May 21, 2024 - News

Portland police fight street racing

Two police arrest a driver in red in front of his car for illegal street racing

Portland Police are using their new powers to break up illegal street takeovers and races. Photo: Portland Police Bureau

Portland police say they will arrest more drivers and tow cars as "street takeover" season advances, when drivers block intersections and drive in circles, burning out tires in front of spectators.

Why it matters: Takeovers are illegal and potentially dangerous for drivers and spectators, and have led to more arrests in recent months.

  • A state law that passed last year and a new city ordinance brought harsher penalties for reckless drivers and spectators, including fines, jail time, forfeiture of vehicles and towing of vehicles.

Driving the news: Police say 300-500 people at a takeover event in NE Portland on April 14 were confronted by 60 officers, who towed 16 cars, arrested 12 people and seized one gun.

  • Last week, police put out a call to find a driver from another April 14 event near Lloyd Center who had been drifting in circles, while pedestrians walked in and out of their path, and hit three of them.
  • Lt. Chadd Stensgaard said that if they have time to prepare, PPB reaches out to neighboring forces such as the Oregon State Police, the Port of Portland, Gresham, Multnomah County, Clackamas County and even Vancouver to catch people fleeing into Washington.

By the numbers: Stensgaard told Axios that in the last year there have been three or four street takeovers with 500 to 1,000 attendees that attracted people from neighboring states.

  • There were also around 145 smaller street takeover events in which crowds took over intersections around Portland, such as near Lloyd Center or on the top deck of the Fremont Bridge.
  • At least four people have been killed since 2022 during street racing — two men in a car, one on a motorcycle on Marine Drive and one woman waiting for a bus.

How it works: Street racing often takes place on freeways and on straight, quiet roads such as N Marine Drive. High powered cars such the Dodge Charger Hellcat or Corvette Z06, which can cost over $100,000 and have 1,000-horsepower engines, are a big attraction.

  • In smaller events, drivers of cheaper cars fitted with $50 "burner" tires meet at intersections drift in circles, leaving black marks called donuts (or cookies) on the asphalt.
  • Passengers hang out of the windows videoing the action as the crowd inches closer.

Flashback: Street takeovers grew in popularity during the COVID-19 lockdown when bored and unemployed youth took to the streets for thrill driving, according to Stensgaard, who heads Portland Police's street takeover unit.

  • Police spokesperson Mike Benner tallied at least 70 arrests and at least 80 vehicles towed dating back to late 2020.

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