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How Ga. law enforcement uses a street racing intelligence group to combat takeovers

A trend that gained popularity in 2020, street takeovers have started to decrease in Atlanta thanks to a multijurisdictional crack-down


Police say that dramatic arrest, aided by the trooper’s quick response to the scene, was made possible by a multijurisdictional effort aimed at stopping street racing and takeovers in metro Atlanta.

John Spink/Atlanta Journal Constitution

By David Aaro
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA — A Georgia State Patrol trooper, fueled with information about a possible street takeover in northwest Atlanta, raced to a busy intersection. There, a large crowd was gathered, surrounding a black pickup truck that was doing doughnuts and sending white smoke into the air.

The trooper activated his siren and chased down the truck, which tore through the crowd of spectators — one of whom broke a leg — and sent them running in panic. The trooper then forced the vehicle to spin out and yanked the driver out onto the hood of his cruiser a short distance away on Northside Drive near 17th Street.

The 20-year-old suspect was immediately handcuffed and taken into custody following the Aug. 20 takedown, which went viral.

Police say that dramatic arrest, aided by the trooper’s quick response to the scene, was made possible by a multijurisdictional effort aimed at stopping street racing and takeovers in metro Atlanta. Those involved had been tracked across Gwinnett and DeKalb counties by a street racing intelligence group made up of hundreds of law enforcement officers. It was created in 2020 amid a rise of similar incidents during the coronavirus pandemic.

“One of our sources revealed to us that they were heading to the location over on Northside Drive. We advised our group, GSP got the intel and they headed right over there,” the intel group’s founder, DeKalb police Lt. Timothy Donahue, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an exclusive interview. ”Everything just lined up perfectly and (the trooper) was able to do their magic.”

The street takeover scene exploded in popularity in 2020 as boredom, COVID-19-related shutdowns and the lack of vehicles on the roads made for a perfect storm. With limited options for entertainment, burning rubber became the new craze as participants strived for popularity on social media, or “clout chasing.”

But there is danger involved. In addition to disrupting traffic, they pose a threat to drivers and spectators. Some people have even died after the illegal antics led to gunfire, police said, and innocent drivers stuck at the intersections have also been attacked.

From 2020 through much of 2022, Donahue said there were nearly a dozen major organizers who could announce they were doing a takeover and get between 100 and 300 cars to show up, depending on the advance notice and weather.

For those involved, it’s a competition to put on the best show and attract as many people as possible. For that reason, street takeovers have often happened in front of a recognizable location, like Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Donahue said. A more interesting background means more eyes on a video.

The events will purposely bounce around metro Atlanta, knowing that law enforcement won’t make their way into a neighboring jurisdiction. Those involved usually stay for only about 15 to 20 minutes, or until police show up.

That’s why the intel network, which consists of practically every law enforcement agency in metro Atlanta, is vital, Donahue said. DeKalb police managed to get all of the major agencies on board with sharing information — a huge step, according to Donahue.

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They use analysts, detectives and sources to find the locations of upcoming takeovers, and that information is then sent through email, text or direct communication to the agency working in the area that night. Once they get the first location, they can track the participants across several jurisdictions.

Collaboration is key, because if one agency stops a takeover, others don’t have to worry about it happening in their area.

It’s a cat-and-mouse game, since organized takeovers can pop up anywhere. The game appears to be working so far, with the help of tougher penalties and legislation targeting organizers.

“Last year pretty much every Friday and Saturday night, without exception, there was something going on and it’s just not like that now,” Donahue said. “When they do happen, they get attention and we do what we can to deal with it as quickly as possible, but it’s definitely not like it used to be, and that’s in a good way.”

Street takeovers have happened all across metro Atlanta in the past few years: near the GSU campus, on the rainbow crosswalks in Midtown, outside North DeKalb Mall, on busy Jonesboro Road in Clayton, and at a major Gwinnett intersection.

Organizers often send out fake addresses to confuse those tracking them, but Donahue said his group has sources who can confirm if a location is real. When one event breaks up, those involved scramble to share the next address via channels like WhatsApp, Instagram, Telegram or a group chat.

“There’s a number of different ways we know that they communicate,” he said.

Everyone in the law enforcement group has the ability to share intel about potential takeover locations, including smaller agencies that might not have the same investigative resources.

Lilburn police Capt. Scott Bennett said his department benefits from the larger intel networks of the GSP and Gwinnett, DeKalb and Atlanta police departments, which helm the group. Donahue noted that troopers are a great partner because of their ability to go anywhere in the state.

“Although we cannot go into detail on our intelligence due to operational security, we rely heavily on local intelligence for locations where street takeovers and criminal street racing occurs,” State Patrol spokesperson Capt. Michael Burns told the AJC in a statement. “Using this information has helped in combating street takeovers, as troopers know the target areas where the crimes may occur.”

The intel group’s sources can identify who’s causing problems for those smaller agencies — which are sometimes deliberately targeted — and deal with them afterward. Information can also be shared as active events are happening and groups are tracked from spot to spot, Bennett said.

“It continues to be real-time notifications, and I can always tell when something’s going on,” Bennett said. “Because my phone is just buzzing every couple of minutes sitting here keeping up with it.”

Bennett said people working undercover at the events obtain tag numbers, photographs of suspects and car descriptions that are then relayed over the network. Law enforcement also monitors social media channels and can track the suspected vehicles using Flock and Department of Transportation cameras.

Those who gathered at Northside Drive last month were also planning to hit a location in DeKalb. But the intel network found out and had troopers waiting for them.

“They saw GSP and said, ‘Nope, forget it. Let’s go back up into Gwinnett,’” Donahue said.

More than three years after Donahue got the intel group up and running, he says it now consists of at least 300 people and officers of various ranks and assignments, all of whom have the ability to send out information in an attempt to keep the streets safe.

“No one agency can do this by themselves,” he said. “So it takes a lot of teamwork.”

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