Dirt bikes: Rotorua principal and National MP hit out over ‘lawless’ behaviour

1:17 pm on 1 June 2023
Rotorua residents are frustrated about dirt bikes on the city's streets.

Rotorua residents are frustrated about dirt bikes on the city's streets. Photo: LDR / NZME

Fed-up residents could take matters into their own hands as frustration about the illegal behaviour of dirt bike riders in Rotorua grows, a school principal fears.

Westbrook School principal Colin Watkins' comments come after the police and Rotorua Lakes Council urged people to report incidents of illegal dirt bike usage on roads and reserves, with the local MP saying bikers' behaviour made parts of town feel "lawless".

The council and police said illegal dirt bike riders were damaging infrastructure in the city and risking people's safety. Residents living in problem areas had raised safety concerns and in some cases, had stopped using open spaces and shared pathways as a result.

Watkins said illegal dirt bike riders would roar past the school on Malfroy Rd once or twice every few weeks, often without helmets and performing tricks through the pedestrian crossing.

In his opinion: "They don't give a fat rats if children are out in the playground or by the roadside."

Westbrook School principal Colin Watkins says illegal dirt bike riders seem to not care if children are present.

Westbrook School principal Colin Watkins says illegal dirt bike riders seem to not care if children are present. Photo: LDR / The Daily Post / Andrew Warner

Their level of arrogance deserved no respect, he said, and even "hardened criminals" gave them none.

The community had had a gutsful and was frustrated, he said, to the point he had heard talk of vigilantism.

He believed the offenders were "the same clowns" and easily recognisable, but people would not report them out of fear of reprisals.

National Party Rotorua MP Todd McClay said the dirt bike riders were an "increasing menace".

There was a "blatant disregard" for law and order, he said. He believed it was crime-related activity, rather than just youngsters wanting a ride.

He said residents had approached him with concerns, reporting seeing riders without helmets and others performing wheelstands around town or speeding and weaving around traffic.

"One lady said when she challenged them she was extremely intimidated by what the rider did.

"It feels in parts of the town that it's become lawless."

Rotorua MP Todd McClay

Rotorua MP Todd McClay. Photo: LDR / Andrew Warner

He acknowledged it was a nationwide issue but said "a lot of it" was happening in Rotorua. Young motorbikers and gangs were taking over New Zealand, he said.

"It's just intimidating, lawless behaviour."

In a statement, Rotorua road policing senior sergeant Geoff Barnett said the issue was not unique to Rotorua.

"Police pursuing these riders isn't the answer, but rather we seek information about who is responsible so that riders can be held accountable and, if applicable, bikes seized".

Information such as the identity of riders and locations bikes were leaving or returning to was key, he said.

Police were unable to provide statistics on the number of arrests and reports of illegal dirt bike activity other than via an Official Information Act request, but a spokesperson said there had been several arrests in the past month.

An ongoing police operation was working to identify offenders and more arrests were expected.

The activity had been on the rise since the end of last year, particularly in organised groups and in the Fordlands, Western Heights and Waingaehe Stream areas.

It aligned with trends elsewhere, including in Auckland.

Police said it would be inappropriate to comment on the motivations of offenders.

Asked how hard it was to find offenders and why, they said riders' faces were often covered and fleeing motorbikes were not easy to stop without risk.

"Identifying riders and the locations the bikes are coming and going from is often not possible without the assistance of the communities where these bike riders reside."

Police treated all calls and information received with sensitivity and typically callers could provide information confidentially, they said.

"We acknowledge that providing information to Police can be daunting for some people, but we remind the public that reports are treated with confidentiality."

Rotorua Lakes Council community wellbeing deputy chief executive Anaru Pewhairangi told Local Democracy Reporting CCTV cameras were an option, but unlikely to be an effective deterrent.

He said the council had worked to improve fencing and limit vehicle access around reserves, as well as signage.

It was also investigating the potential for a bylaw to enable more enforcement of motorbikes and vehicles on reserves.

For the council, problem areas included Westbrook, Ray Boord Park and Linton Park, all of which had multiple entry points to allow the community easy access, including access for people with disabilities and using mobility devices.

"[The] council is mindful that any initiatives to keep motorbikes out of a reserve will also negatively impact access for legitimate users."

Rotorua councillor Don Paterson is keen to see the council help police in stopping illegal dirt bike use.

Rotorua councillor Don Paterson is keen to see the council help police in stopping illegal dirt bike use. Photo: LDR / Laura Smith

Rotorua councillor Don Paterson previously voiced his desire for the council to help stop the activity.

Speaking to Local Democracy Reporting, he said a few people in the community had approached him about the biker's behaviour, including a property owner who was fearful of the safety of children and elderly in the street.

"It's really unacceptable."

The police advice was to call 111 if someone was in danger and the offence was still happening, or to call 105 after it had happened. Incidents could also be logged online and reports could also be made anonymously via Crime Stoppers on 0800 555 111.

Issues can be reported to the council customer centre 24 hours a day on 07 348 4199.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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