The We Love Whitestone civic association braved the pandemic and hosted its first in-person meeting since March, where members raised their concerns on drag racing to their new NYPD commanding officer.
“The racing cars,” said President and founder Al Centola at the socially distanced Oct. 21 meeting, a statement that sent the audience into groans. “It got better for a couple days, but .. [it’s] on the Cross Island Parkway all night, and of course now they all have the loud mufflers and speakers and God knows what. You can’t sleep with your windows open or closed.”
Midnight racing has been plaguing neighborhoods across the borough for several weeks, escalating especially in the Fresh Meadows Place shopping center parking lot at 64th Avenue and 188th Street and at Cunningham Park just a few blocks away.
Captain John O’Connell, the 109th Precinct’s new commander, assured the community that the issue is being addressed and that the NYPD is taking a proactive approach to ceasing the revving engines and screeching tires late in the night.
“I’m not going to pretend I can fix it right now,” O’Connell said. “We monitor them — they go on social media. They love to post where they’re going, how fast they went. We know when they’re going to be up and we try to get there first … The problem is where they’re going after that.”
The NYPD has employed helicopters to track down drag racers, which O’Connell said residents may have noticed an increase of over the past two weekends, but police are afraid that the aviators may motivate the drivers to go faster and drive more recklessly.
“Some of those guys actually enjoy that and that’s what I have to be careful of,” the commanding officer said. “I’m afraid I’m going to cause a horrible incident, a fatal incident, so I have to be a little careful on how I police that.”
Though the officers are still coming up with a tactical plan, they have already distributed between 20 and 30 summonses to drag racers over the past two weeks for infractions ranging from insurance lapses to registration violations and other offenses. Tickets for loud mufflers and other equipment violations are cheap — “They laugh; their hubcap is more expensive than the ticket,” Officer Thomas Dean told one resident — but the constant checkpoints and plate running make the racers uncomfortable and may influence them to find another neighborhood to bother, the captain said. The police have also moved two highway units to the midnight team.
Assemblymember Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) has taken legislative steps to combat the issue — she introduced the Fighting Underground Racing In Our Streets, or FURIOUS, Act in early October, which would install speed cameras in areas known for drag racing and reckless driving, as well as amend an existing law to hold racers accountable for violating the law regardless if they pre-planned a route before racing through it. The bill and its state Senate counterpart sit in their respective transportation committees.
In other civic business, Centola asked that O’Connell maintain a relationship with commanding officers in the 41st and 43rd Precincts in the Bronx because Whitestone has had a longstanding issue with music traveling across the water.
“We’ve been fortunate with the last two inspectors we’ve had— shoot them a text or email at 1, 2 in the morning that there’s music going on and word gets spread out. We’re hoping to continue that conversation and relationship so we can get rid of this problem with the loud music,” Centola said, to which O’Connell replied, “Absolutely.”