September 21, 2023
A video recorded in South Philadelphia last weekend shows a lime-green Dodge Charger drifting and doing burnouts at Broad Street and Washington Avenue. The car was surrounded by dozens of people, and other motorists had no choice but to stop until the commotion ended.
It was just another night of thrill-seeking for those who participate in roving car meets, a problem in the city that has frayed the nerves of residents and police.
"You think the public is tired of these car meets? We're tired of it," Capt. Jason Smith, commanding officer of the Philadelphia Police Department's major crimes unit, said Wednesday.
Smith and his unit, which has been tasked with investigating these meetups, had an eye on the Dodge Charger. It had been spotted earlier that night drifting at the intersection of Frankford and Cottman avenues in the Northeast. "It was basically spiraling out of control doing those doughnuts," Smith said.
Philadelphia police say they're now tracking down vehicles after these car meets and towing them away, holding them as evidence in criminal investigations. The lime-green Charger was seized Tuesday at a Mount Laurel, New Jersey apartment complex. The police department shared a photo on X, formerly Twitter, of the car being towed.
"You see how dangerous it is for the people standing in the intersection watching," said Lt. Brian Geer of the major crimes unit's auto squad. "Just imagine 20 police cars pulling up to try to stop people. They take off in every direction and everybody on foot is in danger."
Our dets. are working evidence from several illegal car meets that took place this past weekend. This vehicle was towed from a residence in NJ, and there is more work ahead. This type of activity is illegal and dangerous; and we will continue to hold participants accountable! pic.twitter.com/QthyaMdM2z— Philadelphia Police Department (@PhillyPolice) September 19, 2023
On Wednesday afternoon, police shared another photo of a dark-colored sports sedan they had towed from Royersford, Montgomery County. That car also is linked to last weekend's car meets, police said. A third car is sought, but police did not share details about that vehicle.
Another vehicle from Saturday's illegal car meets has met our tow truck. This one was picked up in Royersford PA, and will be staying at our pound for the time being. This behavior is illegal, dangerous, and will not be tolerated. More to come. pic.twitter.com/8ISCfIAHvX— Philadelphia Police Department (@PhillyPolice) September 20, 2023
To track down the Dodge Charger, Smith said he and his unit relied on months of evidence linking the car to other meetups. They determined where it was registered, took note of how the vehicle had been modified and determined it had been in Philadelphia on several occasions. Officers went to New Jersey, found the car and contacted Mount Laurel police, who allowed Philly cops to tow the car out of their jurisdiction.
Police knocked on the door at the address where the car is registered, but got no answer.
"It's going to be an inconvenience not having that vehicle for an extended period of time while we're conducting our investigation," Smith said of the Charger. "It could be six months, could be a year. It could be longer."
Police are looking at whether the Charger's owner was driving it in Philly over the weekend. On Wednesday, a search warrant was pending to search inside the car for evidence. At this time, the car's owner faces no charges.
"He hasn't reached out. Eventually, we expect to hear from an attorney," Smith said.
Once investigations are complete, the two towed cars will be taken to an impound lot near the airport in South Philly. The owner of each car will be charged $175 for the tow plus storage fees, which are $25 for the first five days and then $30 a day after that.
If the car isn't claimed within 30 days, police can apply for a salvage title and the vehicle can be sold at auction, Smith said.
This is the beginning of a concerted effort by police to stop car meets, which police say are potentially deadly and disrupt life in the city neighborhoods where they take place.
"These people view Philadelphia like it's their own little personal playground," Smith said. "We have to send a message that it's not."
On Sept. 13, Mayor Jim Kenney signed a bill empowering police to issue violations to drivers who engage in drifting and other illegal behaviors behind the wheel, like blocking intersections and playing music loudly. Fines range from $300 for simply being a spectator at a car meet to $2,000 for operating a nuisance vehicle. Drivers also can be held liable for costs associated with the city's emergency response, cleanup and road repairs resulting from car meets.
Because these changes to the city's traffic code are new, police are still developing strategies for enforcement.
The drivers of the cars seized in connection with last weekend's car meets will not be subject to the new violations, although they could be charged criminally.
Smith said the power to impose expensive fines would be a game-changer, but he declined to comment further on what it might mean for his unit until the policies become clearer. For now, cars can be towed and impounded if they are suspected of being used to commit crimes, Smith explained.
Drivers caught drifting and doing burnouts can be charged with risking a catastrophe, reckless endangerment, possession of an instrument of crime and conspiracy, Smith said. If a person is struck by driver at car meet, the driver could be charged with aggravated assault.
Most of the people who come to car meets in Philly are from outside the city, and some travel long distances to get here.
"These car meets take place all across the East Coast," Geer said. "We have reports of some people here being down in North Carolina. Most of the local groups that really assimilate with each other are from Virginia up to New York."
A car meet in early June turned deadly after it moved onto I-95 near Penn's Landing. Around 3:30 a.m., some cars were seen doing burnouts and blocking the highway.
When Pennsylvania State Police responded to the scene, they parked in front of an Audi S4 and ordered the driver, 18-year-old Anthony Allegrini Jr., of Glen Mills, Delaware County, to stay put. Allegrini drove the car forward, striking two troopers in their legs. One of the troopers fired shots through the windshield, killing Allegrini.
An investigation into that shooting is being led by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.
Geer said it became clear this summer that police needed to take a new direction in their enforcement.
"It hasn't stopped. We like to solve problems, not continuously deal with them," Geer said. "We're going to use the law enforcement tools available to us to actually end this problem."
Tracking down and towing nuisance cars is different than Philly police removing ATVs and dirt bikes from roadways, mainly because those types vehicles are illegal to drive on city streets. Police can issue violations with $2,000 fines and confiscate ATVs and dirt bikes on sight. Owners often forfeit them due to the cost and potential legal consequences of attempting to recover them. Also many were stolen prior to being confiscated.
Cars are a more significant investment and their owners are less likely to just abandon them — especially if they still owe money on a loan.
For safety reasons, police have a no-pursuit policy for dirt bikes and ATVs. Authorities seize them during strategic sweeps. Identifying a nuisance car involves collecting evidence and identifying where the vehicle is kept.
"We ride around after ATVs and wait for them to run out of gas. We come up on them when they're parked and nobody's on them, and we just start confiscating them because they shouldn't be on the road to begin with. That turned out to be a huge deterrent," Smith said. "Are they still out there? Absolutely, but I'm pretty sure if we continue with our initiatives addressing these car meets and keep taking cars, ATVs and dirt bikes, it's going to have an impact. I honestly believe that."