FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – A long-standing, and growing, issue on the streets of Fort Collins is now being addressed head-on by Fort Collins Police Services. Large groups of motorists, commonly from either out of town or out of state, have long used summer weekends in Fort Collins as a gathering place. But as time has progressed, bad apples among them are vandalizing properties, racing, driving intoxicated and causing other nuisances to the general population.

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Now, Fort Collins Police Services has launched a multi-week operation to crack down on illegal activity among the group many in Fort Collins call “the cruisers.” The group is made up of mostly teenagers and young adults, most of whom are law-abiding and simply looking for a safe space to socialize.

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However, a growing number of drivers are now creating a dangerous and disruptive environment through the heart of Fort Collins. Motorcycles, lowered sedans and lifted trucks often make up a majority of the group. They often gather at empty and typically dark parking lots along the central portion of College Avenue, the main thoroughfare through Fort Collins.

The groups often meet up in parking lots of shuttered businesses, oftentimes at the old JCPenney property. That property is now monitored via a live camera system that Fort Collins police set up. Broken bottles, damaged store windows, smashed signs and tire marks from donuts and racing can be found at the old JCPenney property alone.

Some then take routine trips throughout the weekend nights north on College Avenue into Old Town Fort Collins. The bustling area, filled with pedestrians and those dining outdoors, was swarmed with loud vehicles. Large trucks are often seen “rolling coal,” which is when drivers intentionally spread excessive levels of dark exhaust onto people who are on the sides of the roadway.

“We started with some education, and then we moved to a lot of enforcement to try and curve the behavior,” said Fort Collins Police Sgt. Kyle Bendzsa.

Bendzsa and a large team of officers have spent five weeks targeting illegal behavior by the group.

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“We are running an operation for about five weeks to address aggressive, dangerous and disruptive driving behavior in the city of Fort Collins,” Bendzsa said. “We are targeting the more egregious violations.”

Burned-out tail lights and other minor issues are often dismissed through warnings. However, Fort Collins police quickly transitioned away from warnings and toward citations for those causing significant disruptions.

“We are looking for the behavior that is going to get somebody hurt, put somebody in danger, or be very disruptive to people doing things you would do on a Friday or Saturday night. Having dinner, walking around and enjoying the evening,” Bendzsa told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas.

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In one night following along with Fort Collins police during the operation, Thomas witnessed the issues which officers were targeting firsthand.

Directly in front of an officer, one man drove up and over a landscaped area of a shopping center. As he accelerated over the grass and onto the main road the grass and mud from the property was thrown dozens of feet. Deep tire marks were left on the property.

His truck also dispensed thick black exhaust onto the officer’s trailing vehicle.

“When you accelerate you’re basically clouding up the intersection with exhaust. Can you see how that would be dangerous for folks?” a Fort Collins Police sergeant asked the driver after pulling him over. “You’re going to get a ticket. It does have a court date that goes with it.”

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Later, just a matter of minutes later, a motorcycle driver eluded police while CBS4 cameras were recording.

The driver ignored lights and sirens from the following police vehicle. The driver took off at an estimated 100 mph through the busiest portion of Old Town as hundreds of people mingled and socialized on the sides of the roadway.

Bendzsa did not chase the driver, instead turning off his lights and sirens in hope of preventing innocent bystanders from being injured.

In just two nights of the operation, 42 tickets were issued and 19 warnings were handed out.

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Fort Collins police said they wanted to help the drivers find a safe and welcome place to hang out on weekends, but said the heart of the city isn’t the place.

Dillon Thomas