Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of street racing. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Asking the Right Questions

Data Gathering and Analysis

A shortcoming at present is the lack of dedicated coding and analysis of street racing data in most police agencies. No software presently exists for the identification and analysis of racing offenses, and agencies must typically hand search their records for higher-level analyses. Others have a dedicated calls-for-service code specifically for racing issues that the officers can use for reporting and communications personnel can query. A problem that can arise with such coding, however, is that it may fail to include other offenses that flow from, or arise out of, illegal racing (auto thefts, other thefts, assaults, trespassing, and so on), or to provide information about groups that gather at retail parking lots. At a minimum, the crime analysis unit or communications section should be contacted to determine how many personnel hours are spent at racing locations, including days of the week and times of day. Furthermore, the agency is advised to create at least a rudimentary database or modify existing records management systems so that street racing-related activity (including crimes, disturbances, traffic and pedestrian stops, vehicle and pedestrian traffic congestion, traffic crashes, arrests, etc.) can be tracked.If such a database does not exist, you may have to manually search through individual complaint records and police reports to determine which are related to street racing.

California Agencies’ Efforts to Obtain Racing Data

Police in California have been attempting for years to convince the state to alter its accident investigation form to include coding for street racing. Once the procedure is developed statewide, agencies will be able to obtain reliable data. Until the new form is developed, the California Highway Patrol has disseminated a training memo instructing local officers where to include a racing-related notation. The key for California agencies, and eventually for other agencies nationwide, will be to provide officers with necessary training. Most officers are unfamiliar with street racing codes, rules, and laws; therefore, as the ability is expanded for agencies to track racing incidents, if the responding or investigating officer is not properly trained, a concern is that the proper boxes on the form will not be completed. The San Diego Police Department presently offers training in this regard; thus far, about 2,000 officers have been trained in how to determine when a racing relationship exists with a reported incident.26

In Milpitas, California, each time an officer is either dispatched to any type of call for service or initiates any activity (e.g., traffic or pedestrian stops, arrests, citation, accepting a report of a crime, etc.), at the conclusion of that activity, the officer is required to provide the communications division with a classification code that identifies the specific type of activity. As with all other offenses, a specific classification was simply developed that includes street racing incidents. Race-related traffic enforcement stops; disturbances of any kind involving racers; crimes in which racers are listed as suspects; or other circumstances in which individuals are actively racing at, loitering about, or traversing to and from common racing venues are examples of such classifications.27

Tracking Racing Websites

Several race-related websites exist that may be used by the police to track racers’ activities as well as provide useful information to racers. For example, Streetracing.com provides racing and club news, articles, events, calendars, chatrooms, message boards, auctions, and other information for many cities and states. The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) is a 5,000-member trade organization for the aftermarket industry; although SEMA often mounts strong opposition to police efforts and proposed racing legislation, it may offer another avenue to reach racers through the retailers who sell parts.28 Others, such as RaceLegal.com and the National Hot Rod Association’s NHRA.com, focus more on encouraging legal racing, and attempt to educate their readers about related laws and statistics (e.g., numbers of illegal racers who were recently killed, injured, cited, arrested, or who had vehicles seized or licenses revoked).

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular street racing problem, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

Incidents

  • What is the level of calls for service and complaints attributable to street racing in the area? What, specifically, is the nature of these calls and complaints?
  • How many vehicle crashes are related to street racing?
  • How, specifically, does street racing contribute to these crashes? Racing vehicles crash into one another? Into stationary objects or pedestrians adjacent to the roadway? Into non-participating vehicles?
  • What percentage of these crashes involves fatalities, personal injuries, and property damage? Hit-and-run accidents?
  • Are younger, less experienced drivers more likely to be involved in vehicle crashes?
  • How many passengers are typically in racing vehicles?
  • Is traffic congestion caused by street racing impeding emergency traffic (e.g., ambulance and fire vehicles)?
  • Do business owners report decreasing revenues as a direct result of racers and spectators gathering on their premises?
  • Have there been any local occurrences (e.g., the closure of a local legitimate “drag strip”) or issues that may have resulted in increasing street racing incidents?
  • Have there been reports of retaliatory offenses against street racers?

Victims

  • Who is harmed by street racing (e.g., street racers, passengers, onlookers, innocent motorists, innocent bystanders, business owners, residents)?
  • What is known about the victims of street racing-related incidents (e.g., demographics, their involvement in street racing)?
  • How many people have been killed or injured as a result of street racing? What is the nature and seriousness of those injuries? (You may want to examine hospital emergency room records because not all crash-related or assault injuries are reported to police.)
  • What is the public’s opinion of street racing? Do people want street racing stopped or merely controlled in a legal setting? (Public opinion may be expressed in letters to the editor, surveys, meetings, informal conversations, formal complaints, and so forth.)

Offenders

  • What is known about street racers, their passengers, and onlookers? (Age, ethnicity, group affiliation?)
  • If there are organized groups involved in street racing, are they criminal gangs? Are there tensions and confrontations between various groups involved in street racing?
  • Why do street racers say they race (e.g., lack of alternative activities, for social reasons, to show off their cars, for the thrill of speed, etc.)?
  • Do the participants include unsupervised youths who are on the streets in violation of a curfew?
  • Where do the racers live? Are they local or from out of town?
  • What percentage of persons cited or arrested for street racing are repeat offenders?
  • Who are the worst offenders?
  • Are street racers operating unsafe vehicles or vehicles that have undergone major modifications in order to maximize their speed?

Locations/Times

  • What is the nature of the area where street racing occurs (commercial, industrial, residential, open highway, etc.)?
  • How much pedestrian traffic is there in the area where street racing occurs? What other special hazards are there in the area where street racing occurs?
  • Where are traffic crashes occurring that appear to be related to street racing?
  • Where is the major street racing-related traffic volume in the city?
  • Where are the hot spots, and how many related offenses have occurred (such as disturbances; assaults; and weapons, liquor, drug, curfew, noise, vandalism, littering, trespassing, graffiti, and traffic violations)?
  • Where are the preliminary gathering places for racers and spectators?
  • In which area(s) does street racing occur? What are the means of ingress and egress into the area? Does the racing occur in residential or industrial areas? On public streets, or state or federal highways? Privately owned roadways?
  • Is the racing concentrated in business areas, or residential areas, or both?
  • Why are the most concentrated racing locations attractive to street racers?
  • Is adequate lighting in these areas?
  • When does street racing typically occur (time of day, day of week, time of month or year, during certain holidays or special events)?

Current Responses

  • Are there adequate state and local laws for meeting the needs of the police in addressing street racing problems?
  • Have stakeholders been identified and partnerships forged for dealing with the problem?
  • Do adequate resources exist for dealing with the problem?

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. All measures should be taken in both the target area and the surrounding area. (For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.)

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to street racing:

  • reduced numbers of various street racing-related offenses;
  • reduced numbers of calls for service concerning street racing, both in the racing area and across the jurisdiction;
  • reduced numbers of racers and spectators, if any, who are returning to their old racing spots;
  • reduced number and severity of injuries attributable to street racing;
  • reduced numbers of juveniles in violation of existing curfew and other laws;
  • increased satisfaction of complainants; and
  • increased profitability of businesses previously harmed by street racing.

You should be alert to the possibility that your responses to street racing might displace racers and related offenses, either geographically or to other types of crimes. This might not be all bad if the displacement results in less overall harm. Crime and call-for-service data as well as websites should be monitored both locally and in other jurisdictions to determine whether racers are merely taking their activities to other venues.