Menacing motorbikers: Disturbers of the peace

Gangs of motorbiking miscreants are intimidating, alarming and infuriating residents and visitors across Grand Cayman. Police say they are powerless to stop them.

In separate public meetings with police in several districts, residents recited laundry lists of complaints against “motorbikers.” The alleged offenses range from speeding, to dangerous driving, to outright harassing visitors on the public beachside — with many motorbikers operating, apparently, in the absence of legal formalities such as license, insurance and registration.

North Side MLA Ezzard Miller said his constituents have been trying for months to get the attention of police in regard to these matters.

Chief Inspector Brad Ebanks said it’s not so simple to arrest a motorbiker, even if he’s caught red-handed breaking the law. “The risk that we have is if people pursue them, and the unfortunate happens, we could be held liable,” he said.

In other words, police can’t just chase recklessly speeding motorbikers because someone might get hurt. Put another way, the very nature of the offense that is occurring (dangerous use of a motor vehicle) shields the offender from enforcement of the law that he is breaking. This is a paradigm in which it is the police, not the criminals, who wear the handcuffs.

As our story in Friday’s Compass notes, police have been wary of chasing motorists in general since Grand Court Justice Alexander Henderson issued a judgment in 2013 in which he found the government financially liable for the death of a passenger in a car that crashed while attempting to flee from police.

Justice Henderson wrote, “The accident was contributed to, if not caused by, the speed at which [driver Alex Callan] was driving. He was doing so because a police car was chasing him. Had the pursuit been terminated, it is more probable than not that Mr. Callan would have slowed down to a normal speed so as to avoid attracting further police attention. The negligent factor to end the pursuit was one factor which contributed to the accident.”

Now, unfettered from fears of being apprehended and brought to justice, groups of motorbikers (most of them youthful in years) are doing whatever they want, wherever they want, however fast they want to do it – practically speaking, the higher the velocity, the better. All the rest of us can do, including the police apparently, is block our ears and divert our eyes.

We have a question: What happens, pray tell, when a masked gunman storms into a Cayman business, threatens or shoots a cashier, fills a sack with money and absconds on one of these high-powered motorbikes?

That is a common modus operandi among our Caribbean and regional neighbors. Will that become the way to commit a “perfect crime” in Cayman?

There are very good reasons for police officers to “make the call” not to engage in a high-speed pursuit in a particular situation, including, most prominently, concerns over the safety of innocents in the immediate area.

That choice is not unlike an officer determining whether or not to draw a weapon on an armed suspect in a public place. Currently in Cayman, our police cannot use their cars to pursue, nor do the vast majority of them have weapons to deploy in case of emergency. They can’t chase, and they can’t shoot — two restrictions that don’t apply to their criminal nemeses.

For now, it appears our options are limited to hoping Cayman’s population of wanton motorbikers does not begin to overlap with our population of violent criminals.

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  1. I respectfully disagree with that ruling which removes personal responsibility from the equation. My respect for that judge is considerable but I believe personal responsibility cannot be ignored. The person running from the police is further breaking the law in addition to the violation which initiated the interaction.

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  2. There’s an interesting parallel between this story and what happened in the small English village where one of my relatives lives.

    Residents there were plagued by illegally ridden motorcycles for months but the police were apparently powerless to do anything.

    Residents photographed the riders, some of whom were barely in their teens, and even took video footage. The police refused to accept this evidence and, saying it might provoke retaliation, told them to stop.

    Eventually one of these bikes was ridden straight at a young mother going to the local shop with her two small children, one in a buggy. At that point local residents stopped calling the police and took the law into their own hands. In the following week there were a series of ‘unexplained’ incidents in which at least four of the riders were injured. Officially it was reported that they’d simply fallen off but there was no doubt they’d been helped and in one case the rider probably received most of his injuries after the ‘fall’.

    After that the police woke up and swamped the area with patrols who seized every unlicensed motorcycle they could find and the problem went away.

    Now I’m not suggesting that anyone takes the law into their own hands but there’s a warning to RCIPS in this story – if you don’t do the job it’s very tempting for the public to think that they need to step in and give you a helping hand.

    As for the pursuit issue? Isn’t that why RCIPS have a helicopter?

