With temperatures rising and motorcycle engines revving, Chicago aldermen launched another crackdown Friday to stop motorcycle clubs from wreaking life-threatening havoc on Lake Shore Drive and city streets.
The City Council’s Committee on Public Safety approved an ordinance championed by Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) empowering Chicago Police officers to impound motorcycles, dirt bikes and other “nonhighway vehicles” accused of drifting and drag racing.
The ordinance would also impose stiff fines against motorcyclists who operate without license plates.
In January 2020, CPD vowed to “swarm” motorcycle rally points and use helicopters, license plate recognition cameras and noise monitors on Lake Shore Drive to stop motorcycle clubs from continuing to wreak havoc.
Also on Friday, the Public Safety Committee agreed to broaden the umbrella of Chicago’s hate crime ordinance to include gender identity. The protection already includes race, religion, sexual orientation and military status.
The crackdown on problem motorcyclists can’t come soon enough for 1st District Chicago Police Commander Jake Aldernan.
During warm weather, Aldernan said it’s an “almost everyday occurrence” to have a drag racing subculture of motorcyclists ranging from “20 to over 800” rampaging through the downtown, the South Loop and along the lakefront.
“We have groups of off-road vehicles ... frequently around the museum campus, all through Grant Park, going very close to small children. Most of these motorcycles don’t have license plates displayed. If they do have a license plate, they bend the license plate back so that it can’t be observed by an officer or a plate reader,” Aldernan said.
“These groups almost always do not stop for the police when we attempt to make a traffic stop. In fact, in many instances, they encircle police cars and attempt to get the officers to chase them.”
Aldernan recalled numerous instances over the past six months when 15 or 20 motorcyclists were stopped at a gas station or another location. None of them had license plates.
“Each of them was handed a $60 citation, to which they essentially laughed,” he said.
“The image of those 15 vehicles being impounded and putting that in the news is what we’re hoping will curtail this behavior.”
Deputy Chief Michael Pigott said the recklessness with which motorcycle clubs operate is putting motorists, pedestrians and police officers at risk.
“This is a very dangerous game that they’re playing. We need to act and get more tools before members of the public get hurt,” Pigott said.
“We can’t chase them. We can’t create a reckless, dangerous situation, and they’re not stopping for us. When we do eventually get a handful of them, the ordinances aren’t an effective deterrent. ... We need these enhanced penalties, not just a $60 fine. That’s just the cost of them doing business.”
Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said the idea of surrounding motorcyclists stopped at gas stations has been tried before with great success.
“The BP Amoco at Lasalle and Ontario, for example. We used to meet them there and basically block them in the lot. We’d have a Streets and San flatbed. And they would remove stolen motorcycles. They would recover weapons, drugs. They’d get DUI arrests. It was a total jackpot for crime statistics,” Reilly said.
“Those have fallen off. I’m not sure why. But they were effective, and they did send a message when we did them early in the season.”
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said loud and speeding motorcycles are the No. 1 issue during CAPS meetings in the Town Hall District.
“Living along the lakefront, I would like to see more helicopter missions and I’m not seeing it,” Tunney said.
“We get helicopter complaints, but it’s mostly around Wrigley during the games.”