Street racing 'boom': Denver PD using helicopters, lane closures to address problem
A series of major incidents -- including a fatal crash and massive gridlock involving hundreds of cars -- has drawn attention to the weekly issue
By Elise Schmelzer
The Denver Post
DENVER — Every weekend, drivers from across the Denver area gather to race at dangerously high speeds down highways and through busy urban areas. Some groups number in the hundreds and an increase in the frequency of races has prompted Denver police to try new tactics to stop the dangerous behavior.
The Denver Police Department is deploying its helicopter as well as specialized teams and lane closures to stop people from racing — before another person is killed.
The racers damage property, create traffic jams and endanger their lives as well as the lives of everyone around them, police said.
"I think we have seen something of a boom," Denver Police Division Chief Ron Thomas told a Denver City Council committee Wednesday morning.
Denver police made 111 arrests in 2020 in connection to street racing, up from an average of 80 arrests per year between 2017 and 2019, department data shows. Police have made 24 arrests so far this year.
"COVID certainly had an impact. There were fewer things for people to do," Thomas said.
A series of high-profile incidents has drawn attention to the problem across the Front Range.
Jessica Allen, a mother of two, was killed April 3 while working as a delivery driver after a man who police say was street racing through Denver's downtown crashed his SUV into her car. That suspect, John Dahmer, was arrested on suspicion of vehicular homicide, vehicular assault and DUI.
A month earlier, street racers blocked traffic for hours on Interstate 225 in Aurora, causing a gridlock of more than 600 cars.
Races are happening across the Front Range at least every weekend and often during the week as well, Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Blake White. said. A website created by a coalition of 34 Front Range law enforcement agencies, ReportStreetRacing.com, has received more than 1,500 reports of racing since the site's creating in October.
"It's on rural stretches of roadway, and it's in the middle of downtown Denver," White said.
Groups of racers can consist of fewer than five people or hundreds, police said. Racers often meet up in one location before driving or racing to another, often crossing police jurisdictions. Last weekend, Denver police received a call from a local business complaining of 200 cars in their parking lot, Lt. Eranda Piyasena said.
Large groups can be difficult to deal with, White said, especially if only a few officers can respond. Unauthorized gatherings also destroy business and personal property.
Denver police started staging officers at locations they know racing groups are planning to meet, Piyasena said. They've also deployed the department's helicopter to track races and will intermittently close lanes on roads used for racing to discourage the behavior. A group of law enforcement agencies are meeting weekly to discuss intelligence and tactics for dealing with the racers, Thomas said.
The dangerous racing has displaced car clubs that gather legally, like those that traditionally cruise Federal Boulevard, Denver Councilwoman Jamie Torres said. Some of those groups have told her they will not be gathering in the area until the dangerous activity stops, she said.
The lane closures and pre-emptive police presence also affect everyone who lives in the area, which Torres said she worried about.
"Are there other ways that this can be addressed along Federal that keeps folks safe but also allows freedom and permission for people to be where they want to be on Sunday nights?" she asked.
One local group for "gear heads and car enthusiasts" has been hosting large meet-ups over the past month and said they appreciate it when law enforcement officers show up. For each meet-up, they list several rules: no drinking, no revving engines, no breaking traffic laws. Some posts state that they are working with law enforcement and that they will kick people out for breaking the rules.
"We offer an escape from the harsh reality of life at our events, by allowing everyone to be themselves," the group, Simple Lifestyle, said in a statement to The Denver Post. "We support local law enforcement, meaning we encourage their presence at our events because it keeps the nonsense out."
Penalties for racing vary widely, White said. Criminal charges include speeding, reckless endangerment and careless driving. In some cities, police seize cars for racing under public nuisance ordinances. Denver police seized one driver's vehicle under the city code last month after catching the 25-year-old driving 108 mph on Interstate 25 while racing.
The Colorado State Patrol is hosting events at Bandimere Speedway where people can legally race their cars — and even face off with a trooper.
#Denver, check out the @CSP_News Take It To The Track events as a safe alternative to street racing. Street racing is incredibly dangerous, and we encourage everyone to do their part to help keep our roads and community safe. https://t.co/UwcI8M2RTE— Denver Police Dept. (@DenverPolice) April 19, 2021
People who see or hear racing can call 911 or report anonymously to ReportStreetRacing.com.
"We really rely on the public's help with this," White said.
(c)2021 The Denver Post