LOS ANGELES — Dangerous street takeovers shutting down intersections are a problem that law enforcement says is only getting worse across LA County.
A new law now in effect allows for harsher penalties in deadly incidents, but many agencies say this is an issue that needs more resources.
A debriefing brings all the officers in Sunday’s multi agency operation together, planning their best course of action to stop the street takeovers in LA County. LAPD Sergeant Manny Sanchez leads the task force.
“We’re going to start off on the first page and the officer is going to read that out for me,” Sanchez said. “These car club gatherings have become increasingly more violent with a mob mentality and no fear of law enforcement,” an officer read out loud.
Then it’s time for the group to hit the streets.
Sanchez says the drivers consider this Sunday Funday, the busiest day of the week for street takeovers. He’s headed to one of the hotspots.
“These guys are incredible with what they do with these vehicles, but they’re not doing any good with it. They’re killing people, some of them are carrying guns,” he said.
In what’s called the pit, modified cars do donuts and burnouts with spectators surrounding them in the middle of an intersection. As soon as officers hit their sirens, the crowd disperses and the officers chase after the drivers involved.
Legally, police can only detain and cite the drivers, then impound their vehicles for 30 days. One of the drivers they stop has been caught several times, but he says modifying vehicles is how he makes a living and for him, the money is well worth the risk.
“There’s a lot of money to be made when they’re actually doing this,” Sanchez said. “So they understand the risk and, for a misdemeanor, no problem, but he doesn’t want to go back to prison. For a felony, he would probably stay out of the way.”
It’s a business for these drivers, says Sanchez as he heads to break up another takeover. For many of the people taking part in them, he says it comes down to social media clout.
The challenge is there’s only so much they can do.
A new law just went into effect that gives judges and district attorneys the power to charge drivers involved in street takeovers, racing and sideshows with a felony manslaughter, but only if someone was killed. This was the case when 24-year-old Elyzza Guajaca, a nursing student, was hit by a driver at the intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and Florence on Christmas.
“What makes it worse is the amount of dead bodies we’ve had lately. It’s terrible. No one should be dying at these,” Sanchez said.
Injuries are common, he said, but the pedestrians hit often flee before officers arrive. In another takeover, police said two spectators were hit by a Mercedes, but neither stayed on scene to report it.
It’s one of the biggest challenges across agencies, says Sergeant Mike Downing at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, which recently launched their own multi-agency task force to combat this issue as well.
He says they use social media to find the takeovers, but they just don’t have enough resources to get ahead of the issue.
“There’s nothing one deputy or one officer is gonna do with two, 300 plus people at street takeover,” he said.
He shows the bot stops that the city of Compton installed to deter takeovers, but says they haven’t proven very effective.
Back in LA, city council recently called for a report from LAPD on what’s being done to better address street takeovers, but they haven’t yet discussed what additional measures to take.
For now, Sanchez says all they can do is react as quickly as possible.
“We’re just working hard to stop these takeovers but we can only do so much with these guys,” he said.
They're holding many operations like this every month to attack a problem police say has grown exponentially since the pandemic.