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Birmingham Makes Arrests for Exhibition Driving, Seizes Guns; More Enforcement to Come, Says Mayor

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Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said Tuesday that a Birmingham Police Department operation launched earlier this month aimed at curbing exhibition drivers will expand. (File)

By Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson | The Birmingham Times

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said Tuesday that a Birmingham Police Department operation launched earlier this month aimed at curbing exhibition drivers — leading to five arrests and seven vehicles and seven guns seized — “is not one weekend and done.”

Woodfin told the council that Operation Knight Rider (a joint effort between city police and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office), this month made several arrests, impounded cars and executed search warrants at various chop shops across the city.

The mayor said officers noticed an uptick in exhibition driving activity around April 5 and responded in the immediate days following the incidents.

Video surfaced on social media in recent weeks about the exhibition driving, as have complaints from those who live in areas where the events are taking place.

“So, while it may appear that there was no strategy, five significant arrests were made and various operations (have been) going since the weekend of April 12,” he said. “I want to acknowledge that various search warrants were conducted to include chop shop locations …. (and) I want to be clear that this operation is not a one weekend done situation.”

He said police over the weekend of April 12 made five arrests — two for exhibition driving charges and three for felony eluding charges related to exhibition driving. Those arrests included the seizure of multiple firearms as well as a so-called Glock switch, a device that turns a pistol into an automatic weapon.

The activity is at its height on Friday and Saturday nights and during daytime hours on Sundays, Woodfin said.

“We’ve also seen a pattern where small businesses with whatever event they’re having, or there’s a spill out of patrons and that is a high visibility — that this type of behavior tends to attract to this area,” he said. “So we’ve started talking to small business owners about compliance and their responsibility for the exterior as well as the public right of way in front of their small business and holding them accountable,” said the mayor.

Councilor Crystal Smitherman pushed back on Woodfin’s statement about business accountability, suggesting more “concentrated police patrols” should be in place especially with summer upcoming.

“The business has to balance between their security, (which) has only so much jurisdiction to control the crowd,” said the councilor. “So, you know basically what’s going to happen, is they’re going to watch this happening (exhibition driving and associated crowds gather to watch) and [businesses] get the blame. And really [the] Birmingham Police Department – it’s their job to control the crowd,” she said.

Woodfin said the point is not to punish businesses, but to hold them accountable for their part in securing their premises.

Smitherman also asked for “more consistency with enforcement” from Birmingham Police officers when exhibition driving, or other illegal activity is witnessed. “I need them to get to it,” she said.

Woodfin responded by saying that he always encourages officers to make calculated decisions on how to engage in any criminal activity based on safety first.

Last year, the state legislature passed a law that defined exhibition driving as activity that includes drag racing and/or street racing and drivers who perform burnouts and donuts.

With time winding down in the Legislative session, Birmingham City Council President Darrell O’Quinn said on Tuesday he plans to travel to Montgomery to talk to lawmakers about an amendment that would make video footage admissible in apprehending those responsible for exhibition driving.

Under the current bill, “if a police officer doesn’t witness it (exhibition driving), then it doesn’t happen,” said the council president.

“We’re asking the Legislature to address the root of the problem,” added O’Quinn. “These guys (exhibition drivers) are trying to be seen. Using the video that they’re taking as a source of evidence and using it to prosecute them is going to be effective,” he said.

That legislation was passed and signed by Gov. Kay Ivey last year.

Previously, drivers could only get a ticket.

Now, they face a minimum of misdemeanor charges, and up to a Class B felony if someone is injured or killed, or if there is property damage.