Last February, Beverly Hills Police Department officers arrested five people in connection with a street takeover at the intersection of Cañon Drive and Lomitas Avenue. Approximately 100 cars blocked all six points of access to the intersection while drivers performed stunts in front of spectators who watched and documented it with their phones.
With a proposed ordinance that would allow the city to seize cars in connection with street takeovers and have them forfeited by the owners, police and city officials are trying to send a clear message to any drivers who plan to race down or block Beverly Hills streets, they said.
“I think passing this ordinance will help us in setting that tone of, ‘If you come here, we are going to go after you,”’ Police Chief Mark Stainbrook said during the Jan. 3 City Council study session.
The proposal is modeled after two ordinances the city of Paramount adopted in late 2020, which declares vehicles used in street races as “nuisances,” establishes a legal procedure for forfeiting nuisance vehicles and for prosecuting street race spectators, according to a staff report.
From January 2021 through August 2022, the Paramount ordinances have resulted in 137 arrests; 272 notice to appear [in court] citations for speeding, modified exhausts and vehicle modifications; 78 notice to appear citations for spectators; and 145 administrative citations for spectators. Additionally, 177 vehicles have been impounded and stored, and 25 vehicles have been confiscated.
Beverly Hills has already adopted an ordinance that prohibits spectators at street races, and spectators can be fined up to $1,000 or sentenced to six months in jail or both, Lt. Robert Maycott said.
But in drafting the ordinance for the forfeiture of vehicles, the City Council wanted to go beyond the law passed in Paramount.
During the study session, council members asked if the police department would be able to use the ordinance to issue citations based on drone footage, confiscate cars that someone was using in a “speed contest” with themselves rather than against other people, or to confiscate cars with modified exhausts and other illegal specifications.
Police officers and city attorney Laurence Wiener, however, were unsure if the ordinance could include such provisions.
Referring to the potential of using drone footage to issue citations, Sgt. Dale Drummond said, “you would be basing the speed off of a time distance analysis, which can then constitute a speed trap, which is not allowed in the [California] vehicle code.”
Drummond added that it is unlikely a judge would allow drone footage of a speeding vehicle to be used in court.
Drone footage, however, is an essential tool in deterring street takeovers in the first place, Stainbrook said. The footage will help allocate officers to areas where people might be gathering for a race or takeover. The officers can then use other resources to pull them over and potentially confiscate their cars, he said. Video footage could be used as evidence for other charges against street racers, like reckless driving, Stainbrook added.
Officers use other means of surveillance to prevent takeovers, namely social media, where they monitor groups that organize the illegal events, Stainbrook said.
“The importance of intelligence can’t be underestimated,” he added.
Collaborating with California Highway Patrol and neighboring jurisdictions also helps the BHPD prevent street races and takeovers, Stainbrook said. In one instance, CHP alerted the BHPD about a planned takeover, and BHPD deployed officers to the area before any racers arrived, he added.
There are currently 28 BHPD officers who attend CHP trainings on street takeovers, Maycott said.
But the dangers and nuisances that reckless drivers pose to Beverly Hills residents and visitors doesn’t just stem from street takeovers, Mayor Lili Bosse said.
“I personally am wondering if we don’t have to just limit the [ordinance] to speed contests [with other people], because to me, you could just do a speed contest with yourself,” Bosse said. “Like, ‘I just got a hot car and I … I’m not speeding against another car, I’m speeding against myself and hitting that gas pedal to see how fast I can go.”’
Wiener said that the situation Bosse described would likely constitute a violation of the California vehicle code, which cannot be superseded by a city ordinance.
“You are limited to what the vehicle code says,” Wiener said. “You cannot go beyond that when you adopt your own ordinance.”
The council members agreed that the ordinance should include the harshest measures possible for street racers arrested in the city, and Bosse asked why so many vehicles seized by Paramount police were merely impounded and stored rather than forfeited.
Drummond said that there are specific requirements that must be met for a vehicle to be confiscated, prosecution of an individual being one of the most frequent.
But due to a special directive from Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, it’s possible that many of the people arrested under the Paramount ordinance may not have been prosecuted, Wiener said.
Councilman John Mirisch directed city staff to explore the possibility of using the new ordinance to also forfeit cars that are seized for modified exhausts or other infractions.
“I’m in favor of the ordinance, strengthening it however we can, adding to it not just cars racing each other but reckless driving,” Mirisch said. “I think as the chief suggested, people are not going to care about a fine, they’re not going to care about points on their record. They are going to care if their vehicle is not only impounded but forfeited,” Mirisch said.
The ordinance is now being drafted by the BHPD and city staff, who will return to the City Council at a time not yet determined.
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