No, it’s not your imagination. Those loud roars you hear from neighborhood intersections, often on Sundays, and often at night, are indeed street takeovers, and they are, indeed, becoming more and more frequent.
The Buzz first reported on the phenomenon – in which a large crowd shuts down a local intersection so several drivers can do speeding donuts in front of hundreds of spectators – in September, when a reader shared a video of a takeover at Western Ave. and Washington Blvd. At that point, though, some of our Larchmont readers had yet to hear of the issue, and many may have thought it wasn’t something we’d see in our area. But it has arrived. In a big way. And as numerous reports on local social media have pointed out, even though the problem has grown in recent months, LAPD so far has not been able to do much about it.
According to LAPD Wilshire Division Captain Shannon Paulson, in an interview with the Buzz last week, street takeovers have actually been around “for years,” but mostly in other parts of the city, and mostly as an “occasional nuisance.” In about April of 2020, however, Paulson said LAPD started seeing the events almost every Sunday in both Wilshire Division and other parts of the city, and by summer they had become “more long-term active” in the area.
As it turns out, said Paulson, the problem actually goes far beyond the city of Los Angeles, with takeover crews coming to town from as far away as the Bay area on Sundays to run a “track” of favorite local intersections, which they tend to hit for several weeks in a row. In Wilshire Division, these have included (but are not limited to) the “five points” intersection at Fairfax and San Vicente, along with Olympic/Crenshaw, Fairfax/Pico, Washington/Crenshaw, San Vicente/Hauser, La Brea/Obama, and La Cienega/Cadillac, where the Kaiser Permanente West LA hospital is located.
Paulson said there may be as many as two or three takeovers per night in the area, often both huge and lengthy. For example, she said a big takeover at dinnertime on Christmas Day near the Kaiser facility blocked its night shift workers from coming in to work. (There has also been one takeover-related collision on hospital property near that intersection.)
As anyone who has ever seen a takeover in action can tell you, the events are hugely dangerous. Paulson said there was a takoever-related fatality in Orange County a few weeks ago, and a “serious injury” in the area covered by LAPD’s Pacific Division. (This reporter also saw a video, posted on social media but since removed, in which a drifting car at a recent takeover at Crenshaw and Washington sent at least three spectators flying into the air.) “In my opinion,” Paulson said, “it’s only a matter of time before there’s a hellacious tragedy in Wilshire Division.”
Also, while it’s clear that drivers participating in takeovers are engaging in dangerous behavior, Paulson said spectators are also doing risky things – such as standing in the middle of the intersection so drivers can careen around them, and/or reaching out from the bystander crowd to tap or touch the cars as they speed by. All of these could easily be a recipe for tragedy, as could what happens as an event breaks up, sending 100 or more vehicles, often in caravans, speeding away from the intersection, often along local residential streets, at 50-60 miles per hour.
Both residents and police understand that the dangers of street takeovers are very real, and those dangers are getting worse as the events spread. But combatting the problem is not as simple as many people might think.
First, according to Paulson, there can be hundreds of people involved in a single event. And while the takeovers look to outsiders like simple, spontaneous gatherings, she said the planning side is extremely coordinated, complex and difficult to catch up with. For example, event planners not only monitor police scanners and police deployment in the area, but also send scouts out to various intersections to figure out which is likely to be least covered by police and most available to participants.
Then, according to Paulson, when an intersection is chosen, more than 100 cars and several hundred spectators begin to convene, parking and maneuvering cars into position a block or more away from the target intersection to block traffic, including police, from approaching the takeover location.
Paulson said that for police to adequately monitor the process and respond to events as they form, LAPD would have to have a huge force available from 6-10 p.m. every night, with officers waiting near dozens of potential locations. And they just don’t have the resources to do that. Paulson said LAPD does now have a special task force mining data on street takeovers, but those officers are also working on combatting street racing, which is a separate dangerous issue, so they’re wearing two hats and are stretched very thin. And that leaves the local LAPD divisions mostly just waiting for events to materialize, and responding as best they can from incident to incident.
Also, according to Paulson, even if there were enough LAPD officers to monitor the situation, getting to an intersection as a takeover takes shape is difficult. As mentioned above, spectators block access streets from several blocks away, and they have also attacked and vandalized approaching police cars. All of which keeps LAPD officers from getting to the takeover intersections to witness the activity and identify the participating cars and drivers.
And, finally, when the event does break up, the spectator crowds also help the primary participants escape along pre-determined routes.
So Paulson said LAPD isn’t responding with cars as much these days, and is sending helicopters instead, which can better follow and track the fleeing participants and spectators.
Paulson said LAPD is also engaged in ongoing talks with other city agencies about how to handle the problem. For example, she said she has a couple of officers working with the City Attorney’s office and the Departent of Motor Vehicles, looking at other options for intelligence gathering, filing charges after events, and other possible avenues through which to fight the problem, such as ramifications for both driver and vehicle licensing when someone has been caught participating in a takeover. Also, Paulson said there are state laws about what constitutes a “street legal” vehicle, and some of the cars participating in takeovers have been modified in ways that might make them illegal…though the issue gets tricky legally if the police try to confiscate the cars, which are private property.
Finally, Paulson said the City Attorney’s office is also researching case law across the country, looking for “outside the box” ideas, including various kinds of court orders, injunctions, etc., which may have been successful in fighting the problem in other cities.
Still, though, cautioned Paulson, even if LAPD can increase arrests to 20-30 people at each event, instead of 8-10, it’s still just a “chunk” of the hundreds that may be involved, so there are unlikely to be any quick fixes.
In the meantine, Paulson said, residents should be aware of the situation and report any suspicious activity they might see (e.g. a large number of pedestrians gathering near an intersection is often the first sign something’s about to happen there).
If you do see a takeover taking shape or in progress, Paulson said, the first thing to do is remove yourself from the “exceptionally unsafe environment.” Second, call 911 (and, yes, she said, this is absolutely “a legitimate 911 call”). And third, if you do get photos or videos of the drivers, license plates, or other identifying information, send it to LAPD and your Senior Lead Officer — they are collecting the information, and it is helpful.
At the moment, though, Paulson said, “We are as frustrated as the public is – my officers are pulling their hair out.” But also, she said, “I can assure you, we are trying, and we will continue to try.”