SANTA CLARITA, Calif. – California authorities are doing everything they can to downplay the story of a rash of seemingly unrelated freeway shootings — eight in Southern California alone in the last two months.
But the California Highway Patrol (search) is in a tough spot. On the one hand, it wants the public's help to find those responsible. At the same time, officers don't want to scare an estimated 6 million motorists.
"There is some cause for concern obviously," said CHP Commissioner Mike Brown (search). "In California alone, we lost 11,000 people on the roadways and frankly, the freeways are some of the safest roads in the state."
Brown said the freeway incidents — this year, four people have been killed in 11 shootings — are being attributed to a mixture of gang activity and road rage.
"The public should be concerned but not alarmed," Brown told FOX News.
Highway Patrol officials also sought to put the incidents into some perspective. People had a greater chance of dying by the actions of a drunk driver than getting shot by a gang member or another violent person on the freeway.
Plus, they said that the number of shootings were actually down, from 46 freeway incidents in 2003 to 36 in 2004 and to just 11 so far in 2005.
"The bottom line for the public is there are a lot of guns out there in society. If you have someone tailgating you, just get out of the way," said CHP Assistant Chief Art Acevedo (search).
For the time being, the CHP is increasing the number of patrols, incorporating undercover cars and bringing in mobile crime labs to handle forensic evidence.
In addition, officers hope that some of the 350 video cameras trained on portions of the freeway can be used to fight crime. The cameras can pan 360 degrees and zoom up to a half-mile.
Police have tried to use the cameras in the past but the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) said no, arguing that the agency was not in the crime-fighting business.
But CalTrans officials said that because of the recent shootings, they were willing to reconsider.