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Defenders: Detroit police have idea to make drag racing safer

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DETROIT – The Local 4 Defenders recently went undercover to investigate the ongoing problem of drag racing in Detroit after getting a tip from a woman who said her car was totaled by a racer and she was frustrated that police weren't doing more to stop it.

On a Friday evening, Defender cameras were rolling on Epworth and Linsdale streets as racers lined up, squealed their tires and took off – all while onlookers stood dangerously close on the street.

Janise Leonard told the Defenders she was heading out to get gas earlier this summer when she turned onto Epworth Street and was hit.

"When he hit my car, my car went into a figure eight and then it went into a circle. Then, the airbag to the passenger side went off and the airbag to the driver's side went off," Leonard said.

The car isn't drivable, and Leonard needs it for her job and to take care of her daughter.

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"It's going to cost more than $6,000 to fix and I don't have that type of money," Leonard said.

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She said she's talked to police about the problem, but nothing has changed.

"The policeman said, ‘Oh, yeah, he know about Epworth. They drive down here racing all the time. There's nothing we can do about it because this is a main street,'" Leonard said.

The Defenders contacted the Detroit Police Department for an answer.

"Drag racing is not a new phenomenon. We've been dealing with drag racing for years," said Deputy Chief Lt. Renee Hall. "We usually see it about March and deal with it throughout the summer to the end of September, beginning of November, as long as it's warm."

Hall said there are "consistent enforcement efforts" targeting several drag racing sites between her department, the Wayne County Sheriff's Office and Michigan State Police.

"Year to date we've taken about 25 vehicles, impounding those spectators who are watching the drag racing. We've forfeited four vehicles for individuals who were drag racing," Hall said.

In addition to setting up surveillance crews at known drag racing locations, DPD is working on a new way to combat it.

"The chief has an idea that he thinks will curtail this effort, and that is to create some sanctioned drag racing strips. He looks at it as that this is a sport," Hall said. "If we create areas within the city that they can legally drag race, that we could pad it and put the necessary protectors in place, that we would save lives."

Hall said the idea is still very new and nothing has been set in stone, but that Police Chief James Craig has talked to Mayor Mike Duggan about it.

"We would think that if we encourage safety that we would do away with the illegal drag racing and people would do it for sport. It would cut down on any injuries, or the danger of people actually losing their lives and property," Hall said.

Potential sites for the sanctioned drag racing is open land near City Airport or the old Chrysler Plant on Lynch Road.