Migrants on mopeds fuel crime in New York

New York police are searching for people who shot a 23-year-old man in the arm and then fled on a moped, the latest incident in a disturbing rise in moped crime and the use of the scooters as a means of escape for other crimes.

In the first five months of this year, the NYPD has “already identified a total of 79 robbery patterns” involving illegal scooters and mopeds, nearly eight times as many as in the same five months of 2022, police data show. The NYPD has also received 415 complaints, nearly 10 times as many as in the same period in 2022.

Mopeds and scooters have become the “preferred vehicle” for violent criminals in New York, Police Commissioner Edward Caban said this month, as the “dangerous and reckless” motorcycles are used for robberies and other violent crimes.

The mayor's office referred the Sun to Mayor Adams' recent promise to crack down on crime.

The New York Police Department released this photo of the destruction of illegal mopeds. NYPD

“Not only do mopeds and scooters endanger pedestrians when ridden recklessly, but we are also seeing an exponential increase in the number of criminals riding them around and stealing New Yorkers' property,” Adams said at a recent press conference announcing a plan to combat unregistered motorcycles.

Mr Adams is also pushing for government legislation to combat motorcycle salesmen by requiring registration of motorcycles at the point of sale to prevent the illegal sale of mopeds.

“A moped is a very easy way to get away. It's maneuverable, fast and much easier than a police car chasing you,” John Chell, chief of patrol for the New York Police Department, told ABC 7 News after Bernardo Castro Mata, a young immigrant from Venezuela, was charged with attempting to murder two New York Police Department officers who stopped him while he was riding an unregistered moped.

“Unfortunately, the 19-year-old the other day is an immigrant and he is the prime example of what we say about people coming to this country and committing violent crimes against us in New York City,” Chief Chell said. “We should have a platform from which we can go to ICE and say that once they go through the process of the criminal justice system, they – violent criminals – will be removed from our city.”

The New York Post recently reported that up to 80 percent of moped thefts are committed by newly arrived migrants, but a police spokesman could not confirm this figure to the Sun.

How many moped offenses are committed by migrants “is difficult to quantify,” Rafael Mangual, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a member of the Council on Criminal Justice, told the Sun. That's because there's nothing in the city's standard documents “that records this in any systematic way.”

As part of its Crimestoppers program, the NYPD regularly publishes photos of suspected criminals on mopeds or electric bikes. NYPD

He says the recent influx of migrants is a “plausible” explanation for at least part of the increase in moped crime.

“There is a massive influx of migrants from many of those Latin American countries where this particular mode of transport is very, very popular with crime,” says Mangual, pointing out that in 2009 Guatemala even banned the transport of passengers on motorcycles in an attempt to curb out-of-control crime.

There are many problems in New York City that “impact the agency's ability to fight crime in general, and those things apply equally to this particular problem,” he says, pointing to bail reforms, evidence-gathering reforms and the diversion or release of criminals rather than prosecution.

The use of mopeds makes it difficult for police to catch suspects near the crime scene because they can weave through traffic, ride on sidewalks and drive between cars, he says.

The NYPD's Crimestoppers program frequently shows images of suspects on mopeds. NYPD

While the city's crackdown on unregistered mopeds – and the push for similar laws at the state level – can't hurt, targeting the mopeds themselves may not be the most effective strategy, Mangual says.

“With this category of crime, you expect the same thing as with many other categories of crime: the crime is driven by a really small number of very hyperactive offenders,” he says.

“The most effective way to achieve this is to get these offenders off the streets for a longer period of time. That means increasing the clearance rate, increasing the number of prosecutions and increasing the penalties imposed after a successful prosecution.”