Another effort that had a “huge impact,” according to Austin, was the establishment of laws that made it a crime to be a spectator at a street race. “Racing is a huge spectator sport. Well, what if you take that away? The hard core racers will still race. What we stopped was the thousands or so kids who go watch the races,” Austin explains.
With everyone involved in racing being prosecuted and with prosecutors working closely with the police department, Dragnet has seen tangible success. This year, there have been no deaths and no injuries in San Diego that have been attributed to illegal drag racing.
In 2003, the Boise, Idaho, Police Athletic League started its own racing program with two donated cars: a 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle SS funny car and a 1992 Corvette.
Both cars display the Boise Police patch, and the Chevelle is painted like a police car with overheads and sirens. The Boise PD’s Chevelle runs on a 509-cubic-inch engine that is ethanol injected and reaches speeds of 138 mph in a quarter-mile run, averaging approximately 9.6 seconds. The Corvette is powered by a Chevy LT-1 350-cubic-inch engine with a high-performance exhaust system. It reaches approximately 100 mph in a quarter-mile run, averaging 14.4 seconds.
Both cars are fixtures in six of the local high school drag races at Firebird Raceway. Backed by donations, the officers give out T-shirts and encourage kids to come to the track to race, rather than racing in the streets.
Det. Greg Eisenbeiss boasts that the Boise PD’s car is the fastest in the area. And he says that while street racing is still a problem in Boise, illegal races are less frequent and less likely to draw a crowd because of the police efforts.
Beat the Heat
Most of the local street racing interdiction programs are affiliated with “Beat the Heat,” an organization that began in 1984 in Jacksonville, Fla. In 1990, the program expanded into Dallas and, in 1992, the organization incorporated and received a tax-exempt status from the IRS. Today, Beat the Heat is in 30 states and racing teams are operating in 411 agencies.
Officer Jim Harris of the Amarillo Police Department serves on the executive board of Beat the Heat. He believes that by using the cars to get the kids’ attention, you can then talk to them about racing.
“We are losing more and more young people not only driving the cars but in the crowd of spectators when the drivers lose control, and we are losing more and more each year,” he says. Harris adds that things are getting so bad that in most states if you are caught illegally drag racing, the law enforcement agency can seize your car and the spectators’ cars as well. “That is how bad it is getting,” he says. “We are hitting them real hard.” There are no statistics to show how many people are killed each year by street racing, so the success of programs like Beat the Heat cannot be quantified.
Still, Harris believes cops participating in street racing interdiction programs are making a difference. “We put out the word, and I know of some people that decided not to take part in illegal street races, choosing instead to go to the track. Are we making a great impact? I would like to say, “yes,” but it is still unknown,” he says.
Shelly Feuer Domash is a Long Island-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Police Magazine.
Stopping Street Racing
Officers working in street racing interdiction units offer the following advice on how to crack down on the fast and the furious.
“Start with the teaching and offer them an alternative,” says Sgt. Chuck Williams of the Phoenix Police Department. “You have to realize that drag racing is going to happen. So, if it is going to happen, why not corral it to a safe place?”
An alternative can persuade some street racers to take their activities to the track. But some people insist on racing in the streets. Det. John Austin of the San Diego Police Department advocates a carrot and stick approach to cracking down on illegal racing.
“Don’t ignore the warning signs that you have a street racing problem,” Austin says. “Consider when investigating collisions that the primary cause may not be just speed, but a contest or race. And if you identify a racing problem, then enact a spectator ordinance and a forfeiture ordinance.”