Bicycle bedlam hits Billtown

See one or two or three juveniles on bicycles – give a wave and they might return the gesture.

But when 10 or more are riding together, weaving in and out of traffic, cursing out residents and threatening them harm, call city police.

Unfortunately, the phenomena has been showing up in the city, according to numerous reports from residents this spring and summer.

City police are hoping the situation doesn’t continue to metastasize, as it has in other larger cities.

Earlier this year, one direction of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in downtown Philadelphia was blocked, but not because of a vehicle accident.

Instead, rows of young bicyclists, many doing “wheelies” and stunts in the lanes reserved for cars and trucks put a halt to the heavily traveled Interstate 676, linking Philly with New Jersey, according to Philadelphia news outlets.

In February, scores of youths riding bicycles in groups in the dark on the streets of Staten Island, New York, were charged with reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct by police, according to CBS New York.

In Birmingham, England, “baby-faced” gangs riding bicycles caused chaos on the roads, as at least 100 youths rode in the middle of the carriageway in April 2016.

“The crew perform reckless wheelies and dangerous stunts in Birmingham,” according to the Daily Mail newspaper.

Now, on a smaller scale, Williamsport has started to see gaggles of teenagers, roving hoards on bicycles, raising havoc and intimidating residents, according to residents of Newberry and neighborhoods in and around Brandon Park.

More recently, a few teenagers are alleged to have seriously beaten a man who was coming to the rescue of another when the teens demanded a bicycle.

Police don’t want to see that continue and say people who witness it can help by capturing the acts on video and taking photographs.

“We definitely can use any video or photographs to assist investigations,” said police Lt. Steven Helm, a liaison for teenage crime and an officer with years of community policing skill and experience.

City police Capt. Jody Miller, a public information officer for the department, said photographs or videos should be turned over to the police before posting them on Facebook or social media.

As police command has given Helm the role of community liaison regarding juvenile incidents, the seasoned officer said the community should do what it can to work with officers. Helm said police are monitoring the issue.

Is the phenomena on display in this and larger cities an act of social resistance to authority?

Asked what he believed is happening, Shawn D. Connelly, a city resident, said kids riding bicycles isn’t a crime, but some may be acting out and need supervision.

Police said the bicycles enable the kids to scatter before patrol officers arrive.

Technologically savvy teenagers equipped with cellphones track police calls using the 911 apps and scatter before the police arrive, said Chris Haberstroh, a resident of Newberry, where hoards of youngsters were seen riding up and down places such as Linn Street as early as April.

“I called and contacted police about seven times,” Haberstroh said of the reckless bike-riding juveniles.

Throughout the summer, teenagers congregated after school. Haberstroh claimed a retired policeman told him that he witnessed a gun pulled from a knapsack.

“It was in June and the youngster pulled the action back,” Haberstroh said. “It jammed and the gun was placed back in the knapsack.”

Lately, or for the past month, incidents of teens riding bicycles recklessly has slowed, according to Councilman Joel Henderson, a member of council’s public safety committee and the Vallamont Neighborhood Watch Group.

“I have a feeling they know the heat is on and are in hiding,” said Tacy Grove, a city resident, who noted the teens on bicycles were out a lot after school in the spring and summer.

Ed Robbins, the county juvenile probation director, said there is no evidence to suggest that the youths are part of a gang.

Nevertheless, the amount of calls and posts on social media caught the attention of Mayor Gabriel J. Campana.

“I’ve ordered the police to pick them up, put them into the cars and take them to City Hall, where their parents or guardians will need to get them,” Campana said.

While that course of action may curb the occasional juvenile acting up while on bikes, the question many have is, what is leading kids to ride recklessly together, weaving in and out of traffic and performing wheelies in the middle of city streets?

The youths may be imitating what they see, gaining bicycle stunt skills, or looking to be a force against authority, but whatever is occurring, it may lead to someone getting hurt or worse, according to Councilman Clifford “Skip” Smith, chairman of the council’s public safety committee. “I’m very concerned about this trend,” he said.

Recently, a youngster doing a wheelie on the sidewalk crossed the intersection at West Fourth at Hepburn streets without stopping, risking an accident or worse.

The skilled daredevil kept one wheel high in the air, as he rode down the sidewalk, past the cinema and through Elmira Street and then was out of sight.