LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A Little Rock police detail is costing taxpayers thousands of dollars and every weekend.
It’s just after 8 p.m., you could say there’s an itch for speed — on a Friday.
As street lights illuminate Asher’s fast and furious, Drealon Baggett said there’s a purpose behind Little Rock’s car clubs.
“We have a lot to prove for the culture,” Baggett said.
The 26-year-old has pumped the brakes on his Sunday Funday activity ever since a traffic ticket a couple of years ago.
Baggett said those involved today want to show off the big bucks they earn during the week.
“We’ve been up there working, punching the clock, paying our taxes. We want to come show off what we got. We want to show off our rides,” Baggett said.
Baggett said there’s no doubt — Sunday Funday gets a bad rep from bad apples.
“The misconception came when they started burning out in these people’s parking lots,” he said.
Numerous 911 calls, complaints and videos showing cars racing and doing burnouts in parking lots forced the Little Rock Police Department to mandate overtime and launch Operation: Sunday Funday.
“Obviously that’s a focus, based on complaints that we’ve received,” LRPD Sergeant Eric Barnes said.
There are about two dozen officers totaling about $20,000 every weekend through summer.
So far, operation summaries obtained through the state’s open-records law, show officers have pulled over 63 cars and have issued only four traffic tickets since April.
So, is it an appropriate use of taxpayer funds?
“This has been a detail that’s been going on for a few months now,” said Barnes. “The Command Staff is always looking for ways to change or do something better. I can say, this detail is definitely being evaluated.”
Barnes said gas prices may be limiting the number of people participating in Sunday Funday, but the sergeant said commanders want to make the detail more intel-driven, dedicating resources when detectives know more people will be out.
Police documents show officers assigned to stop racers are sometimes pulled away for calls like shootings, shots fired and overdoses.
“Our goal is to deter traffic and reckless driving — that’s our goal when it comes to those officers’ mission, however, if an officer is closer than a patrol officer we want to make sure we’re providing adequate investigation or a quicker response to a life-threatening situation,” Barnes said.
Police stopped to talk with 158 people during the operation. Barnes said it’s unclear how many were for police action.
“That could be just consensual contacts, like, “Hey, I see you’re in the park. What’s going on today?” [It could be] officers communicating with citizens and getting dialogue back and forth of what’s going on,” Barnes said.
Baggett said he feels Sunday Funday is being over-policed.
“It’s like they’re not even trying to get an understanding,” Baggett said. “There’s so much other real crime going on. If they’re going to use those funds, pursue that. People’s cars, houses are being broken into every other day.”
LRPD said it does not believe the car clubs are being over-policed.
“I’d say we have a due diligence there’s not lawlessness when it comes to traffic violations but also provide a safe place for people being able to socialize,” said Barnes.
Police often refer to Rondale Sims as one of the organizers for Sunday Funday. He said the city should put the money elsewhere, like a burnout track or into community programs.
“$20,000, $25,000 can go toward something else, you know what I’m saying? Cameras, stuff for the neighborhoods, stuff for the kids really,” Sims said.
It’s not just about showing off a ride.
Yasmin Smith, Baggett’s girlfriend, is a cosmetologist. She said she’s found a lot of clients at the car clubs.
“It helps me to communicate with different people and get my name out there more,” Smith said.
Barnes said LRPD has learned a lot about the car clubs since they first popped up.
“We’ve learned this is definitely a social gathering for many of the people involved,” Barnes said.
Barnes said LRPD wants to build a stronger relationship with the city’s car clubs, which is why the department is organizing its own car show.
“There’s not going to be reckless driving there but we want to bring a place where we can let people come to socialize,” the sergeant said.
For Baggett, he said LRPD’s car show will be a good test drive to a better relationship.
“Sunday Funday is here to stay. It’s going to be here long after I’m gone,” Baggett said.
The police department’s car show is being scheduled for the fall. It’s unclear where the event will take place.