OAKLAND -- Already stretched thin, Oakland's police force is gearing up to battle an adversary it hoped was gone for good: sideshows.
The reckless car stunt spectacles that can involve hundreds of motorists speeding through city streets and spinning "doughnuts" at major intersections have returned after several years of near dormancy.
A sideshow early Saturday morning at the intersection of 106th Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard ended in gunfire that wounded three people, including a 25-year-old Walnut Creek woman, who remains in critical condition. It was Oakland's first sideshow-related shooting in two years.
With sideshows increasing both in size and frequency, police Chief Sean Whent announced Monday that he was deploying crime reduction teams to patrol prime sideshow hot spots and reinvigorating a community partnership credited with helping sharply reduce sideshows.
"The violence obviously adds to the urgency of it," Whent said. "We can't afford for it to grow anymore and we want to head it off quickly."
The sideshow shooting occurred amid an especially violent 72-hour period during which 17 people were shot between Friday morning and Monday morning. The lone fatality was 17-year-old David Manson Jr., who was gunned down Sunday afternoon on the 9100 block of International Boulevard. He was the 43rd person killed in Oakland this year.
The shootings underscore the challenges Oakland's understaffed police force face in curbing violence as it presses forward with a reorganization aimed at improving investigations, responding more quickly to crime trends and winning the trust of local residents. No arrests have been made in any of this weekend's shootings.
During the mid- to late 2000s, officers were required to work overtime on weekend nights to try to stop the sideshows. Now officers must work overtime just to fill patrol beats, and the department has relied more on the California Highway Patrol to police sideshows.
Sideshows are a phenomenon unique to Oakland.¿ Over two decades, they evolved from a relatively benign celebration of car tricks and car culture to a scourge as participants became increasingly reckless and violent.
After peaking in 2005, when police received more than 700-sideshow related complaints, sideshows dropped dramatically in 2010 amid a concerted effort by police, community groups and muscle car enthusiasts to get the events off city streets.
Olis Simmons, the executive director of Youth UpRising which helped lead the effort, said sideshows might be increasing because the city didn't follow through on creating alternatives for local youths.
"Sideshows are really a courting ritual," she said. "It's a place for young men and women to get together and be seen. And we've got to think about how to structure that in a much more productive, positive way."
Tony Bush Jr., who has worked with muscle car groups to take sideshows off city streets, feared that a new generation is bringing back the brand of reckless sideshow that he hoped was gone for good.
"They're trying to do what they grew up seeing, but some of them are going about it the wrong way," he said.
Saturday's sideshow turned violent about 2:30 a.m. when a party bus tried to drive through the event attended by dozens of motorists. Sideshow participants began throwing bottles and rocks at the bus. Gunfire erupted shortly thereafter.
Police did not have current sideshow statistics. The department reported 60 sideshow-related complaints in January after a sideshow stopped traffic on Interstate 880. The total for all of last year was 170. Sideshow activity usually peaks in the summer.
The crime reduction teams that police will have patrolling hot spots, which are mostly in East Oakland, typically work on drug and robbery suppression programs. Whent said the sideshow assignment was appropriate.
"The groups that come out to attend these things are a lot of the groups that are involved in our violent crime. So when they happen to run into each other at the sideshow, a lot of times tempers flare and violence occurs as a result."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435 or email@example.com.