After chaotic weekend of street takeovers and clashes with police, CPD says ‘caravan task force’ will crack down on stunt drivers

Nine people were arrested, seven vehicles were seized and 22 more were flagged for impoundment after a weekend of drifting and drag-racing brought increased scrutiny on the burgeoning underground car culture.

SHARE After chaotic weekend of street takeovers and clashes with police, CPD says ‘caravan task force’ will crack down on stunt drivers

Participants and spectators harass Chicago police trying to break up a street takeover as hundreds gathered to watch cars drift in circles at 119th and Halsted streets on the Far South Side Friday night, Aug. 26, 2022.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Nine people were arrested, seven vehicles were seized and 22 more were flagged for impoundment after a chaotic weekend of drifting and drag-racing in Chicago brought increased scrutiny on the burgeoning underground car culture.

The numbers were released Monday morning by Chief of Patrol Brian McDermott, who also disclosed at a news conference that a task force was established four weeks ago to address an “uptick in the pattern of caravans coming downtown” and shutting off intersections while performing high-speed stunts.

Still, the “takeovers” over the weekend appeared to catch police off guard as they attempted to enforce a new ordinance that allows them to impound vehicles and fine drivers up to $10,000.

Cops were assaulted with bricks and bottles, and squad cars were damaged as officers sought to break up the events, McDermott said. 

While he and Supt. David Brown both used tough talk in warning drivers about the consequences, a police spokesperson said the “caravan task force” hasn’t tracked how many vehicles have been impounded in the month since it was formed.

Brown also didn’t respond when asked how many officers have been assigned to the new task force.

McDermott said the department’s overarching plan is a “coordinated effort between multiple city agencies,” with plans to even use salt trucks and other large vehicles to block traffic.

McDermott said mobile police camera trucks, license plate readers and the department’s Strategic Decision Command Centers will be used to identify cars for impoundment.

Brown said investigators are also tracking social media posts.

“One of the things that these groups do is that they highlight their drag racing on social media,” he told reporters. “But that’s evidence for us to tow their car at a later date. So warning to those trying to sensationalize drag racing, thank you because we’re going to charge you and tow your car with up to a $10,000 fine.”

Brown acknowledged the “complexity” of combating the growing trend, noting that officers are prohibited from chasing drivers at high speeds, apparently referring to the department’s new vehicle pursuit policy.

He said that organizers sometimes use public social media accounts to send cops on phony chases while using private chats to set up real events. And those events are typically in “porous” areas that are difficult to block off, he said.

Brown pushed for changes to the new stunt-driving ordinance that would allow officers to also target spectators and raise the maximum fine to $20,000.

“Let’s keep going until these knuckleheads get the message,” he said.

The events in Chicago are part of “a national phenomena,” according to Brown, who pointed to similar issues in Portland, Los Angeles and New York.

“Chicago’s not the only city where this drag racing [and] drifting is occurring,” he said. 

Takeovers have been a staple in street-racing culture but have gained an increased popularity across the country this summer. In Los Angeles, a flash event even took over the city’s new half-billion dollar 6th Street bridge.

Impounding cars has had little success in Los Angeles, where the number of takeovers exploded in the first six months of the year, the LA Times reported. Last week, the Los Angeles Police Department arrested 40 people and impounded dozens of cars. 

In nearby Compton, officials installed “Botts’ Dots” — raised yellow markers — in the middle of intersections known for takeovers. But they have had little success.

Earlier this year, Portland police were given the authority to arrest people under two new misdemeanor crimes that charges racers with “unlawful street takeover” and “unlawful staging of street takeover events.” The penalties include a towed car, a fine of up to $500 and some jail time.

Chicago has also seen a burst of street takeovers this summer with a viral video circulating seemingly every other week. In response, the City Council empowered police to impound vehicles involved in street stunts.

Over the weekend, spectators and drivers repeatedly clashed with police and took over intersections in the West Loop. On Friday night, two young men were arrested and one of them had his car impounded — which is thought to be the first car to be towed under the city’s new ordinance.

Police tried to break up a takeover at 119th and Halsted streets as spectators threw objects at officers. One man climbed onto an unmarked police car and jumped on the windshield, smashing the glass.

As takeovers were staged Saturday night into early Sunday, six police cars were damaged at Cermak Road and Lumber Street on the West Side. No injuries or arrests were made.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot acknowledged Monday that organizers have been difficult to track down on social media. The fact that people can advertise such dangerous activities on social media without any consequences is an “absolute abomination,” she said, calling on the federal government to intervene.

“What I’m concerned about is not only the harm that’s being done to area residents, and that is a harm for sure,” Lightfoot said. “But one of these cars that spins out of control, somebody’s going to lose their life, that’s what I am really worried about.”

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