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After A Rash Of Valley Street Racing Deaths, Here's How The LAPD Is Cracking Down

A new LAPD Special Enforcement Team says its on the lookout for illegally modified vehicles and anyone involved in illegal street racing. (Courtesy LAPD Valley Traffic Division via Twitter)
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The San Fernando Valley is steeped in four-wheeled history. Cruising the streets in a souped-up hot rod goes back decades and has a distinct place in Los Angeles culture.

But in more recent years, street racing and "street takeovers" in the Valley have risen -- as have the number of drivers, spectators and innocent bystanders killed in collisions. Countywide, 12 people died in street-racing crashes in 2017, according to an L.A. Times investigation.

Five of last year's deaths happened in the Valley, according to Los Angeles Police Department statistics. Earlier this month, the LAPD's Valley Traffic Division launched a new Special Enforcement Team to target street racers.

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So far in 2018, two people have died in a street-racing crash, according to Sgt. Gregory Fuqua, who leads the new unit. He said police suspect more deaths and accidents have been caused by street racing, "but we don't have any way to prove that."

Fuqua recently talked with Take Two's A Martinez about the task force and the impact it's having in the Valley so far (edited for clarity).

A Martinez: What's behind the uptick in these street racing gatherings?

Sgt. Gregory Fuqua: A lot of people like 818 1320 and these other clubs that are involved in the street racing and gatherings, they're really into social media on Instagram and YouTube. They're trying to get the "wow" factor with a lot of the videos that they post online, so I think that drives it a little bit, but also a lot of them are car enthusiasts so they belong to car clubs, racing clubs and it's a big part of their life."

How have innocent people become caught up in this?
We had one innocent person last year that was killed in January of 2017. He was just simply making a left-hand turn on Ventura Boulevard and two vehicles that were racing, going approximately 100 miles an hour. They collided with this innocent person. Both (drivers are) in custody... they're both juveniles.

What kind of cars are you seeing out there?
Some of the most popular makes that we see out there are the Dodge SRT, a lot of Camaro SSs. We do see some Corvettes and Dodge Demons.

Some of these vehicles have 600, 700 horsepower (or) even more and you give a kid that type of power when they're 16-17, they're limited on their driving ability and experience and they're out there racing these cars at 100-plus miles an hour and I think that's why we've also seen an increase in injury and death, because of the power that some of these vehicles harness and the youths ... driving them. It's really, really scary.

How is this task force different?
We have more personnel this time around. Some nights, I'll have up to 15 officers. We go out to the locations that are frequented by the street racers and we use certain tactics to shut down the roadways ... and make arrests.

(So far) we've made close to 30 arrests for street racing...two of those arrests were also felonies -- we caught two of the vehicles involved in racing that were actually stolen.

These individuals that are involved in street racing, the modified vehicles, the gathering, the reckless driving or exhibitionist speed, they're being prosecuted as much as we can do under the law and we get a lot of help with the city attorney.

What's a day like for the enforcement team?
We go out and we try to monitor where these gatherings and street races are going to occur. We also do a lot of education with them, so it's not just about catching them at gatherings.

In the last six months we've cited 406 vehicles that have illegal modifications and we're just spreading the word: "Hey, we're out there, this is a new task force, we have zero tolerance."

How are you monitoring these groups on social media?
We'll use the internet on occasion but we also use an airship. We'll have some of our airships...some of them can go undetected when they fly at high altitudes and they might be monitoring a group and there's no way for them to realize that an airship is above them filming.

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Does your team do any undercover work?
We do that tactic on occasion, but they're just a spectator. We don't (get involved) in any illegal activity or anything that's going to bring danger to anything else or officers who are trying to stop that activity. They're not racing or out there doing donuts.

Is the team here to stay?
I think it's here to stay. I think they realize the importance now. Once it was disbanded and we didn't have the enforcement out there, they've kind of seen how it ballooned up. We just saw a huge increase in these incidences and individuals getting hurt, so I think it needs to stay just to send a strong message and continue our education and enforcement efforts.

LAist news editor Ryan Fonseca and Take Two producer Lori Galarreta contributed to this report.

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