Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently announced the launch of a state task force to combat the rise of dangerous and illegal street racing events known as “street takeovers.”
“Despite the foolish attempts by some local officials to defund and demoralize our brave law enforcement officers, Texas is and remains a law-and-order state,” Governor Abbott said in his announcement on February 23. “We must send a clear message that these reckless, coordinated criminal events will not be tolerated in Texas.”
According to Abbot, the task force will be headed by the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and will work with local officials and law enforcement agencies to investigate, prosecute and prevent the illegal street racing events.
“Working together, we can ensure Texans in communities large and small remain safe,” the governor stated.
The task force was launched just days after street takeovers drew massive crowds and caused chaos on the streets of Austin, Texas.
The Austin Police Department (APD) and the Texas Department of Public Safety later arrested seven individuals on charges of evading arrest, reckless driving and unlawful possession of a weapon.
APD Police Chief Joseph Chacon said more individuals are expected to be arrested in connection with the takeover.
According to the governor, the DPS task force will consist of officers pulled from several DPS divisions such as Criminal Investigations, Aircraft Operations, Texas Highway Patrol, and Intelligence and Counterterrorism, and will “target the organized crime aspect of the street takeovers with the goal of making arrests and seizing assets, including vehicles and weapons.”
“These street takeovers put the lives of Texans and Texas law enforcement officers at risk,” DPS Director Steven McCraw said. “We are seeing fireworks fired at officers in crowds, lasers pointed at aircraft, drivers driving upwards of 130 miles per hour with no lights on in the dark of night — all of it is reckless, and it needs to be stopped.”
The governor’s press release did not specify the amount of funding or personnel required for the unit.
Street takeovers and illegal racing have surged since the COVID-19 pandemic and attempts to defund police departments in 2020.
In 2018, the Dallas Police Department also formed a similar task force in the city’s Southwest Division to patrol hot spots and gather information on street takeover groups.
That unit was expanded across the entire city in 2020. The city also banned spectating at the illegal events, or else face a $500 fine.
According to the DPD, officers responded to at least 8,441 calls for street racing in 2020, compared to 4,867 the year before.
The DPD noted that the majority of takeover events have moved to the outskirts of the city.
“Takeover events happen on a weekly basis in the DFW area, though few are of the magnitude observed in Austin last weekend,” DPD Public Information Officer Brian Martinez said.
APD Chief Chacon said the department is too understaffed at the moment to form a specialized unit to address the issue.
Instead, the department will have to call DPS or the Travis County Sheriff’s Office for aid.
In addition, the APD said that residents were complaining about the long 9-1-1 response times during the street racing events.
In one instance, police took 27 minutes to arrive on the scene.
Chacon blamed a shortage of 9-1-1 dispatchers for the longer wait times.
“We believe we are being as creative as we can to get as many folks including not only holding people over from previous shifts, hiring very heavily on overtime, but I even have sworn staff in the 9-1-1 call center taking phone calls right now instead of being out on the street,” he said.