Chicago police could get power to seize vehicles used for drag racing, drifting

The unanimous committee vote follows an incident that drew hundreds of spectators to the Near West Side early Sunday, keeping area residents up for hours. The full city council could OK the measure as soon as Wednesday.

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Concrete barriers have been installed on Lower Lower Wacker Drive at Stetson Avenue and Columbus Drive to reduce the width of the intersections.

This photo from 2015 shows concrete barriers installed on Lower Lower Wacker Drive at Stetson Avenue and Columbus Drive to reduce the width of the intersections, in an attempt to deter street racing and drifting.

Photo provided by Ald. Brendan Reilly

Chicago police could soon have a new and powerful tool to combat the epidemic of drifting and drag racing that draws hundreds of spectators to watch daredevil drivers do donuts, sometimes around a circle of burning gasoline.

Monday, the City Council’s Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety approved an ordinance championed by downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) that would empower the Chicago Police Department to impound vehicles used in such stunts — whether or not the vehicle’s owner is present. 

The unanimous vote follows yet another harrowing, dangerous and deafening incident that drew hundreds of spectators to the Near West Side intersection of Clinton and Monroe streets early Sunday. The noisy gathering kept area residents up for hours. Responding officers had fireworks thrown at them, and their police vehicles were kicked.

That incident was eerily similar to what happened in May on Lower Wacker Drive at Columbus Drive, when a driver did donuts and figure-eight stunts around spectators surrounded by a circle of burning gasoline. 

Reilly described drifting as “figure skating with a car.” 

He said CPD must find a way to stop the daredevils before somebody gets killed — and his ordinance is aimed at doing just that.

It would empower police to literally stop drivers dead in their tracks by seizing their most precious possession: the vehicles they use for the attention-grabbing antics.

Before impounding the vehicle, CPD would be required to mail the owner a “notice of intent to impound” that includes a statement of probable cause and a police report of the incident that includes the date and time of the violation and a description of the vehicle. The owner would have the right to contest the impoundment before an administrative hearing officer.

“What’s great about this ordinance is that it doesn’t require the police to engage in a hot pursuit to impound the vehicle. We simply need to capture the appropriate evidence the vehicle was engaged in this activity and record that evidence. That can be then used to impound this vehicle on any city street in the city of Chicago when we find it,” Reilly said. 

“When officers responded to the Clinton and Monroe incident over the weekend, they were met with fireworks being shot at them and certainly were outnumbered and did not have flatbed trucks or any of the equipment necessary to engage in the impoundment. This is a way get the bad actors after the fact when we do have resources available.” 

In most cases, video evidence used to justify the impoundment will be provided by the offenders themselves, Reilly said. 

“Oftentimes, these people are dumb enough to post it in high-definition on social media platforms. … They’re actually busting themselves. So let’s avail ourselves of their wonderful footage and use it to take their cars away,” Reilly said. 

“If you look at these videos … where cars are spinning in circles, they’re almost always surrounded by a couple of hundred people in a crowd. And sometimes, people inside of these circles lighting fires and shooting off fireworks. It is an absolute recipe for disaster and it is just a matter of time before we’re gonna see people killed in these incidents. It shouldn’t have to come to that.”

Prior to the final vote, alderpersons from across the city described similarly harrowing incidents in their wards.

Ald. Felix Cardona Jr. (31st) described a “ring of fire in the middle of Six Corners” on the Northwest Side. Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) complained “lawless actors” had taken over a parking lot in his Southwest Side ward in mid-May “and started a shoot-out.” 

South Side Ald. David Moore (17th) even asked whether the ordinance would empower police to impound motorcycles used in wheelies.

Reilly told him he “didn’t focus on that particular practice,” but was more than willing to co-sponsor a “trailer ordinance” to do just that.

Moore also noted the impoundment ordinance “sets a precedent” for average citizens to capture video of vehicles running red lights and supply that evidence to police. 

“That’ll be the next ordinance. … It opens the door for that, which I don’t mind,” Moore said. 

Asked if he planned on “pursuing this type of approach with other enforcement needs,” Moore replied: “No, but I may.”

Earlier this month, downtown Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) complained Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s decision to give NASCAR the green flag to hold three straight years of stock-car races through downtown Chicago streets would “egg on” participants in a sub-culture that thrives on becoming celebrities by posting daredevil stunts on social media.

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