Mitch Englander wants to seize "Street Racer's" Cars

The Los Angeles City Council has passed resolution for the city attorney to draft a law that would target "street racers" allowing the LAPD to auction or destroy the vehicles they seize. A notion that makes many uncomfortable considering the rampant abuse that has happened in some jurisdictions (Read "Policing for Profit" here for more on that).

The resolution was spearheaded by Councilman Mitch Englander who came out after a deadly street race in Chatsworth on February left two spectators dead. Just days after the incident he proclaimed that he wanted to "hit (the automotive community) where it hurts" by seizing and auctioning off their cars. (Read my original story here)

The new law that is being crafted by the city attorney will specifically target drivers who have caused bodily injury or deaths at racing events (for now). What is not clear is what will determine what a "racing event" is. But without strict scrutiny it could quickly become a tool for police to increase department revenues and as a way to secure vehicles for themselves and friends. Don't think the police would seize your "high-end modified car"? In cities with similar loose forfeiture laws officers have been known to have "shopping lists" of vehicles or assets they wanted as exposed by the New York times just last year (click here to ready the NY Times story).

Thanks to a Justice Department program expanding the reach of local police, the value of assets seized has ballooned to $4.3 billion in the 2012 fiscal year from $407 million in 2001 (latest data). Currently only four states require a criminal conviction before forfeiting property, and California is not one of them.

But the big change is in the expanded ordinance that goes into effect next month gives officers the authority to go after spectators, not only suspected illegal street racers. Starting in November 2015 the LAPD street racing task force will be able impound a spectator's vehicles in addition to issuing tickets. Officers will be able to impound any vehicle suspected of attending illegal races for up to 30 days.

Englander expressed frustration with the rise of street racing, blaming movies and video games for depicting illegal racing as glamorous. Englander does not think that "racers" should get their cars back even if there is no conviction.

“They post on their websites that, ‘Oh this poor Mustang, look what happened to this Mustang’,” said Englander. “Two people died, somebody was seriously injured, and so, yeah, we’re gonna hit ‘em where it hurts" he told KNX 1070 Newsradio in February.

LA City Councilman Mitch Englander
Englander echoed a similar sentiment in a interview this week when he said "the vehicles used in street racing are often high-end, modified cars. They love their cars more than they love each other,” it becomes their number one passion.”

So far City Attorney Mike Feuer’s office hasn’t weighed in on the proposal yet, but according to LAPD Capt. Rafael Ramirez, street racing appears to be down in the San Fernando Valley, the area where the deadly race occurred.

Despite this the LAPD Central Traffic Division, which covers downtown, South L.A. and East Hollywood, has recently launched a new task force on street racing. The Central Division task force is not only attempting to prevent street racing but is also focused on spotting cars that have been "altered for street racing". The expanded powers will allow them more authority over spectators giving them cause to ticket, arrest, and seize any car at a "street racing" event.

The alleged racers, whose crash sparked this debate, are still being held in jail pending their next hearing. The three men have been charged with murder for the street racing crash that killed two spectators and injured others in the crowd. (Read About that here)