Duval County

‘It’s just scary’: Neighbors concerned over illegal street racing and sideshows in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Illegal street racing and sideshows have become a big problem in the city.

Viewers have emailed us on an almost weekly basis about the problems they’re experiencing and say they don’t think JSO is doing enough to stop it. We took a closer look at exactly what police are facing and the speed bump they face when trying to crack down.

It all started a few days after the first story about street racing aired on Action News Jax. Less than a week later, car clubs swarmed downtown, shutting down streets outside the sheriff’s office headquarters.

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Action News Jax Investigator Emily Turner had just broken a story about how funding for enforcement of dangerous driving had been cut and neighbors downtown said they’d had had enough of the noisy behavior every weekend night.

The following Friday night, those same neighbors captured video from their Berkman balconies of car clubs making a statement. Jack Bilski sent us video and says, “they were doing figure eights and they were doing donuts and then they blocked the whole Bay Street and part of Liberty Street.”

He says, “they just were all parked in different ways so nobody could get through. They were standing in place just burning rubber, smoke going up into the air, revving their engines and a lot of them had no mufflers so they were just trying to make a lot of noise. I guess it was kinda retaliation for what was on the news.”

All of this happened on the steps of the JSO building, feet from the front door of headquarters. Despite the proximity, Bilski says, police response was anything but swift.

“I know a lot of people in this building called 9-1-1,” he says, “it took a long time. One cop car came got in the middle of them and just sat there with his lights on till they all finally just slowly got in their cars and left.”

Action News Jax reached out to JSO about what happened. An email response says they got a call about it, but by the time they got there, “the majority of the group had already disbanded, and no improper or illegal behavior was observed.”

It’s bold and brazen behavior that’s not just happening in the face of JSO, but across the city.

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Trish Corley lives in Arlington and says she’s called police more than 20 times. “They’ll come out they’ll flash their lights and just let them leave,” she says, “what’s it gonna take for the cops to get them to stop? A pedestrian dying? Or a person losing control and running into a business or home?”

So we pulled the enforcement numbers. In the month of December, law enforcement issued six felony charges for reckless driving or racing related crimes. In that same time period, there were 458 calls for service and 911 calls for the same thing.

So why the disparity in numbers?

First, reckless driving is the lowest priority call, so officers will respond to those after everything else. That means they often arrive on the scene after things have cleared. But in order to charge someone, the officer has to physically see the crime happening. So even with video proof, there’s no crime unless it’s witnessed in person.

In addition, even if an officer arrived on the scene in time, they mostly can’t go after the drivers to write a ticket. According to JSO’s pursuit policy, they have to have a “reasonable belief that the fleeing subject vehicle, if allowed to flee, would pose an imminent threat to human life.” So often, the racers just speed off, safe from the consequences.

But neighbors like Corley say they are fed up and want to see change.

“I really just want somebody to do something about,” she says, “I meant it’s just scary.”

A lawmaker from south Florida is pushing legislation this session that would close the loophole for video, allowing for charges to be brought without law enforcement present.