The Los Angeles Police Department Tuesday outlined a number of new strategies to combat illegal street racing following reports of dangerous “street takeovers” in the San Fernando Valley and other areas of the city that have included some fatal crashes.
Cmdr. Martin Baeza told the City Council that the department has been able to take a “more focused, strategic approach” to street racing since a reorganization ordered by Chief Michel Moore in August put all four of the LAPD’s traffic divisions under one command traffic group.
The City Council voted in June to have the LAPD report on all of the city’s current ordinances, laws and fines related to street racing, anti-street racing programs in effect, as well as any suggestions to increase penalties or fines.
Street racing is a decades-old problem in the city, but particularly in the Valley, and in recent years has evolved into what are commonly referred to as street takeovers, where a large number of drivers close down a street or intersection while other motorists perform dangerous and reckless stunts.
“They don’t only just put the spectators in harm’s way, they put the general public — men, women and children — in harm’s way, our loved ones in harm’s way,” said Councilman Mitchell Englander, who represents part of the San Fernando Valley and authored a motion that led to the LAPD’s presentation. “And it’s not a matter of if the next race is going occur, or street takeover is going to occur, but it’s when. And figuring out how to track that, get behind it, make sure we’re in front of it, to prevent it from happening, and not to chase it down, is what is a critical next step.”
Street racing organizers typically utilize social media to quickly and efficiently set up such events, often within private social media circles, which can make it extremely difficult for law enforcement to determine where and when the illegal races will occur. Englander also noted that street racing groups are now being more careful in their use of social media.
“The number one question I get is, `Look, they’re putting it out on social media, why don’t we just follow those groups and we’ll know where they’re going to be?’ Well, the fact is that they are going underground a lot more,” Englander said. “They’re closing those groups, they know there are officers joining those groups. They’ve gotten much more sophisticated and so they are not as easy to track and find, and that’s why we’ve got to put the resources toward this.”
Baeza said the LAPD has recently started putting street racing data into its COMPSTAT database so that the department can identify any trends and patterns for street racing. He also said the department is working to strengthen its partnerships with other law enforcement agencies, and that combining the traffic divisions under one command has given the department a lot more speed and flexibility to respond to problems.
“West Bureau can support Central; Central can support South; South can support the Valley, depending on what we have going on,” Baeza said.
Englander said he believed the new strategies would help crack down on street racing.
“We’ve never taken this kind of concerted effort towards it. We haven’t put in the resources that we need to combat this issue like we have today,” Englander said. “We haven’t yet taken a multidisciplinary approach with different agencies like we are doing now. We hadn’t added it to COMPSTAT to do proactive and predictive policing like we are doing now.”
Baeza said that in the last 17 years, 179 people have been killed regionally due to illegal street racing, 60 of them within the city of Los Angeles. He also said that in 2018, there have been three incidents that resulted in six fatalities.
Baeza showed a video which included footage from a September gathering of large group of car racing enthusiasts in a West Covina parking lot, which quickly descended into chaos and resulted in two mall security guards being assaulted by people in the crowd. They had gathered at the lot as a tribute to the late actor Paul Walker, a star of the “Fast and the Furious” film franchise about underground street racing.
Walker, 40, died in Santa Clarita in 2013, when a Porshe Carrera GT driven by his friend and business partner, Roger Rodas, crashed into trees and a utility pole. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department concluded the car was traveling between 80 and 93 mph at the time of the crash.
“I hope that our friends in the film and television industry take some of this to heart. Because that security guard that was getting beaten up by this mob of criminals was being beaten up at a tribute to Paul Walker, another criminal who died at 100 miles an hour at a Saturday afternoon in a neighborhood,” City Councilman Paul Krekorian said. “And he died, but thank God he didn’t take out a car full of innocent people, as well, in the process, somebody driving their kid home from a Little League game. And these mobs treat him like he’s some kind of hero. It’s disgusting.”
Englander’s motion followed two reports by the Los Angeles Daily News, which documented several large street takeovers that occurred in the Devonshire Division.
The council in 2017 approved funding for a pilot program to install “rumble strips” on a street in the San Fernando Valley known as a racing hot spot.
The strips were installed in June 2017 on Plummer Avenue between Canoga Avenue and Topanga Canyon Boulevard, which is often called the “Canoga Speedway” due to its popularity with street racers. The area was the scene of a street racing crash which killed two spectators in February 2015. The driver, Karen Gary Balyn, was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
“Rumble strips” are similar to speed bumps, but are much more abrasive to vehicles engaged in street racing, according to Englander.
Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents neighborhoods in South L.A., said he wanted to thank Englander “for pioneering some multi-pronged approaches. In Council District Eight, we copied Council District 12 and we put those little bumps in the road so you can’t do the spinout without messing up your car, and it really helped.”