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Drag racers at Ford City.

A screenshot from a cellphone video of hot rodders in the Ford City parking lot.

‘It’s not enough’

Impound cars of drag racers, civic leaders say

By Tim Hadac

Thomas S. Baliga and Jason Huff are typically among the first Southwest Side civic

leaders to praise the dedication of Chicago Lawn (8th) District Police.

But they also are among the first to say the Lightfoot Administration’s response to the drag racing problem along Pulaski and Cicero (and adjacent parking lots) is lacking.

“It’s not enough,” Baliga said after another recent Friday and Saturday night of drag racing and loud showboating in retail establishment parking lots in Archer Heights.

“Police seem to be doing the best they can with what resources they have, but they’re stretched thin,” said Baliga, who serves as president of the Archer Heights Civic Association. He said that a CPD officer talking with him about the situation admitted, “…they were basically overwhelmed because they don’t have the capacity to deal with this volume of cars.”

“This volume” can mean anything from several dozen at a time to more than a hundred, depending on the night and weather conditions and not counting spectators who turn out to watch the self-described gear heads. But many Southwest Siders appear to agree the teenage boys and young men who rev and race their car engines from the Stevenson Expressway all the way south to Ford City are a menace.

The roaring engines, squealing tires and fireworks-like sounds made by illegally modified exhaust systems have been blamed for disrupting the sleep of everyone—from preemies just brought home from the hospital to the elderly to younger adults who need to get up for work the following morning. They also have been blamed for triggering anxiety among military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In addition to the noise, some have complained about the dangers drags racers pose to themselves, other motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians and property when they speed up and down streets.

The AHCA and the Scottsdale Neighborhood Watch–which Huff leads–have complained separately about the racers to police, aldermen and anyone else they think might listen.

Late last month, the AHCA and SNW sent a joint letter of concern to 8th District Police Commander Fred Melean and five City Council members: Alds. Marty Quinn (13th), Edward M. Burke (14th), Derrick Curtis (18th), Michael Rodriguez (22nd) and Silvana Tabares (23rd).

After thanking Melean for his efforts, Huff and Baliga requested that CPD work with the Illinois State Police “to bring in additional resources to aggressively crack down on these reckless drivers. For both Cicero Avenue and Pulaski Road, we beg that a joint City/State departmental task force be created to initiate the following steps:

• Unannounced weekend roadside safety checks.
• Special speed missions.
• Aggressive ticketing.
• Impoundment of vehicles.
• Arrests as appropriate.

“We also understand that the 8th District currently does not have radar capability,” Baliga and Huff continued. “Both [the AHCA and SNW] are requesting that our aldermanic leaders address this issue by either bringing back radar cars or at least securing new radar guns that can be transferred between beat cars as needed.

“As far as the [private] properties where these car groups are gathering, we request that the problem be addressed with City Council legislation. Specifically, we ask that a new ordinance be enacted requiring all retail/commercial properties the size of Ford City, Kmart- 71st Street, the Pulaski Promenade, Pete’s Fresh Market and Target, be required to install gates or some other form of closures to prevent large groups from congregating on private property after standard business hours.”

Most important, they added, “due to the escalating nature of the drag racing issue, the ordinance must apply to all properties retroactively. And there is precedent for such action in that the parking lots of select Chicago parks, sports team venues and other big organizations, already have parking lots with gates and/or other closures in place.

“Realizing that not all employees of these retail establishments share the same work hours, the ordinance should include a provision for at least two card-activated gates for non-standard hourly employees, maintenance and security individuals. Smaller lots would not be subject to this ordinance.”

Huff and Baliga wrote that blocking racers from using large parking lots “would free up our beat officers to address more pressing issues like gangs, illegal guns, robberies and other serious crime issues that are currently plaguing not only the district, but also the entire city.”

Commander’s response speedy

A response to Baliga and Huff was swift—at least from Melean. Just sixteen minutes after he received his letter via email, the commander—after tipping his cap to CPD Captain Raymond Doherty for doing “a tremendous job” in addressing the concern every weekend—said his officers have been “making arrests, as well as issuing both moving and parking violations.

“This weekend we were given a couple of tow trucks to help us deter cars from congregating,” Melean continued. “We also submitted a request for the traffic section to conduct missions in our District.

“We have talked to business owners. Securing some lots would be nice. We have received permission from Ford City to write parking tickets on their private lots and to charge violators with trespassing. Unfortunately, social media allows for instant communication to the hundreds of cars that show up in 008.

“We have to approach this in a safe manner for both our officers and the residents in the community. We are using all of the resources we have available and will continue to attack this problem.”

Motorists agree on one thing

Outside Advance Auto Parts, 4625 S. Pulaski, customers seemed to say that some of the measures proposed by Huff and Baliga sound good, but might not prove effective.

“Police can write tickets until their fingers freeze up,” said Raul Mendez. “The average 21-year-old guy takes a ticket, crumples it up and throws it on the floor with the McDonald’s wrappers.”

His friend, Mario Puentes, agreed and added, “Go ahead and arrest them, too. What’s the charge? Reckless conduct? That’s a misdemeanor. Not a big deal, and you know [Cook County State’s Attorney] Kim Foxx is going to drop charges just as soon as she can.”

Shenee Davidson said she does not understand what “all the complaining is about. [Drag racing] is not some new thing. It goes back years and years, and will be around years from now.”

One thing all three agreed on is that impounding vehicles could stop the problem or at least push it out of the city.

“You take a man’s car, now you have his attention,” Davidson said. “It’s probably the most important thing he owns. Even if you only take it away for a few days, you ever try to get your car out of 103rd and Doty (the location of the City of Chicago’s South Side impoundment lot)? It’s time, it’s a pain in the ass and it’s expensive. It’s a hundred-and-a-half, and that’s just to walk in the door. Word gets around that police are impounding cars, you watch how these [drag racers] go away. All you’ll see is their tail lights.”

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