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Dallas Tries To Tap The Brakes On Street Racing

DPD says half of the street racers they encounter are residents of Dallas
DPD says half of the street racers they encounter are residents of Dallas
Avi S. Adelman / PhotographerOnBoard.com
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On two occasions, street race cars ended up in Anga Sanders’ backyard. Sanders, president of the Kiest Forest Estates Neighborhood Association, said one of them came within just a few feet from her bedroom wall.

She has lived in Dallas City Council District 3 since 1980 and street racing has been a consistent problem over the years. Racers often show up in groups of 10 or 15. They come in cars and trucks, lay waste to city streets and put the public in danger. It’s only a matter of time before she or a neighbor gets killed, she said.

Sanders and one of those neighbors, Craig Wheeler, vice president of the association, pleaded for help at Wednesday's council meeting, saying more needs to be done to crack down on street racing.

“I just don’t feel like there are any steps in the right direction on a solution,” Wheeler said.

Street racing has spiked citywide. Deputy Police Chief Jesse Reyes said around 2,000 street racers out on any given weekend, more participants than ever, and often several events are taking place at the same time across the city.

The city has taken steps to stomp out the racing operations. In May, the council passed an ordinance expanding the criteria for who could be cited for street racing and trick driving.  The ordinance made it illegal to spectate or be present at a street race. Additionally, people who allow races to take place on their property can be cited, and in some circumstances, vehicles can be seized.

This year’s street racing enforcement has resulted in 1,196 arrests, 612 spectator citations and 184 felony charges. Additionally, DPD has seized 48 guns, towed 659 vehicles and recovered 34 stolen vehicles. Reyes said that while they have been able to temporarily impound cars, no individual has met all of the criteria necessary to have their vehicle seized.

Reyes said the department has started sending letters to some of the registered owners of the street racing vehicles asking them to reach out to the police department. In some cases, DPD has found that the car is being used by a family member of the registered owner. Through this, the department is able to stop some people from racing. So far, they have sent 88 of these letters.

The police department and the city attorney are looking into using Dallas’ riot statute and the Clean Air Act to further eradicate street racing.

The riot statute defines a riot as an assembly of at least seven people "which creates an immediate danger to persons or property, obstructs law enforcement functions or services, or by force, threat, or physical action deprives or disturbs any person of a legal right."

The Clean Air Act prevents outdoor burning, which DPD said sometimes occurs at street races, in areas that do not meet the national ambient air quality standards. Dallas does not.

The city ordinance also redesignated street racing reports from Priority 4 to Priority 2 calls, which require a response from police within 12 minutes. The problem is that wait times at the department's call center are through the roof and police response time is not up to par.

Council member David Blewett said DPD often takes twice that amount of time or longer to show up to the scene. By then, the racers are usually gone. He urged the council to support having the calls designated as Priority 1. “We're gonna have to come up with a better way to get there faster,” Blewett said.

Reyes said DPD needs more manpower.

“It’s very manpower intensive, especially with the mobility of these groups,” he said.

Several council members were interested in seeking additional support from the Department of Public Safety. Gov. Greg Abbott recently deployed DPS into Dallas to help get violent crime under control. DPS is not set to help the department with its street racing enforcement, but Reyes said he welcomes any additional resources.

But council member Omar Narvaez argued that the department has the officers it needs, but too many of them are tied up doing work that he said could be done by civilian employees. “We already have these peace officers. We employ them as we speak. So how do we more efficiently utilize them?” Narvaez asked.

Based on a staffing study it conducted, the consulting firm KPMG recommended the use of more civilian employees at DPD. The city has taken steps toward implementing this recommendation, allocating funds in next year’s budget to replace 95 positions with civilian employees so more officers can be on the streets.

Until that happens, Narvaez said, the department should try to use some of the officers working civilian positions to help enforce street racing laws.

Some council members suggested directing the street racers to other venues, like local tracks. It’s not a completely original idea. The city of Atlanta has even entertained designating certain areas for drag racing per the recommendation of the mayor’s 18-year-old son, according to CBS .

But council member Carolyn King Arnold said the city shouldn’t have to create a PR campaign to direct racers to local tracks. “They know where to go,” she said. She also doesn’t support any developments for racing in the city.

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