Milford Bans ATVs and Rec Vehicles from City Streets

Milford City Hall (Google Map Data, 2024)


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MILFORD — The Board of Aldermen voted unanimously this week to ban ATVs and other recreational vehicles from city streets, imposing fines of up to $2,000 for participants involved in street takeovers.

Milford follows Ansonia, Bridgeport, East Haven, New Haven, North Branford and Waterbury in enacting ordinances targeting street takeovers. Milford’s ordinance allows police to confiscate all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes, mini-cycles, motor-driven cycles, motor scooters and snowmobiles. The ordinance only applies to street takeovers, Police Chief Keith Mello said.

The takeovers — sudden, unannounced and unpermitted gatherings of dozens or hundreds recreational vehicles — pose a particular hazard to Milford due to its proximity to Interstate 95, Route 15 and Route 1. According to Mello, a city police officer was assaulted last year during a takeover that drew about 200 vehicles and ended at a Boston Post Road supermarket. He called the new ordinance a good tool for police.  

“This isn’t a panacea. Nothing is,” Mello said. “It has more of a deterrent value than anything else. Hopefully, [takeover participants] will think twice about coming to Milford. Right now they are not.”

The ordinance fines operators of the banned vehicles $1,000 for first offenses and increases by $500 for second and third offenses. Passengers age 16 or older and owners of the vehicles who allow others to drive them could also face $250 fines, and police can confiscate vehicles or hold them until fines are paid, the ordinance states.

Aldermen Andy Fowler, Jason Jenkins, Win Smith Jr. and Raymond Vitale opposed the proposal. 

The draft proposal raised questions among residents because it didn’t specify that the ordinance would apply only to takeovers. The authors opted not to provide that specification because they wanted to avoid any fixation on the definition. Mello added that police have the discretion to define it for themselves. 

In the ordinance ultimately approved, aldermen clarified that e-bikes are not barred from city streets unless used in takeovers. They also cut provisions requiring signs at city gas stations warning customers and fining stations that sell gas to takeover participants. They made seizure of recreational vehicles optional for police rather than required.

The state passed a law last year banning people from promoting or facilitating takeovers via social media. Another state bill that would have banned takeover vehicles with the same fine structure as Milford’s passed the state House of Representatives with robust support but has not yet been voted on by the state Senate.

As a matter of policy, police generally allow the illegal caravans to pass unchallenged for fear of inciting chases or crashes that would lead to injury, death and liability lawsuits. Police rely on drone video or photographs among other investigative tools to arrest participants in the takeovers because they occasionally disrupt or stop traffic while underway. Those methods have been pretty successful, Mello said.

“We have tried to funnel these offenders into a certain area but all they do is run from us,” he said. 

Milford police hope to improve their technology to better combat takeovers. That includes acquiring drones to go beyond line of sight observation and to deploy license plate reader systems, which they don’t presently have, to help collar takeover vehicles registered with the state, Mello said. They also plan to ask the city to establish a system of speed and red light cameras to help track and identify takeover participants.

City police, state police and other local law enforcement agencies regularly develop and share information on takeovers, Mello added, and have done a good job identifying takeover organizers and participants with that data.

“We have arrested a lot of them,” he said.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Aldermen Andy Fowler, Jason Jenkins, Win Smith Jr. and Raymond Vitale opposed the proposal. They opposed an earlier amendment of the ordinance.