Heather Conover, a registered nurse and former cop who hails from a strong family law enforcement background, lives in the Park Cities. Her home is on the market. She and her family plan to move out of the area often referred to as “The Bubble” because of rising crime and street racing, which has reached a crescendo.
In 2020 there were 8,000 racing/takeover calls in Dallas, with North Central representing 360, Northwest at 841, and 1,000 in the Northeast. The bulk of calls go to Southwest, Southeast, and South Central. There are up to 2,000 racers in Dallas on any given Sunday night, yet save for tougher penalties enacted last year, Dallas Police haven’t taken any serious steps to reduce the racing and stunt driving happening in every neighborhood of the city.
Arrests have been made, vehicles impounded, but often police arrive 30 minutes too late to a street race call.
Nearly half of arrestees are from out of town, primarily Garland, Mesquite and Red Oak.
This modern plague on our streets has moved to Northwest Dallas, East Dallas, and Preston Hollow. This past weekend, it hit just north of University Park.
“Crime has increased so much, and police are short-staffed, of course they cannot answer the calls,” says Conover, who was with the Lewisville Police Department. “The City of Dallas doesn’t seem to feel that security is a priority.”
For too long, she says, Dallas has lacked police manpower, which can lead to deadly results: what if that sparking electrical pole would have fallen on a car? Caused a fire?
Street racing is a weird animal.
It crosses all socio-economic, race, and age lines. At a December meeting of the North Dallas Chamber Public Safety Committee, Dallas PD Sgt. Christopher Barzyk, who has lead the DPD Street Racing Task Force for 3.5 years, explained why. Barzyk and his team work with counterparts around the country to better understand how these groups operate.
That is the first point: this is not just a Dallas problem. It is a nationwide problem, from Maine to California, with some groups actually traveling to Dallas because of our central location, flat terrain, and restrictions on how criminals can be pursued.
There is no “one” type of driver. They range from age 13 to 45-plus. Motivation includes creating havoc, thrill, or they just think it is fun. The exposure and “fame” on social media is also a contributing factor.
Street racing often has gambling involved in the outcome. Participants generally like to operate in warehouse districts or public roadways with long straightaways. There is little distinction between targeting neighborhoods, businesses, and the Central Business District.
A 911 call on street racing gets officers dispatched in 5-7 minutes. But the groups are highly mobile, and communicate about intersections to “takeover” (what happened at Preston and Northwest Highway). They monitor police calls online and notify the crowd as soon as officers are dispatched. On-site spotters are also used. Poof, they are gone by the time police get there.
They are noisy. They blow airhorns, honk horns, and shoot fireworks as a signal to quickly depart and move.
Not an Easy Problem to Solve
Some solutions to this problem have been suggested, including positioning officers at frequent takeover intersections. This deters activity because the spotters see them, however, the racers/takeovers just move to a different location.
But DPD does not have resources to proactively place officers at all of the intersections that have or could be targeted.
Lane closures or temporary speed bumps have been suggested, too. But fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars need to be able to move freely through the city in response to emergency calls, and this solution would hinder that.
It would also force police into neighborhoods to answer calls, and since they won’t/can’t speed through these areas, it would further slow response. (Note: officers who violate speeding rules in neighborhoods can be penalized via their number of days off or in their paycheck)
Stop Sticks (those spiked “sticks” thrown in the path of vehicle to puncture tires, as seen at auto rental returns) are typically used in car chases where there can be a longer lead time ahead of the vehicle that is fleeing a scene. It is difficult to know which way a car may exit a takeover, so it’s not a practical solution. There have also been officer fatalities due to the close proximity needed to throw the sticks out in front of speeding vehicles.
But high-speed chases are generally prohibited in Dallas. There is a huge risk of injury or fatality to the public. In fact, fatalities are why this practice was ceased.
But Detroit came up with a solution — at least they thought — and gave racers their own space. However, the designated area was used only once before the racers went back to city streets. Why? Because there were rules to follow within the space, which was not appealing to the drivers.
Street racing is straining public resources to address it proactively.
Sgt. Barzyk does believe greater financial penalties could make a dent in street racing. Drivers generally love to spend major dollars improving their vehicles for this performance — souping them up, so to speak — so he believes an impact on the wallet is meaningful and can be an effective deterrent.
But how do you get rid of the crowds? The Dallas City Council recently passed an ordinance deeming that spectators can be ticketed for attending these illegal gatherings, but the penalty is akin to a speeding ticket. Sergeant Barzyk says that bigger financial teeth are needed.
Reckless driving is currently a Misdemeanor B with up to a $200 fine and up to three days in jail. But the fine is no deterrent, as some may feel they can go sit in jail for a day and the fine is often below $200.
Loud muffler citations are usually fined only $25, even after multiple infractions, which is not a deterrent in any way. Sergeant Barzyk recommends that stricter fines and penalties become part of the 2021 legislative agenda.
But here’s the real problem:
Video of the driver (not just video of the car) is needed to prosecute.
That’s right, video of this weekend’s pole-smashing truck would not suffice. While there are cameras at some Dallas intersections, many need repair. Sergeant Barzyk said that prioritizing and budgeting for these repairs would help capture the footage needed that could lead to prosecuting the drivers.
Heather Conover has written the mayor, City Council, and governor to bring the state troopers.
“You need a task force, and you need the state involved,” says Conover. “And of course you need the officers to do this — another reason why we absolutely should not be moving resources away from DPD.”