A matter of safety
By MANDY BOURGEOIS Daily Light staff writer
Posted: Tuesday, March 6, 2007 11:21 AM CST
RED OAK — Anyone who has driven through Red Oak on Interstate 35 in the past few months has probably noticed increased police patrol in the stretch from the Bear Creek Road exit to the U.S. Highway 77 overpass — a five-mile construction zone that is part of the Red Oak Police Department’s jurisdiction.
The increased patrol is part of the department’s traffic division formed by traffic enforcement, accident investigation and supplement patrol.
“The reason I wanted to do the traffic division is so that we can have constant visibility for public safety,” said Red Oak Police Chief Red Fullerton. “The plan is that with constant visibility, people will know we’re going to be out there and hopefully will decrease their speed.”
In 2005, a television news station in Dallas named the portion of I-35 through Red Oak the most dangerous stretch of interstate in North Texas.
“We don’t hold that title anymore,” Fullerton said proudly.
When the construction began in 2005, Fullerton said the officers in the department were stretched thin between normal patrol duties throughout Red Oak and working accidents and enforcing traffic on Interstate 35.
“Every time a patrolman works an accident, you take them out of the neighborhoods or a business district,” Fullerton said, adding that the department could rarely patrol a school zone due to calls on Interstate 35.
“We were always tied up with an alarm or accident,” he said. “Now, we have someone at the school zones. Last year, without the traffic division, we couldn’t do that.”
Of 32 officers, including reserve officers, Fullerton has assigned four officers and two reserve officers to the traffic division. The traffic division patrols high-traffic areas such as Interstate 35, State Highway 342 and Farm-to-Market 664, as well as school zones.
“I have four officers assigned to traffic. Issuing citations is not their only duty. They work all accidents and back up any officers when needed,” Fullerton said.
Five officers were hired in October 2006 in order to develop the traffic division after the Red Oak City Council approved the department’s budget citing a need for more officers and more vehicles to accommodate the division’s mission.
“The city of Red Oak has an excellent police department,” City Manager Ken Pfeifer said. “An increase in traffic enforcement was discussed in all our budget workshops and unanimously approved.”
At the August 2006 regular city council meeting, Fullerton presented the idea of developing a traffic division citing a noticeable drop in the number of accidents on I-35 after increasing patrol on the Interstate. In his presentation to city council, Fullerton noted that the traffic division would provide, “constant visibility for public safety on main roads, highways and school zones; generate revenues from traffic offenders instead of a burden on tax payers; allow the patrol division to concentrate on patrolling residential areas, business sectors and special patrol detail in high crime areas.”
In his presentation, Fullerton projected the number of citations a full-time officer in the traffic division would write, breaking the numbers down to citations per day and up to citations per year. Fullerton’s presentation to the council showed that a traffic officer working a 10 hour shift would issue 20 citations per day, 80 a week, 320 a month and 19,200 a year. Fullerton also projected $3,443,968 collected from citations (averaging $200 a citation) a year.
Fullerton stressed that the number was not based on quotas, but simply a projection based on his studies of cities with traffic divisions.
“This is what I projected when I hired these new officers. This is not new news. We’re actually writing less than what I projected,” Fullerton said.
The comparison of the months of January 2006 and January 2007 shows a significant increase in the number of tickets written by the Red Oak Police Department. In January 2006, officers handed out 670 citations, as compared to the 1,758 citations written in January 2007. The traffic division accounted for 1,421 citations in January 2007, averaging 317 citations per officer and 77 citations for reserve officers.
“We have 100,000 vehicles a day on I35 and 30,000 on Ovilla Road. I would dare to bet 342 has close to the same number as Ovilla Road per day. That’s a lot of vehicles,” Fullerton said. “Three million cars a month travel through our city and we’re only issuing 1,000-something tickets.”
Fullerton said that over 90 percent of the citations are issued on Interstate 35 and overall, most of the tickets are for speeding.
“Speeding was the number one contributing factor to accidents in January,” Fullerton said, adding that the more speeding citations were given in January than any other citation.
In comparing 2005 and 2006, as the number of citations increased, the number of accidents decreased. In 2005, 6,901 citations were issued and 383 accidents were reported. In 2006 11,586 citations were issued and 280 accidents were reported. In 2007, accidents were down from 27 in 2006 to 26 in 2007 and February’s numbers decreased drastically from 41 in 2006 to 18 in 2007.
“Accidents don’t just occur out of the blue. Something causes them. When people are speeding, failing to yield the right-of-way, running stop signs, these are the things that cause accidents. I don’t see that as being nitpicky,” Fullerton said.
Fullerton pointed to one of his traffic division officers who wrote 559 tickets in the month of January.
“If I have one guy out there writing 500 tickets, evidently, 500 people are doing something wrong,” Fullerton said, saying he does random checks on the citations written by his officers.
Fullerton provided numbers from a random shift — 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday, March 1 — as a random sample of citations written by Red Oak officers. During that time frame, officers issued 28 citations, 23 of which were for speeding 15 or more mph over the posted speed limit. One citation was for speeding between 10 and 15 mph over the posted speed limit, three citations were for no proof of insurance and one citation for failing to yield right-of-way. Only one of those citations was written to a city of Red Oak resident for speeding — 75 mph in a 55-mph construction zone.
In January, 38 Red Oak citizens were issued citations and 55 citizens were given citations in February.
“I think all the citations on here are in line of what they’re supposed to stop people for,” Fullerton said.
Fullerton said that the number of citations issued on I-35 increase the closer a city is to Dallas.
“I know Lancaster — they have two traffic officers and they write an average of 2,000 citations a month,” Fullerton said. “I have four officers writing 1,000 a month. Waxahachie isn’t as high, but they don’t work the highway as much and they don’t have the construction either.”
With the addition of the traffic division, Fullerton said the department is able to better patrol the neighborhoods and businesses.
“The patrol officers are able to focus more on patrol duties. We have different checkpoints and unless we’re overwhelmed with calls, a patrolman should be in their area once or twice a day,” Fullerton said. “I make a point to go to every area at least once a shift. A lot of folks don’t realize we’re in their neighborhoods — they work during the day, sleep at night — they don’t realize how often we’re there.”