Illegal street takeovers have become a common occurrence in Los Angeles that authorities warn can turn deadly.
Takeovers typically involve “flash mobs” of hundreds of spectators and several cars that arrive in a coordinated manner at specific intersections, or even interstates, and blocking traffic to speed and show off dangerous stunts like drifting.
As vehicles turn and screech through intersections, spinning dangerously close to cheering crowds, the stunts are often filmed by onlookers and posted on social media — which police say generates even more interest in the illegal activity.
Illegal street racing has always been part of L.A.’s car culture, but police say the practice has changed over the years. KTLA spoke with Los Angeles Police Department traffic group Cmdr. Al Pasos about the issue.
‘Rendezvous points’ made on social media
Social media has been helping large groups of people get to the locations quicker, Pasos told KTLA.
“They’re utilizing social media and cell phone technology to create rendezvous points,” Pasos said. “They’re using their network to identify areas that they’re going to be, which causes a mass of people to go there.”
The commander said circulating videos of the stunts can also fuel interest in the illicit activity.
“I also think that the highly published novelty of filming these things, whether it be via live stream, via somebody’s web page or their post… as well as the coverage when the media picks it up, causes people to go out and become more involved in these,” he said.
Spectators block officers
How participants of street takeovers respond to law enforcement showing up has also changed, according to the commander.
Pasos said the participants now try to “derail law enforcement.”
“When I was a young man, people were cooperative; they left the scene, they put their cars on trailers and they went away. Now, they’re having confrontations with officers and they’re utilizing the roadway and all the spectators to block us from even having an avenue to go in and address the matter,” Pasos said.
What can happen to those caught participating or spectating?
Those participating can face citations for violations and see their vehicles impounded.
Meanwhile, spectators can also face a citation for a misdemeanor offense and are given a court date to appear, authorities said.
Has the problem gotten worse?
Illegal street takeovers are common and are seen throughout the nation.
There have been reports that street racing surged in the early months of the pandemic, when streets were emptier, and continued to increase even after COVID-19 restrictions eased.
But Pasos said it’s difficult to pinpoint increases in the illicit activity since not all takeovers are reported and different law enforcement agencies respond based on where it’s happening.
Also, police believe that there are spectators who get struck and injured in the street takeovers but don’t report the incidents to law enforcement out of fear of additional questioning, so there aren’t any accurate counts of injuries sustained from these activities.
“When we have a massive group of people and they’re in the roadway as they are, it’s only a matter of time — as demonstrated this weekend — that we’re going to see somebody sustain an injury that is a casualty,” Pasos said.
What happened in Compton?
On Sunday, a suspected street takeover in the area of North Wilmington Avenue and West Stockwell Street ended with two young women being killed.
A witness said the women were in a sedan that was drifting or swinging around the intersection during a street takeover. One of the women was apparently hanging out of the window while the other was driving when the sedan collided with an SUV.
The LAPD commander said this was the first street takeover he has seen that ended in fatalities, especially among participants.
“This is an extra word of caution to the community that not only are they inherently dangerous for spectators, now we’re seeing inherently dangerous for the participants,” Pasos said.
What’s LAPD doing to deal with the problem?
“I can tell you that we do have strategies and we do have enforcement efforts and we do have groups from the traffic commands that are addressing the issue,” Pasos said. “I can’t really go beyond that because it may undermine what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The commander’s message to participants?
“I would just like for them to know that while they believe they’re just engaging in the practice of displaying their ability to maneuver a vehicle, this past tragedy should be a message to them that it’s gonna happen to any of them as well as any spectators, and that they could be criminally and civilly liable for all these actions,” he said.