Elk Grove Targets Street Racers

The City of Elk Grove won the Grand Prize in the Public Safety category of the 2007 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more information, visit www.cacities.org/helenputnam.

Street racing jeopardizes health, safety and welfare, and it’s a growing concern in communities statewide, including the City of Elk Grove. In 2005, when street racing resulted in a fatal collision on Franklin Boulevard — a community thoroughfare — it focused local attention on the problem. A tough new effort to curb illegal street racing in the community, launched by the Elk Grove City Council, enacted sweeping zero-tolerance ordinances that target street racers and those who watch them. City leaders are sending a clear signal to young drivers that any exhibition of speed is an expensive and potentially fatal mistake.

The council directed city staff to develop a campaign to educate teens and young adults about the dangers and consequences of street racing in Elk Grove as well as educate the public about the new anti-racing ordinances.

“Blink of an Eye” Gets to the Point

The campaign targets young drivers ages 16 to 24 — one of today’s most skeptical audiences, particularly when the message is from a government agency. The city developed a 10-minute video called “In the Blink of an Eye — The Dangers and Consequences of Street Racing and Exhibition of Speed” to show to young drivers in classrooms and via other media. The video, in a style inspired by YouTube.com, depicts teens engaged in an impromptu street race that ends in a girl’s death and prison time for her boyfriend who raced. Local resident Rebecca Davis, whose son died in a street racing accident in Elk Grove two years ago, speaks following the dramatization. The video also includes testimony from Elk Grove Police Chief Robert Simmons.

More than 1,000 copies of the DVD were produced, and it was posted on the City of Elk Grove (www.elkgrovecity.org) and Police Department websites. Community partners also added links to the video on their sites. A commercial promoting the 10-minute video was broadcast on MTV, ESPN, FX and Spike TV through the local cable provider.

Connecting With Community Support

During video production and materials development, city staff involved key opinion leaders in the Elk Grove com munity who agreed to support the effort, coordinate future presentations and attend a press conference for the campaign launch. As a result, the campaign developed partnerships with more than 25 government agencies, companies and nonprofit agencies. With their help, more than 6,000 brochures were distributed and 500 posters were displayed by City of Elk Grove partners.

Following two months of production and partnership building, the campaign was launched at a joint press conference with the Elk Grove Unified School District on Sept. 26, 2006. City staff worked closely with local print and broadcast reporters to secure preview coverage and generate interest prior to the campaign’s launch as well as ongoing coverage of its successes. After the launch, city staff arranged numerous speaking engagements in the Elk Grove community and Sacramento region.

As part of the campaign, officers from the Elk Grove Police Department have created a speakers’ bureau and given more than 157 presentations in classrooms and community meetings that reached 16,000 students and neighbors as of August 2007. Their talks have generated regional interest, and officers are now participating in other forums throughout the Sacramento region.

As of April 2007, 8,500 students had viewed the video in classrooms, 1,000 had viewed the video on the city’s website, and 2,000 had downloaded the video through Comcast. The city received more than 200 letters from students, teachers and faculty who were moved by the video and presentation.

Elk Grove also sponsored a resolution adopted by the League of California Cities at its 2006 annual conference that supports state legislation to expressly authorize cities and counties to impose vehicle forfeiture, at their discretion, as a penalty for street racing.

With strong community partnerships, creative educational materials and sup portive Police Department officers, Elk Grove rolled out an anti-street racing campaign that resonates with teens and young adults.

Contact: Angela Frost, interim public information officer, City of Elk Grove; phone: (916) 478-2203; e-mail: afrost@elkgrovecity.org.

This article appears in the October 2007 issue of Western City
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