JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is working to curb what it describes as “the dangerous and destructive activities of some car clubs” in the city.
As part of that effort, police said Monday that the Sheriff’s Office, in partnership with the Florida Highway Patrol, has made 11 arrests, issued multiple notices to appear, impounded 10 vehicles, and written more than 200 traffic citations -- many of them criminal in nature.
In addition, according to JSO, officers seized three firearms, along with marijuana, LSD and heroin.
Councilman Al Ferraro, who represents District 2 and has announced he’s running for mayor, was with police by air when they made the arrests.
“This was a gigantic takedown,” he said. “I don’t want to get into the areas that we looked at, but it was all over town. There was no specific one site plan, and that’s why we had two helicopters in the air, to cover the whole city.”
According to the Sheriff’s Office, its numbers reflect results since the crackdown on car club meetups began weeks ago -- not just this weekend. JSO acknowledged the main enforcement effort was at Lem Turner Road and Ida Street. That’s where, witnesses said, police swarmed the parking lot of Roses Discount Store during a car meetup Saturday night.
Troopers said Monday that they have recently issued 157 arrests, warnings, and other civil and criminal charges related to racing.
According to FHP, all of the notices to appear were from this weekend -- most of them from the car club meetup at the Lem Turner Road parking lot. FHP said they were for moving offenses, but there were some for loud horns, drug possession and improper car equipment.
For those who had their cars impounded, it could be up to 30 days before the cars are returned.
For the past several months, the News4JAX I-TEAM has followed reports of noise complaints, damaged parking lots, crashes and traffic build-ups from the street takeovers.
JSO recently announced a crackdown on illegal street takeovers, and last week, JSO announced four people were arrested for actively racing on roadways in the Southside area.
Anyone with information to share with JSO is asked to call 904-630-0500 or email JSOCrimeTips@jaxsheriff.org.
Now the question is whether the action by law enforcement curbs this issue. News4JAX spoke with Belkis Plata, a local defense lawyer at Plata Schott Attorneys and Counselors at Law who said it will really come down to the state attorney’s office on whether these arrests and notices to appear end up as slaps on the wrist or if it wants to make a statement.
“It’s really going to depend on the actual acts. I think for the most part, most of these people are either charged with reckless driving or racing on a highway, and sometimes it’s a little difficult for police because they arrive after the fact,” Plata said.
The car group the 904 Banditz has been one of the public faces of this issue. The club released a statement on social media that reads, in part, “Along with ticketing everyone for street racing on highway and spectators tickets for racing on highway when we was just in a parking lot not event close to a highway they ticketed everyone in the lot $229 dollars for this and we gonna fight it.”
Plata said another way officers could target this is all of the advertising of these takeovers on social media.
“A person who facilitates this or participates or makes some money off these events is just as guilty as the people fighting over the cars,” Plata said. “So the prosecutors can definitely go after the facilitators of it, as well.”
As far as video evidence on social media, law enforcement officers have to follow certain procedures on how they obtain it. Unless it’s streamed live, then it’s in the public domain and officers can use it to prosecute, according to Plata.
In the meantime, Florida lawmakers have moved forward with making certain types of car meetups and street races illegal. The state Legislature passed House Bill 399 to crack down on anyone who is involved in what are called parking lot takeovers or street racing and crack down on people who go out to watch. It has yet to be signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, but if it is, it would take effect in October and would allow law enforcement to cite anyone doing stunts or street racing in ways that are not currently listed as illegal.
The legislation would also prohibit the filming of this type of driving and promoting of it on social media. Passengers in these vehicles could also be cited. The legislation includes a scaling citation that gets worse every time someone is cited.
The first offense could be punishable by a $500 to $1,000 fine and a year’s suspension of your driver’s license. The fines and suspensions would increase for every subsequent violation.
DeSantis’ office told News4JAX on Monday that the governor has not yet received the bill from the legislature, but once delivered to his office, he will review it in its final form and make a decision.
I-TEAM REPORTS: Doughnuts & street racing: Late night reckless drivers a nuisance for downtown residents | Manager says street racers have caused $60K in damage doing donuts in strip mall parking lot | Complaints continue over car groups driving erratically in vacant parking lots | Local car group speaks following street takeover complaints | Councilman’s message to car clubs: Get off public property or buy your own place | Video appears to show police cruiser peeling out in Jacksonville parking lot | Witness says police cruiser seen in video was trying to disperse crowd gathered for car club meetup | Residents say drivers are turning this area of Jacksonville into a weekend racetrack | Street racing concerns surface in another area of Jacksonville | 2 street racing crashes in 2 weeks spark more safety concerns | Instagram video shows ambulance doing doughnuts in parking lot | Car clubs speak out against others performing dangerous stunts, causing property damage | Florida lawmakers crack down on parking lot takeovers, street racing | Video shows car club meet-up in same area where 17-year-old was shot | Jacksonville Mayor Curry addresses car club gatherings around the city | New video shows cars taking over parking lot on the Southside | Amid ongoing I-TEAM investigation, Sheriff’s Office addresses car club gatherings in Jacksonville | Arrests made for ‘actively racing on roadways’ on Southside, Jacksonville police say | Jax ‘n Furious: Inside local car club meetups | Videos show JSO swarming, detaining driver at large car club meet-up on Lem Turner Road