Where most sideshows happen in Richmond

Where most sideshows happen in Richmond
Sideshow from a 2019 incident in West County, courtesy of CHP

Richmond will look to road engineering solutions to attempt to prevent rampant sideshows and reckless driving in the city.

That could mean temporary or permanent roundabouts at hotspots for such activity, or Botts Dots and raised circular markers that work to deter reckless driving.

On Tuesday, Richmond City Council directed staff to develop engineering solutions to prevent sideshows where they happen most.

As of Tuesday, 82 incidents that fall under the definition of sideshow were reported to the Richmond Police Department so far in 2021, according to Richmond Acting Chief Louie Tirona. A sideshow is defined as two or more persons blocking or impeding traffic for the purpose of performing motor vehicle stunts for spectators. Of those sideshow incidents, 45 percent occurred in the Hilltop area, while 18 percent occurred in Marina Bay. Another 37 percent occurred in other parts of the city. About 78 percent of sideshows occurred on the weekends.

The sideshows don’t account for another 296 year-to-date reports of single cars spinning donuts, otherwise known as reckless driving, of which 22 percent occurred in the Iron Triangle, 20 percent in the North & East Neighborhood, and 58 percent elsewhere in the city. About 57 percent reportedly occurred on the weekends, Acting Chief Tirona said.

When adding up sideshows and single cars spinning donuts with other examples of reckless driving, the RPD has responded to 864 calls for this type of service, according to police.

Currently, the understaffed RPD is using intelligence via communication with other law enforcement agencies to attempt to block vehicles involved in sideshows from entering the city, as sideshows are often planned on social media and travel from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Most RPD cars are equipped with Stop Stick tire deflation devices, and vehicle seizure warrants are another method to hold participating drivers accountable. The RPD also has three drones and three drone operators to help identify suspects.

But current solutions haven’t been enough to deter sideshows and reckless driving, in large part due to the lack of enough officers patrolling the city, particularly on the weekends, according to Acting Chief Tirona. Currently on the weekends, the city is patrolled by one lieutenant, one or two sergeants, and nine officers covering the city’s 52 square miles and handling an average of nearly 300 calls daily, he said.

“That’s the backdrop we face when these sideshows erupt,” he added.

Acting Chief Tirona recommended looking into procuring more technology to bust drivers and ultimately deter sideshow activity, including license plate reader technology, shooting GPS trackers or paint markers on participating vehicles, and hiring a civilian operator to monitor 38 Closed Circuit TV cameras that are currently unmanned. He also included roadway engineering solutions as part of the proposal.

City Council ultimately voted in favor of pursuing engineering solutions on roadways as a preventative measure over punitive solutions.