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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    Conn. lawmakers vote to crack down on street takeovers

    With the spread of “street takeovers,” state lawmakers took steps Wednesday to help local officials regain control of their streets.

    The state House of Representatives voted 148-0 with three members absent for the bipartisan measure to control takeovers that have proven to be a headache for mayors, first selectmen and police.

    The tools for the towns include allowing municipalities to create ordinances on takeovers, increased penalties for those involved, and allowing forfeiture of certain vehicles that were used illegally. After vehicles are confiscated by the police, the municipalities will be given new authority to destroy dirt bikes, mini-motorcycles, and all-terrain vehicles after holding them for a minimum of 30 days.

    “If the police department is holding the vehicle and they want to destroy it after 30 days, they can,” said Rep. Steven Stafstrom, a Bridgeport Democrat, who co-chairs the legislature’s judiciary committee.

    Street takeovers are defined under state law as “blocking or impeding the regular flow of traffic” with motor vehicles on public highways or parking areas with the intent to cause disorder or nuisance. They have occurred in Milford, Meriden, Tolland, West Haven, North Haven and other communities.

    For decades, drag racing and street racing have been problematic in isolated areas. The difference now, police said, is that large crowds gather to watch events that have been promoted through social media. In some instances, the cars block intersections and prevent other drivers from getting through.

    Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, a conservative Republican from Wolcott, said the violators should be punished.

    “Street takeovers are very bad, and these people should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Mastrofrancesco said.

    Rep. Joe Polletta, a Watertown Republican, said police have been baffled by the occurrences.

    “Part of my district is Waterbury, and we are no stranger to street takeovers,” Polletta said. “One was a violent street takeover on May 7 of last year. … The perpetrator was arrested, and his bond was set at $25,000, and then it was lowered to a promise to appear. … That’s a problem across the state of Connecticut.”

    The answer, he said, relies on increased enforcement.

    “We certainly need more law enforcement to stop these street takeovers,” Polletta said. “Unless we get serious from the state level … we’re never truly going to stop reading about these violent acts that are happening across the state.”

    State Rep. David Yaccarino, a North Haven Republican, said a major takeover occurred in his community in early December 2023.

    “All of this is because we have neglected and not supported our law enforcement,” Yaccarino told House colleagues. “Until we do that, this is going to happen over and over and over. … It’s part of the whole culture that people can do whatever they want. … At the end of the day, without even the funding, we need to support our law enforcement.”

    State Rep. Charles Ferraro of West Haven said the takeovers are “ubiquitous around our state and across the country.”

    He said that 2,000 people showed up this week in West Haven, where the police were overwhelmed and required assistance from surrounding communities. That prompted officials to close all parks in West Haven at night from sunset to sunrise. The beach incident took place about three hours before shots were fired in a separate incident.

    “They plan a beach takeover party,” Ferraro said on the House floor. “There were helicopters there. It was just a massive police effort. … Businesses being looted. … There is just no way to police this. It is a security issue. It’s a quality of life issue. I just think they need to do more.”

    Rep. Joe Hoxha, a Bristol Republican, said his city had a takeover on Easter weekend.

    “Hopefully, we can put a dent in this problem … so that it will be a rarity,” Hoxha said. ”It’s an issue we’re seeing across the country, much less the state of Connecticut.”

    National issue

    Starting during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, major cities like Houston, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and San Diego started reporting surges in similar patterns of reckless driving, which later spread to the suburbs.

    In places like New Haven and Hartford, riders on dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles started appearing in organized groups at night. Often captured on video, the groups were seen driving recklessly on both local streets and highways at high speeds and then gathering at intersections or parking lots.

    The issue, though, is not related only to the cities.

    Betsy Gara, executive director of the Council of Small Towns that represents communities with fewer than 35,000 residents, said earlier that small towns are concerned.

    “The bill provides additional tools and increased penalties to better enforce laws regarding the illegal use of ATVs/dirt bikes on our roadways,” Gara said. “The illegal use of ATVs and dirt bikes on roadways creates public safety hazards that put motorists, pedestrians, and others in danger.”

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