Tony Planakis doesn’t scare easily. An Army veteran and retired NYPD detective — who made a name for himself on the job and afterward as “Tony Bees,” the man unafraid of handling swarms of tens of thousands of the little buzzers — he’s been in plenty of sticky situations.
But he did not at all like being crowded in by a group of dirt bikers before dawn on his way to the gym one morning. They too can swarm, but unlike bees they’re not necessarily peaceful unless provoked. And unlike groups of motorcyclists, who are daunting enough to drivers when they travel in packs, dirt bikers show their disrespect for the law just by being out on the roads. No plates, no insurance, no inspection, no turn signals, no brake lights, no horns — their bikes simply aren’t street legal.
But you see them on the roads all the time. And while we applaud the police for cracking down on them recently, a sustained effort is needed in order to have any impact.
Planakis, who lives in Rego Park, had his encounter with them on his way to a gym in neighboring Glendale. A longtime cop knows when someone’s looking at him in a threatening way, as the bikers were.
“I felt intimidated because I was sitting there by myself early in the morning,” Planakis recalled Wednesday. “I got victim written all over me.”
It was after that, Planakis said, that he started carrying his weapon again.
Most New Yorkers don’t have, or want, that option. But they do want to see reckless dirt bikers reined in, especially after the July 18 hit-and-run crash in Flushing Meadows Corona Park that left a 4-year-old boy in critical condition. Police eventually arrested the alleged rider — who the daily papers say is reputedly a member of a violent street gang — and hit him with a slew of charges.
Incidentally, if you read somewhere that the vehicle was a scooter, that’s because there’s some confusion among the authorities as to what it was. “Scooter” is the word the District Attorney’s Office used. We pressed both the Police Department and the DA’s Office on this point because if it was a scooter, well, the powers that be decided those are legal, no registration, insurance or driver’s license required. So why would the defendant, Argenis Rivas, be charged with driving without a license?
Well, there are scooters and then there are scooters. What the authorities could agree upon is that the vehicle was gasoline-powered. None could tell us the make and model when we asked. The NYPD press office insisted “dirt bike.” Another source offered up “minibike” as a possibility.
Whatever it was, the police have been cracking down following the tragic incident in the park. According to NYPD Transportation Bureau Chief Kim Royster, they seized more than 500 dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles in just a week, and have, over time, destroyed more than 5,000. Those efforts must continue (though it really is too bad there’s no place legal to ride, because dirt bikes and ATVs can be an awful lot of fun. They just don’t belong on the streets).
We’re a little wary about the future of the crackdown because we remember when police were seizing and destroying electric scooters, trotting out the same argument that because they cannot be registered and insured, they cannot be used on the streets. And then one day our elected officials decided to make them legal. This page did not oppose that because the demand for legalizing them was clearly overwhelming, but that better never happen with gas-powered dirt bikes. You want to play motorcyclist, go get a motorcycle. And don’t ride it through a park. And don’t try to stare down any retired cops stopped at a red light.