Atlanta council takes the next step in fight against street racers

Public safety committee approves ordinance to limit signature bonds
The Atlanta City Council on Monday approved legislation that penalizes people who attend street racing events. (credit: Channel 2 Action News)

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

The Atlanta City Council on Monday approved legislation that penalizes people who attend street racing events. (credit: Channel 2 Action News)

Those caught street racing in Atlanta will no longer be allowed to sign their name to get out of jail if the City Council adopts a proposed ordinance.

Late Monday, the council’s public safety committee passed an ordinance that will require anyone arrested for street racing to stay in jail until that person sees a judge within 24 to 48 hours of arrest. The judge will then determine a bond amount and any special restrictions before a suspect can be released.

It’s the latest move to curb a loud and potentially dangerous pastime on city streets: racing and laying drag. And it’s a move the Atlanta Police Department calls a “game-changer.” The ordinance, sponsored by Michael Julian Bond, got overwhelming support during more than four hours of public comments, including from dozens of Buckhead residents.

“We certainly do need to get this mess stopped,” one caller said.

“People’s lives are in jeopardy and we can’t afford to wait any longer,” said another.

Others called the racing dangerous, ridiculous, lawlessness, and embarrassing to the city. Lifelong city residents told council members they’re scared to walk in their own neighborhoods for fear of being hit.

But a few opposed the ordinance, urging council members to come up with other ways to stop racing, with some stating the change will unfairly target minorities. Others voiced concerns about keeping people in jail longer during a pandemic.

“We need to find solutions that actually solve problems instead of locking people up in cages,” one caller said. "We need real solutions and not punishment.”

The ordinance passed in committee by a vote of 6 to 1. The full City Council must now vote on the measure, which is expected to happen at the Nov. 2 meeting.

If passed, the ordinance would in effect make a temporary order from Atlanta’s chief municipal judge the law. That temporary order, issued in early October, required those arrested on charges connected to street racing to appear before a judge. Previously, offenders were allowed to immediately bond out of jail after arrest.

Officers have issued 528 citations this year related to street racing, which often brings a crowd of spectators on weekend nights through the early morning hours, APD Assistant Chief Todd Coyt said Monday. But those cases have not moved forward due to the pandemic closing Atlanta’s Municipal Court. That means those involved haven’t faced any penalties, which could include up to $1,000 fines and six months in jail.

Earlier this month, APD Interim Chief Rodney Bryant said the department was changing its approach to stop street racing by becoming more proactive. Coyt said those efforts are paying off.

“We get to the areas prior to the individuals setting up,” Coyt told the City Council.

Over the weekend, officers issued 104 citations for those involved in street racing and made six arrests, Coyt said. Of those arrested, three were from Atlanta and one was from out of state, he said. The citations typically involve three charges: racing, laying drag, and reckless driving, Coyt said.

“We have people not just from the city of Atlanta but from all over the metro area and the state coming here to do this,” Coyt said.

Investigators believe rain over the weekend may have deterred some of the racers. But residents complaining about the racing say the noise of the cars rarely ends and can be heard during the daytime and on weekdays.

On Monday, the Police Department reiterated its stance against racers in a social media post: “APD is aggressively monitoring & pursuing those who engage in street racing (laying drag). We will employ our resources to cite and/or arrest those involved in this illegal, dangerous, & disruptive activity.”

Though the racing has been disruptive to Atlanta residents, the problem isn’t unique to the Georgia capital. Cities across the U.S. are dealing with street racing, Bryant has said previously.

Over the weekend, one metro Atlanta agency took to social media to let racers know to go elsewhere.

“Although it might be tolerated in some places, this is not the case anywhere in Sandy Springs,” the city’s Police Department posted online. “We will not tolerate these dangerous and reckless acts and we will go after you.”

The Atlanta City Council will hold its regular meeting at 1 p.m. Nov. 2.