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Council approves making attending sideshows illegal – again


For several months, Reno City Council members have complained about illegal “sideshows,” a term used for impromptu car races and demonstrations in streets or parking lot “takeovers.” They’ve been taking place throughout Reno and many other major cities. 

While some side shows are pre-planned, many occur spontaneously. 

Council members on Wednesday began the process to make attending “unpermitted motor vehicle races” a misdemeanor. This not only extends to the drivers of vehicles in sideshows, but spectators as well. 

According to Reno Chief of Police Kathryn Nance, however, this is not a new law. In 2003, Council adopted a law to prohibit spectators at illegal street races. 

“This is not a new ordinance, this is a move of an existing ordinance to a different location,” Nance said. “The goal today is to ensure we can continue to enforce the spectator ordinance in the manner it was intended for and the manner that’s going to both help us alleviate sideshow issues and resolve the issues of spectators at the side shows.” 

In 2021, the Nevada Legislature enacted Assembly Bill 116, which changed traffic offenses to civil infractions. This dictated that officers were prohibited from arresting sideshow spectators, but instead could only fine them. 

Moving the ordinance to Title 8 of the Reno Municipal Code will allow officers to once again arrest spectators. 

According to Nance, there has been a “significant increase” in sideshows in the last year, which were fueled by the assembling of hundreds of spectators. The Reno Police Department was “taken by surprise” by the sideshows, she said. 

“These events create dangers for other motorists, for the spectators themselves and result in property damage,” Nance said. “These events move from location to location over periods of hours and the spectators follow. There is a propensity for the spectating offense to continue over a period of time, making arrest for ongoing offenses a valuable enforcement option.” 

Nance said that sideshows are not only races but that they are “more violent and dangerous” and are often “not done by people that are from here.” 

However, Nance did not say what violence or dangerous crimes have been committed during these sideshows. 

Nance said last year, 16 sideshow “missions” were enacted with about five major events, and over 400 citations were issued – 40 of which were issued to spectators. 

Council member Naomi Duerr thanked Nance for taking the topic of sideshows seriously. 

“All residents in the entire city have been affected by this,” Duerr said. “Ward 2 has been a home for intersection takeovers and sideshows. I know all the residents are thrilled with the work you’re doing. It makes people feel like there’s a certain recklessness happening. It feels like a city takeover, a town takeover – it feels bad.” 

Council member Jenny Brekhus questioned the move of the ordinance to Title 8. 

“The legislature said traffic is civil now, but now you’re saying it’s moving into a misdemeanor. Are the misdemeanors criminal?”

“Yes,” Nance said. “But it’s because this is not a traffic offense. It was just housed in traffic, and we’re just moving it.” 

“[The legislator] said traffic is civil,” Brekhus said. “[There’s] concern for me.” 

Brekhus said that, of the 40 citations written last summer, she would like to see what the spectators were doing to receive citations in the first place. 

“That’s the evidence I need to feel confident,” Brekhus said. “I recognize there’s a problem, and spectators are part of the problem, but I wish we were being a little more evidence-based.” 

The matter will return for a second reading and possible adoption.

Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose is a proud Native Nevadan whose work in journalism and publishing can be found throughout the Sierra region. She received degrees in English Literature and Anthropology from Arizona State University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Creative Writing with the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. She is an avid supporter of high desert agriculture and rescue dogs.