As summer temperatures swelter, St. Paul streets are once again heating up with street-racing activity.
The whine, screech and hum of engines modified to push speedometer needles near triple digits fill the air late into the night, and the associated dangers have led to a marked increase in complaints from neighbors and residents throughout St. Paul.
As a result, the St. Paul Police Department is launching a new strategy to crack down on street racing in the city. The department began the effort on July 11, with extra officers being assigned to monitor areas where racers are known to congregate on the weekends. The police department is working in conjunction with the Minnesota State Patrol to disperse a special citywide detail to combat street racing.
The first phase of the strategy involved officers aggressively conducting traffic stops for safety violations, as well as equipment, such as loud exhaust systems. Initially, they issued warnings and provided education about the dangers of street racing and its community impact. Now officers are instituting a zero-tolerance approach with citations being issued and vehicles impounded.
Shepard Road and University Avenue at Vandalia Avenue are getting special attention, according to St. Paul police spokesperson Paul Paulos.
The intersection at University and Vandalia was the site of a tragic accident in 2009, when a driver Jacqueline Wagner of New Brighton struck and killed Moussa Maayif while fleeing from police after they broke up a street race. Wagner was convicted of criminal vehicular homicide and served three years in prison.
The detail will not target people for driving supped-up cars.
“What we’re going to be focusing on is behavior that is not normal,” Paulos said. “What it really boils down to is driving conduct—when they’re zigzagging in and out of traffic, cutting you off and going through the neighborhoods at a high rate of speed. It’s all about safety.”
The majority of St. Paul’s street racers range in age from late teens to early 30s and appear to be coming in from outside the city, Paulos said. Most gatherings are organized through social media sites like Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram.
Street racing’s popularity in St. Paul varies from year to year, Paulos says, but many point to Hollywood blockbuster movies that glamorize the activity as causing a rise in recent years.
Residents who hear street racing in their area are encouraged to call the St. Paul Police nonemergency number at 651-291-1111. If street racing is encountered while out on the roads, drivers are encouraged to stay a safe distance behind, and “don’t try to keep up,” Paulos says. If you feel your safety is being threatened when encountering racing first-hand, it is appropriate to call 911, Paulos added.
The St. Paul Police Department is keeping the timeline for increased enforcement flexible, Paulos says, and the crackdown will continue for the foreseeable future.