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Marauding Teens on Ebikes? What Can Be Done?

May 22, 2024 10:25PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Manhattan Beach Police take an e-motorcycle off the road just outside Mira Costa High School on June 8, 2023.

Is Manhattan Beach swarming with marauding teens on ebikes? And if so, why can't police just stop them? We've heard your questions and we have some (not-so-satisfying) answers on ebikes and teen bike "gangs."

Stories about ebike-riding teens causing mischief - and significant harm, in some cases - have been circulating for at least a year in the Beach Cities. With complaints rising in recent weeks, multiple residents showed up at City Hall on Tuesday night to complain about ebike troublemakers and to demand that they city take action.

What resulted was a series of mixed messages (Are they or are they not a threat? Should people share, or not share images of the offenders on social media?) and assurances that things may or may not get resolved. To help sort things out, we've taken a stab at answering a few frequently asked questions:

Is this teen ebike gang thing a real threat? Safety and "feeling safe" are emotions that vary by individual, but it's clear that a number or residents are concerned and feeling less-than-safe around groups of young ebike riders, especially at night. Manhattan Beach Mayor Pro Tem Amy Howorth even said as much at Tuesday night's meeting: "I get really nervous. I actually don't feel all that safe when I see more than two kids riding around on ebikes," said Howorth. "There is something happening, and we have to be aware."

Why can't Manhattan Beach just ban ebikes? That cat is already out of the bag. Ebikes are a popular form of transportation and are here to stay - and cities do not have the power to ban them. That said, there is a full set of state regulations that apply to ebikes and the associated helmet requirements, and the Manhattan Beach Police have moved on from warnings to issuing citations for riders who fail to observe the law. But as Councilmember Steve Napolitano noted on Tuesday night, "Helmets, stopping at stop signs; that’s not what people are complaining about. We’re hearing about the kids who are being jerks whether they’re on ebikes or not; it's just that ebikes allow them to gain proximity and leave [the scene] quickly."

(Manhattan Beach police pull over an e-bike violator in August 2022.)

 

Which bikes are even street legal? There's a distinct difference between street-legal ebikes and motorized bikes (e-motorcycles) that are designed for off-road use and are not street legal.  An ebike is a bicycle equipped with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts. Electric motorcycles or e-motorcycles have motors that are between 3000-6000 watts, do not have pedals, and are designed for off-roading use. They are generally not street legal because they lack headlights, tail lights, mirrors, and turn signals. They can be modified with those safety items for street use, but they need to be registered with a license plate and the driver must have the appropriate license. Manhattan Beach police have impounded e-motorcycles in a few high-profile local incidents.

(An impounded e-motorcycle. Photo via MBPD.)

Who are the MB Goons? The MB Goons are or were a loosely affiliated and self-named group of teens who tended to hang out at Metlox or on the Strand on ebikes. However, like all loosely affiliated groups of kids, the "members," if they can be called that, may drift in and out; and smaller sub-groups of three to five may hang out together without giving themselves a name. Lately it has become a catch-all phrase in Manhattan Beach to apply to any group of three or more ebike teens who appear or act menacing. Similar groups have been reported in Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach, and there is certainly overlap and boundary-crossing.

Is it true that police can't do anything about the problem? With regard to the "MB Goons," police say they have worked to address concerns by issuing citations, increasing police presence at Metlox Plaza, meeting with parents of individuals that have been named as causing problems, and networking with resource officers in other neighboring agencies to share information. But the problem is, they can't arrest someone for doing something if they don't witness it, so they have to rely on people calling the police, and the police being there in time to catch and punish any wrong-doing.

What should you do if you are threatened by a group of ebike riders? Police say they are here for a reason. If you are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. If you want to report something, or if you're not sure about something but you have a bad feeling, call the 24-7 non-emergency dispatch line at (310) 545-4566. Manhattan Beach Police Chief Rachel Johnson encourages residents to adhere to the "if you see something, say something" philosophy. "People worry that they might be 'bothering' us if they call. But we are in the 'bothering' business," she has said.

Should you share pictures or video of troublemaking riders on social media? As Councilmember Richard Montgomery pointed out on Tuesday, rushing to social media is not helpful; you should be reporting these things to the police. But at the same time, Napolitano noted that since police can't make an arrest unless they see these things happening, there are more opportunities for bad actions to go unchecked, and some people feel that the only way to get any traction is to take matters into their own hands by "shaming and blaming" on social media. If you do share something, be aware that you do so at your own risk. You could find yourself in hot water with other parents for posting pictures of their kids; and you might inadvertently accuse someone who was not actually involved in an incident.

Where can I complain about this in a public forum? Police are holding a Community Town Hall on Public Safety on June 26 at 6:00 p.m. at the Joslyn Center. Email your questions ahead of time to [email protected].

Should I believe everything I read on social media? No.


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