Little Rock police will step up enforcement of a prohibition against large gatherings of vehicles -- often referred to as caravans -- this weekend, according to a news release from the Police Department.
The department and city have received numerous complaints about the caravans. Among them are concerns over participants' health during the pandemic, and reports of private property damage, reckless driving and disruption of traffic flow.
That has prompted the department to form a team specifically to look for and rein in caravans this weekend, department authorities said.
The department has doubled the number of officers dedicated to dealing with the caravans, according to police spokesman Lt. Casey Clark.
"I can't tell you the exact number of officers, but I can tell you we have more than doubled the number of officers that are on this detail," Clark said. "And ... we're trying to stop ... all the illegal street racing, stop the drifting, stop all criminal activity."
On April 7, Mayor Frank Scott made caravanning illegal in the city. Caravanning involves people loitering in vehicles in groups of 10 or more, and sometimes results in drag races, burnouts and gunfire.
During the last weekend in July, police stepped up enforcement, issuing more than 100 citations at the Rave theater off Colonel Glenn Road.
"For about the last two weeks we've been going in a very enforcement-driven mechanism trying to stop this problem from happening, because we know it's only a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt or killed because of some of the reckless behavior that's going on," Clark said.
The problem could be attributed to a large number of juveniles with nothing to do, Clark said. The number of events, festivals and other forms of entertainment has dwindled since the covid-19 pandemic.
The Police Department plans to charge curfew violators this weekend and release detained juveniles only when a parent arrives to assume custody of them, according to the release.
Most of the participants in caravans are juveniles, Clark said, although there has been an increase in young adults joining in.
"We're also seeing a marked increase in older folks, mid-20s who are involved in this car culture, who are coming out and participating in the cruising and the racing," Clark said.
Ward 5 City Director Lance Hines said that judging from videos posted online there have been many young adults participating in drag racing.
"It's adults," Hines said. "It's not a bunch of high school kids out there drag racing."
Those participating in the weekend caravans are not solely Pulaski County residents either, Clark said.
"We started realizing that people weren't just coming from Little Rock," Clark said. "They were coming from all over the state."
Over the past two weeks, police have raised the stakes, issuing more than 500 traffic citations, arresting more than 200 people and impounding more than 100 vehicles, the release said.
Before the uptick in enforcement, police were using more informational tactics to disperse the caravans.
"Anyone who engaged in something reckless we would, of course, write a ticket for or whatnot, but it didn't abate," Clark said of the gatherings. "It didn't stop the situation from happening."
Drag racing and other actions commonly associated with caravanning have been issues in Little Rock in the past, but this year the situation is much worse, according to Clark.
"Cruising and even the street racing has been an issue in Little Rock for a while -- at least 20 years on and off," Clark said. "It's just we've never seen it to the volume it is this year."
Clark said almost all of the city directors have received multiple complaints about the caravanning. This year's problem started on Asher Avenue and has spread to multiple parts of the city.
Hines said he hasn't had many problems with caravans in his ward, but he thinks "it's only a matter of time before they hit west Little Rock one weekend."
Ward 2 City Director Ken Richardson has dealt with caravanning activity in his ward and thinks it will be difficult for police officers to curtail because of the mobility of the caravans.
"When they do it in one area, they just kind of move to another area," Richardson said. "I guess with this social media stuff they can just move to where there's the least resistance, and that's what they've been doing."
Richardson also is concerned about police efforts to crack down on caravans, saying he's received some complaints about that.
"The recent complaints I'm getting are from people out there doing it," Richardson said. "There's a couple people saying they were ticketed just for sitting there observing and watching the street racing, so I don't know what kind of charge that is."