Vicious cycle: Seized ATVs still auctioned, despite law

Posted: April 05, 2013

FOR YEARS, cops who caught anyone riding ATVs and dirt bikes illegally in streets or parks confiscated the vehicles and sent them to the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which would auction them off - often to people who planned to ride them illegally in streets or parks.

After the Daily News exposed the trend in June, City Council closed that vicious-cycle loophole in October by passing a law that ordered police to destroy seized vehicles or at least quit sending them to auction.

The law took effect March 1, but you can still visit almost any PPA auction, held three times a week, and find ATVs and dirt bikes for sale. Thirteen ATVs and dirt bikes are listed for auction through the next three weeks.

"If the Police Department sends them to us, the Parking Authority has to auction them," PPA spokesman Marty O'Rourke said.

Lt. John Stanford, a police spokesman, acknowledged that police still are sending seized off-roaders to auction. But Capt. Francis Healy, special adviser to Commissioner Charles Ramsey, said there's a good reason for the delay.

"We're taking people's property, so we need to make sure we do it right, not that we do it fast. There's a due process," Healy said.

But expect big change this weekend, he warned.

Healy is finalizing the Police Department's new policy on confiscating off-roaders and citing their riders. He aims to announce the details Friday, circulate word to officers throughout the weekend and launch the new policy Monday.

Under the policy, cops are supposed to cite anyone they spot with an ATV or dirt bike on any public property - whether parked or mobile - and confiscate the vehicle, Healy said. The PPA has agreed to tow seized two- and four-wheelers to police impound lots.

The offender will then get notice from the city's Office of Administrative Review to appear for a hearing within 30 days. At the hearing, the offender can pay a $2,000 fine to retrieve their off-road vehicle, with proof of ownership, or forfeit it (without paying a fine). There is, however, an "innocent-person provision," in which owners who claim they didn't know a relative or friend rode their vehicle illegally may contest the citation and confiscation, Healy said.

Skip the hearing and the city will keep and crush the vehicle. Confiscated vehicles will be stored for 45 days in case an offender appeals, and then be crushed for disposal. Whatever money the city gets from salvagers will go into the city's general fund, but Healy doesn't expect a jackpot.

"I think there is going to be an initial spike that will level off once people realize they'll get their vehicles seized and destroyed if they ride them in Philadelphia," Healy said. "We are just trying to change behavior. We don't particularly want to take property. Go to an ATV park and enjoy yourself, just don't do it in Philly."

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who introduced and championed the new law, said she was "surprised but not disturbed" that police haven't yet started enforcing it.

"Major policy changes take time and careful planning," she said. "We need to give them some space and the benefit of the doubt that they are indeed determining a strategy that makes sense for the department."

She added: "I am also fully aware that spring and summer are at our doorstep."

On Twitter: @DanaDiFilippo



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