Atlanta police vow to ramp up their crackdown on street racing

APD has made 459 racing-related arrests since late February
Deputy Chief Michael O'Connor talks about street racing in Atlanta at a news conference at the Atlanta Police Department Monday, September 14, 2020.  STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Deputy Chief Michael O'Connor talks about street racing in Atlanta at a news conference at the Atlanta Police Department Monday, September 14, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

When he should be sound asleep, the noise outside jolts Tyler Forsyth. Hundreds of souped-up muscle cars and booming fireworks are right outside his apartment, located just between Buckhead and Midtown.

On Sundays at 2 a.m., Forsyth and hundreds of his neighbors must deal with street racers who gather to lay drag or “do doughnuts” on the city streets.

“Any time we hear them, we call the cops," Forsyth told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "The cops come and they kick them all out. It’s the same routine every single weekend. And the cops know that.”

The Atlanta Police Department said Monday it is re-upping efforts to combat street racing, which has been a problem the past two years but saw an uptick earlier this year. They have become coordinated events, organized through social media, and include spectators and others to video the racing, according to nearby residents and police.

“The problem is not unique to Atlanta,” Deputy Chief Mike O’Connor said. “This has kinda been a nationwide problem in a number of major cities all over the country, so it’s not just specific to us. The problem has gotten significantly better over the past month or so.”

Since late February, Atlanta police have made 459 arrests related to street racing, O’Connor said. But courts are closed because of the pandemic, meaning people who’ve been charged still have open cases and haven’t paid any penalties, he said. Those convicted could face up to $1,000 fines and six months in jail, O’Connor said.

Partnering with the Georgia State Patrol, APD worked to rein in street racing early this year. But the Black Lives Matter protests that began in May temporarily shifted the department’s focus, O’Connor said. Now, officers throughout the department are dedicated to stopping the racing, he said.

The Atlanta Police Department (APD) has seen a disturbing uptick in citizens laying drag (also known as drag racing) in...

Posted by City of Atlanta Police Department on Sunday, September 13, 2020

During one weekend in May, officers arrested 44 people and issued 114 citations. Earlier in May, a viral video posted to social media showed crowds at The Mall West End gathered for a stunt driving event complete with fireworks. In April, the parking lot of North DeKalb Mall was the scene of racing until police arrived. And in March, Clayton County police arrested three drivers after a stunt driving event shut down the I-285 tunnel near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Last year, street racing ended in a deadly Cobb County crash that killed two men, according to police. The two killed, 31-year-old James Wheeler and 35-year-old Douglas Duff Jr., weren’t involved in the racing, but they died when their vehicle was hit, police said.

Stopping the racing can’t come soon enough for Buckhead resident Tom Kuckelman, president of his homeowners' association at The Gallery, a high-rise. The weekend racing runs between 1:30 a.m. and 3 a.m., he said.

“It’s been quite disruptive to our residents because it wakes them up,” he said. “And then they enter and exit during these residential streets way too fast.”

Kuckelman and his wife enjoy walking their two dogs but worry about their safety. In addition to street racing, motorbikes and ATVs are a frequent sight on Peachtree Street, he said.

“Somebody’s going to get hurt,” Kuckelman said.

Atlanta police urge residents to call 911 when they see street racing so officers can be dispatched.