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Editorial: State Police, APD right to slam the brakes on street racers

Responding to a flood of citizen complaints, law enforcement has amped up efforts to take back area streets turned into impromptu drag strips – complete with spectators – that routinely pose a significant threat to public safety in the metro area.

State Police, working with the Albuquerque Police Department, carried out two major operations last month targeting racers and spectators. Officers wrote nearly 100 citations in a surprise operation after a State Police helicopter spotted around 100 vehicles and numerous spectators in the early hours of Sunday, March 7, near Washington and Alameda near Balloon Fiesta Park.

They busted several more people and issued 40 citations in another operation March 27. Again, officers moved in after the State Police chopper spotted more than 100 vehicles and spectators near Office and Singer NE.

State Police Chief Robert Thornton, whose help is more than welcome by Albuquerque-area residents who have complained for years about the noise and dangers of street racing, points out it’s not just illegal to race motor vehicles on public roads, but it’s also illegal to be a spectator at an illegal racing event.

APD Chief Harold Medina is on board with the crackdown. “Street racing is a concerning issue in our city, and the results of this operation show just how significant the problem is,” he said. “I’m grateful for our working partnership with the NMSP, and I hope our continued joint presence will make drivers think twice about racing on Albuquerque streets.”

These efforts are a major step in the right direction, and Medina says APD has ramped up its traffic enforcement overall. Spokeswoman Rebeccca Atkins said late last month that APD had issued 5,107 citations for speeding, 260 for careless driving, 145 for exhaust violations, 80 for DWI, 73 for racing and 59 for reckless driving since October. She said police worked with Mayor Tim Keller’s office and city councilors on targeting specific areas where speeding and racing “run rampant.”

Given the prevalence of racing, this is no time to put the brakes on this enforcement campaign, and penalties are in need of an upgrade and publicity. The fine schedule in Metropolitan Court includes $200 for going more than 35 mph over the speed limit, but there is no mention of racing. A 2019 Albuquerque ordinance makes watching illegal racing a petty misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine or 90 days in jail. The Legislature ignored a proposal by Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, this past regular session to allow the Motor Vehicle Division to suspend licenses for a street racing conviction as well as to create victim compensation eligibility for victims of the crime of racing on highways or streets that results in bodily injury. Local and state lawmakers should look at further penalties for repeat offenders and consider booting vehicles used in illegal races for 90 days or more – after the owner pays the money necessary to get them out of the lot where they’ve been towed. In the meantime, judges need to do their part by considering this a serious matter when imposing penalties – particularly for illegal racing. No stern lectures and dismissal after 90 days.

It’s one thing to get a ticket for going 12 mph over the speed limit on Montgomery headed east to Juan Tabo. It’s another to hit speeds of 100 mph or more. That’s more than speeding – it’s a public menace and should be treated as such. And people who gather to cheer on this dangerous activity should be made to think twice about it.

Kudos to the State Police and APD for this crackdown. Going forward it should be pedal to the metal when it comes to enforcement.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.