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  3. I too loathe the motorbikes racing through traffic on the weekends, but it made me think…maybe there’s a need for a dirt bike track on-island. This could be a great opportunity for an enthusiast to fufill an apparent recreational need. There is vacant land in the industrial area. One could possibly revamp the old racing drag strip in Breakers.

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  4. If the police in the Cayman Islands cannot use their cars to pursue then it is hoped that they can use their motorbikes to pursue in order to reduce the numbers of catastrophic accidents resulting in death and the sky high healthcare costs of catastrophic injury at the very least. Speeding and dangerous driving are against the law. It is time for the police to take action on their motorbikes to pursue and leave the police cars parked at the police station as obviously motorbike violations of the law are best pursued by police on motorbikes. To do nothing about this serious matter of saving lives and averting potential perfect crime opportunity here in the Cayman Islands is simply and absolutely unacceptable. This can be rectified by police enforcing the law pertaining to reckless speeding motorbikers by actioning police on police motorbikes instead of sending a car to try to perform a police motorbike job. If you love your sons do not buy them a motorbike is my message to parents as motorbike deaths are increasing and we must all play a role in safeguarding life and lives in whatever way we can. I write this as a concerned Caymanian for the purpose of a plea for the police and parental protection of our youth from early death and catastrophic injury from high speed motorbike riding.

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  5. The Kiwi’s have an interesting way of dealing with this – a bit like dealing with Al Capone for Tax Evasion.

    Firstly, there is a section in the law;-

    Motor Vehicles – Construction and Use: (or the KIWI equivalent)

    regarding noise levels.

    So, using an inexpensive sound meter 3 feet from the back of the exhaust/muffler, they measure sound levels and if they are outside the legal parameters, the bike (or car) is impounded.

    A police appointed mechanic will examine the bike, if it is as a result of a mechanical failure (e.g. a baffle has come loose in the muffler),
    they have 7 days to fix it,
    have it re-inspected,
    and only receive a small fine for a ‘construction and use’ violation.

    But if it is found to be a deliberate modification, they check with the insurance company…

    A modification without notifying their insurance company means the insurance is invalid = HUGE FINE (three noughts) often more than the value of the bike and/or the bike may be forfeit.

    Ditto if no insurance.

    Of course the catch is that you cannot notify your insurance that you have fitted an illegal performance exhaust.

    There are a few which are borderline legal and so you COULD, but the premium then increases for a ‘Modified Sport Bike’.

    The benefit is that it is not needed to catch them in the act of speeding, you can remove them from the road before they remove themselves by having a crash.

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  6. This article is spot on. There are a certain group of very inconsiderate obnoxious bikers who on a regular basis wheelie down the main road in front of my house, overtake and undertake other cars, and most commonly rev up their already loud engines in a certain residential area near where a biker friend of theirs crashed and died less than 6 months ago. While those of us neighbours who witnessed that bike accident do feel your pain, please understand that we don’t want to be reminded of that day either. What your racket does to us is takes us right back to the moment when your friend was laying out in the road that fateful morning. It was painful enough to have to see him like that on that day, and not be able to help him, and it is still painful to think about even now. Your revving up is extremely loud, to the point of waking my sleeping children out of their beds, and the hours of night that you choose to do these things is also extremely inconsiderate. Do all of us a favour and stop it now please. We do not want to see any more of you laid out on the road like your friend was. Please have some respect for the people who live in this area, you know exactly who you are, and actually we are getting to know who you are too, so you know exactly where on the road I am talking about. The speed that they travel up and down that 30mph stretch is beyond imaginable sometimes, and the way how a little bike can shake a whole concrete house is actually quite terrifying when you are trying to sleep. God help us if they actually run off the road and into your house. SMH. I do not want to get the police involved out of respect for your deceased friend, but if it continues like this I will have no choice but to do just that. Heck, it might just save your own lives.

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  7. Good suggestion Andy but there’s a problem – most of the bikes causing this problem are unregistered.

    That’s the problem you’ve got to tackle and one easy solution would simply be to make it illegal to be in possession of any unregistered machine, or the parts to make one, unless you operate a legitimate business such as a repair shop or a junk yard.

