement for years. In December 2015, dozens of riders rode from Arlington County across the Key Bridge and choked Georgetown streets before slowing the Capital Beltway to a crawl.
It is difficult to catch riders who often are wearing helmets and masks, and police don’t chase them for fear of causing dangerous collisions on the road.
Police throughout the region have been cracking down on the crime, seizing off-road vehicles, making arrests and creating a regional task force.
Nichols said police are actively investigating the riders who zoomed through the National Harbor on Sunday and will press charges.
“You’re not safe,” Nichols warned the joy riders. “We are coming for you.”