Increased reports of teens riding bicycles in packs and swerving in and out of traffic prompted police to create a task force to address the issue and confiscate bicycles.
Worcester Police Chief Steven M. Sargent said officers are prepared to make arrests if the teen riders are putting the public at risk.
The problem is detailed in a report written by the chief and sent to City Manager Edward Augustus Jr. for this week’s City Council meeting.
“Over the past month, the Worcester Police Department has received numerous complaints regarding a growing number of teens riding bicycles in a reckless manner and creating hazardous conditions on public roadways,” Sargent said. “Our officers have responded to these incidents and have found that teens are traveling on bicycles in groups (typically ranging from 5 to 20 individuals).”
Police received reports from across the city, but the majority of complaints come from the Grafton Hill, Union Hill and downtown areas.
The department began investigating the problem once reports increased and have mined social media in order to identify groups and individuals involved in the behavior.
Officers reviewing reports found teens are engaging in what Sargent called a “dangerous new trend” called swerving. Teens ride bicycles into oncoming traffic and veer away at the last minute. They also pop wheelies and do other stunts, the chief wrote.
It is not just an issue in Worcester either. Police departments in New Jersey and Pennsylvania have reported issues with teens swerving in and out of traffic.
“Our officers have also identified these teens engaging in other ‘dangerous behaviors’ including purposely blocking both lanes of travel causing traffic jams and surrounding vehicles inhibiting the motorist from moving forward,” Sargent wrote.
The police department task force will focus on education and enforcement to address the emerging issue of swerving. Police bike patrols will ride through city neighborhoods in order to be visible.
Officers hope the patrols will increase communication with teens and allow for officers to be more mobile when responding to an incident.
“Officers will be proactive in stopping the behavior,” Sargent said. “Over the past week, officers have confiscated a dozen bikes from teen riders.”
Police will continue to confiscate bikes and, if needed, make arrests for disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct.
The department plans to speak with Worcester Public Schools officials in order to educate students and parents about the trend. Officers will go to schools and speak to students about bike laws and ask parents to speak to their children.
Using social media will be an additional step for police. The department plans on launching a social media campaign to tell teens the behavior is reckless, dangerous and unacceptable.
The report by Sargent adds that the department responded to reports of ofo U.S. bicycles being damaged or vandalized. The bike-sharing program launched recently in the city and is aware of the issue and has said it expects a certain amount of theft and vandalism to occur.
Pictures of the damaged ofo bikes have been consistently shared on social media pages in Worcester.