MERIDEN — In response to growing statewide complaints of a spike in street takeover events, the FBI rolled out a tip line for residents to report instances of mass gatherings in parking lots and roadways.
The move by the FBI comes after a May street takeover in Meriden resulted in thousands of dollars in damage to a police cruiser and a search for a suspect believed to be carrying a firearm. The incident resulted in two arrests and was followed by a second takeover the next day in Waterbury in which suspects reportedly started a fire and hurled stones at first responders.
Additional takeovers, including multiple instances in Naugatuck, have ended in arrests on a variety of counts, including unlawful assembly and riot charges, according to police.
The gatherings, police said, began as meet ups for amateur drag racing and vehicle maneuver events, but have now evolved to crowds ranging from dozens to hundreds barricading public spaces and “racing cars, playing loud music and smoking tires,” among other activities which have resulted in property damage and disturbances.
Law enforcement is still seeking to identify the suspect who was observed in dashcam footage climbing on top of a police car and reaching for what officers beleive to be a handgun.
“We need your help in identifying the individual attempting to pull the item from their pocket,” police said in a statement. “If they are willing to pull what we believe to be a firearm while on the hood of a police cruiser, we have concerns on what else this individual may do or have done with this item.”
Though takeovers are not a new phenomenon — with Meriden police spokesman Officer Michael Boothroyd stating the first reported incidents date back to “at least 2020” — 2023 brought a shift in their dynamics and has caused the events to become substantially more disruptive.
What separates recent gatherings from those of years past, Boothroyd said, is the number of individuals involved and an apparent newfound boldness among participants, which has led them to push back against law enforcement and linger even as police arrive on the scene.
“These takeovers are nothing new,” Boothroyd said. “Meriden and (State Police) have been dealing with racers on the Berlin Turnpike for years. The biggest issue now is that they’re becoming more confrontational with the public and law enforcement. Typically they’ll congregate at the larger parking lots on East Main Street — Lowes, fast food restaurants — before heading up to the limited access portion of the Berlin Turnpike. Meriden will receive complaints of vehicles stopped on the overpasses who are spectating as well as racing. That type of activity has been happening for many years but the individuals would generally disperse once law enforcement was alerted.”
In response to street takeovers occurring more frequently and drawing larger crowds whose actions are becoming increasingly erratic, lawmakers in Hartford moved to establish a “Task Force to Combat Illegal Roadway Traffic.” It would be spearheaded by state and local police departments and take effect in July if signed into law.
Federally, the FBI tip line was launched this week alongside a website. Residents looking to report a street takeover are encouraged to call 1-800-CALL-FBI and select the “Connecticut Street Takeovers” option from an operator or visit the website fbi.gov/cttakeovertips.
Though the age of street takeover participants arrested tends to skew toward young adults in their late teens and early 20s, police said a high percentage of those attending the events appear to be high school aged and urged parents to discourage their children from involving themselves in a takeover.
“Parents should be aware that a majority of the spectators are high school teenagers,” police said. “Conversations should be had to discuss the inherent dangers and consequences of participating in these activities.”