CONRAD SCHMIDT/THE REGISTER
Waukee Police Department Sergeant Troy Mapes waits in his patrol car before stopping to issue a warning ticket along Ute Avenue on Nov. 22. Money from the sTEP program will help Waukee police step up patrols during heavy travel periods — such as Thanksgiving week.
The state's special Traffic Enforcement Program helps pay for increased police patrols during busy holiday travel seasons.
ENFORCEMENT PERIODS: Nov. 20-26, Feb. 12-15, May 21-31, June 1-3, July 2-6, Aug. 17-Sept. 3.
DEPARTMENTS CAN RECEIVE: $4,000
STEP MONEY PAYS FOR: Overtime pay, equipment upgrades
Obviously, the woman was speeding.
Waukee Police Sgt. Troy Mapes didn't need his radar to know the gray Ford Taurus northbound on Ute Avenue was hauling faster than the posted 45 mph limit. He snapped his radar on and - sure enough - clocked her at 63 mph.
"Looks like the day won't be a total loss for you guys," Mapes, a 7-year Waukee police officer, said to the reporter and photographer watching him work. Pulling to the shoulder and flashing his lights, Mapes whipped his black Ford Explorer around and gunned the engine, stopping the Taurus with Dallas County plates.
The stop on an otherwise slow Wednesday afternoon is precisely the sort of heightened traffic enforcement promoted by the special Traffic Enforcement Program, or sTEP. The state traffic program, created in 1996 to promote driver safety, gave grant money to 194 departments this year to pay for overtime and new equipment.
The $4,000 grant the Waukee Police Department received allows for increased holiday enforcement and helped pay $3,000 toward a radar that pinpoints speeders by laser. The additional patrols, officers say, are critical to safe highways during one of the year's busiest - and most dangerous - travel seasons.
"With the sTEP money, we can saturate the area" and catch more speeders, Mapes said.
Katie Johnson, 17, said she noticed more officers driving past her Seventh Street home around Thanksgiving. "It seemed like a lot more were out," the Waukee High School senior said.
Generally, the program targets speeders, drunken drivers and those not wearing a seatbelt, said Robert Thompson, program evaluator at the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau. Departments participate voluntarily with grants of up to $4,000.
Without that money, the Waukee Police Department could not otherwise afford to pay its 11 street officers overtime needed to add extra holiday patrols, said Chief L.J. Phillips.
Traffic safety is a problem for Dallas County, named one of the state's top 22 "Problem Identification Counties" in the Governor Traffic Safety Bureau's January 2006 report. The county ranked 13th statewide for traffic fatalities between 2002 and 2004, with an average of nearly seven deaths per year, according to the report.
The number of fatalities statewide dropped in that period from 372 in 2002 to 356 in 2004. Seat belt compliance has jumped from 75 percent a decade ago to 90 percent today, according to bureau statistics.
Mapes - patrolling Waukee and parts of West Des Moines, Clive and Urbandale - said he typically flags a small handful of drivers, a number varying by day. Most are cordial. The great majority admit they were speeding. A few claim they are unfamiliar with the area.
"Well, our speed signals look just the same as theirs," Mapes said. "All the more reason for them to slow down and drive more carefully."
The woman Mapes caught speeding was typical. Shaken, she told him no one had ever stopped her. Mapes walked back to his cruiser, radioed her license plate and driver's license number to Dallas County dispatch.
"Clean record, no endorsements," the dispatcher crackled back.
Mapes went back to the car and issued the woman a written warning - a no-fee ticket that goes in the department's records but nowhere else. Ideally, he said, the paper warning reminds drivers to watch their speed.
"She was just in a hurry, trying to get home for Thanksgiving," Mapes said. "Very nice lady."