TOPSFIELD, Mass. — Topsfield Police are taking steps to stop kids from harassing and endangering the public while riding their bikes erratically downtown in recent weeks. The police department has received numerous complaints from residents, workers and drivers who have been confronted by teens and pre-teens riding their bikes in groups in the middle of busy streets, doing tricks and weaving between traffic.
“We had one officer in an unmarked car and – total disregard for that officer – they were riding in front of him, they swore at him, they gave him the finger,” said Topsfield Police Chief Neal Hovey. “Members of town hall, employees were frightened to go down the staircase. Bicyclists would come down the sidewalk and almost run them off the roadway.”
As many as 10 kids ride their bikes together in a line across Main Street, endangering themselves and others, said Hovey, who put more officers on patrol to combat the problem.
“They are truly harassing the public,” Hovey said. “We found an outrageous number of complaints from the merchants downtown.”
Julie Doherty, who works at Fresh Look Designs on Main Street, said she worries about the kids riding bikes outside the shop.
“They’ll go on one wheel, and I’m so afraid they’re going to really hurt themselves and end up in the hospital. They’re going to crack their skull,” Doherty said. “I don’t know if they’re trying to scare [drivers]. I don’t know the purpose of them going out in the street when the cars are coming. I have no idea, but it’s very scary.”
Doherty said the kids gather in groups outside businesses and sometimes make customers nervous to go into the stores.
Hovey said his police officers have been talking to the kids, calling their parents down to the scene and making them aware criminal harassment charges could be pursued. But legal action has not been needed. Conversations with parents have been productive, and police have taken their proactive approach a step further.
Two of Hovey’s officers presented him with the idea of launching a bicycle safety campaign. The department rewards good behavior and helmet wearing with coupons for free slices of pizza at Topsfield House of Pizza. With parental permission, police post to Facebook pictures of the kids holding their coupons.
So far, he said, their approach is working.
“One complaint in the last week and a half,” Hovey said, commending his officers for their work. “I think we’re doing pretty good right now.”
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