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SAPD's McManus hopes punishing spectators could be key to curbing San Antonio street racers

McManus is pushing City Council to let officers fine street racing spectators up to $500.

SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio Police Chief William McManus says he wants to deter street racing by fining race spectators.

He's pushing the City Council to write a new ordinance which would allow officers to cite people who are "knowingly" or "intentionally" present at an illegal racing event. Violators would have to pay as much as $500.  

McManus contends illegal racing won't be as alluring without an audience, whether they're attending in person or via virtual means.

"Part of what fuels these events is the racers are amped up by the cheering spectators or by the spectators that are videotaping," he told the council's public safety committee Tuesday. 

Since September of 2020, SAPD has arrested 116 people for street racing exhibitions. These infractions include "takeovers," where racing crews block off entire roads to burn rubber. 

"The takeover piece has really become more of a social media-driven activity," said Levi Lewis, founder and president of the Alamo City LX Modern Mopar

His group is essentially an old-school car club that's banned dangerous burnouts, donuts, excessive noise and racing by its members. 

"People are trying to get attention," he said. "Every time you see one of these races in a news piece, the predominant thing you're going to notice: Everybody's got a cell phone out and they're recording."

McManus made clear to the council the proposal would not impact responsible car clubs like Alamo City LX. He also suggested a public outreach campaign designed to push racers to legal tracks.  

Lewis says the proposed spectator ordinance is "another tool that can be leveraged" to prevent tragedies at illegal racing events. 

"They're putting themselves out there to say, 'Look at me and look at what I did using this tool,'" Lewis added. "People get taken out all the time by those vehicles."

But enforcement would be tricky, Lewis said. SAPD officers would have to distinguish spectators from innocent bystanders. 

McManus says it's easy to identify who's engaged in illicit behavior, but councilmembers were concerned passersby might be cited for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

The council's public safety committee asked McManus to prepare more data and return for another presentation.

The committee could move McManus's proposal forward to the full council at its next meeting.