    Again this mirrors the problems in the UK where the
    police can use powers provided under Part III of VERA – the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act – to seize unregistered machines even if they’re stored on private premises. Another tactic used in the UK is to demand proof of ownership – if it isn’t forthcoming the machines (or parts thereof) are often seized on suspicion of being stolen.

    This is an easily problem to tackle and seeing RCIPS trying to hide behind a rather interesting historical damages claim isn’t doing their reputation any good at all.

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  8. There are many responsible, licensed, and insured motorcyclists on island who risk their lives to bad car and truck drivers daily (ditto cyclists) and not only do these miscreants encourage cowards to threaten our lives with their cars (following too close, turning in front of us, etc.) they threaten our lives when they zoom within inches of another motorcycle. Please do enforce license and insurance laws (and also for those using unlicensed earth-moving equipment as commuter vehicles). As for noise, what about outdoor concerts rattling windows after midnight a mile away?
    Please let’s respect one another’s safety towards motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, et al.

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  9. As a motorcycle rider and mechanic for the past 39 years, who also builds motorcycles from parts purchased online, and who pays the Government import duties on same as well as all fees due to inspect and license them I think I am qualified to say a thing or two about this problem.
    Mr. Williams, with all due respect we are not in the U.K. so please explain to all of us readers how stopping me from enjoying my passion will stop the unlicensed youths from wheelying down the center lane? Isn’t wilfully using a motor vehicle to knock a rider off his bike, whether licensed or not, considered attempted murder? And isn’t suggesting that others do it inciting violence? I’ll say this much; if you try that with some of Cayman’s youth and they are unhurt and figure out your intentions, you will have far bigger problems than you might think.
    Mr. Gray, we already have laws against modifying the exhaust on motor vehicles; not just motor cycles, and the police enforce them at will. The problem is reckless riding by licensed and unlicensed riders, and they are who should be punished WHEN CAUGHT, not the law abiding riders. Do you realize that a large portion of Harley Davidson motor cycles leave the factory and are imported and licensed here in these islands with nothing more than a hollow pipe for an exhaust system? What about those riders? The hollow pipe is exactly what the bike is made with from the factory.
    Ms. Appleyard If you love your sons do not buy them a motor bike.. as motor bike deaths are increasing. Every year far more motorists are killed and injured in motor vehicles than on bikes. Do you tell your kids that or are you helping them get their license?
    Ms. Neuberg, I echo your suggestion; If the youth had somewhere that they could enjoy their bikes there would be no need for them to take them on the road, would there? If the riders who are trying not to be a nuisance are arrested in the wilderness of Barkers then are the Police not encouraging them to do then same thing that the miscreants are doing?
    Sensible suggestions are needed, not more of the red tape that we are drowning in already.

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  10. Mr Watson,

    You say you are qualified to speak on this issue, and yet you haven’t offered a better solution to any of those who you criticize.

    This is Noise POLLUTION plain and simple.

    And it is an issue which clearly does need to be addressed – the public are adamant about that!

    If a single motorcycle is loud enough to be heard by 25 percent of the population then in a democracy the rights of 12,000 people will carry more weight than the ‘passion’ of it’s rider (legal or otherwise). Even those tourists who come to Cayman seeking peace and tranquillity should be able to watch the sunset with the soundtrack of wind in coconut palms and waves on beach in preference to raucous exhaust notes from 2 miles away.

    When I learned to drive, sounding the horn late at night or near to a Hospital was frowned upon!
    So, I don’t care how much import duty people paid, their right to make noise still carries less weight than the rights of a sleeping baby…

    I find your Harley example interesting, but not very relevant – you remind Mr Williams that Cayman is not the UK, well, nor is it the USA or Japan.
    Many automotive manufacturers (Harley included) offer a wide range of models for a myriad of export markets (even different states – California emissions models?).
    Just because it is offered with a loud exhaust for a particular market does not make that legal (or maybe more importantly APPROPRIATE) for Cayman – it is upto the person importing it to ensure that it either meets the standards here (or can be made to do so), and THEN it is the responsibility of that owner to ensure it continues to comply day to day!

    I can order a new vehicle with any level of tinted window I choose, but that doesn’t mean I could legally drive it on Cayman without changing some of the ‘factory fitted’ glass.

    And just because the law sets a Maximum volume, doesn’t mean that it should be the target, the neighbours and community should be given equal consideration in the equation, surely?

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