Darrell Todd Maurina
St. Robert city officials have a message for those who like to speed or run through traffic lights: don’t try it.
Meeting Monday night in an otherwise quiet session, aldermen heard a crime statistics report from newly appointed Police Chief Curtis Curenton who said that they can expect many more traffic stops in the near future.
Curenton said city police stopped about 3,800 people for traffic violations within the city in 2006. That will increase to about 5,000 this year now that the department is back to full strength, he said.
Many traffic stops are for relatively minor offenses, but checking driver’s identification can turn up arrest warrants and sometimes can lead to noticing signs that give officers the legal grounds to search cars for drugs or other contraband. While 54 percent of the 3,889 people stopped were issued citations, Curenton said 4 percent of the cars were searched and 284 people were arrested for various offenses as a result of traffic stops.
St. Robert police have also been receiving more calls from the general public for help, Curenton said, noting that 603 calls for service were received in January with 173 incidents significant enough to generate a report.
“That is quite a bit for a community of our size,” Curenton said.
Alderman Todd Williams said he was glad to see the police become more aggressive with traffic stops, especially at the city’s major traffic lights, and asked if traffic cameras could be installed.
“I know there seem to be a lot of people who don’t understand what the color yellow means, or the color red,” Williams said.
Curenton said that enforcing traffic light compliance is important but expensive.
“I have to have two cars, one a chase car and the other one to visually see the intersection,” Curenton said. “Every time we have gone to court, we have lost because we did not have an officer who could say he saw the light turn and it was not green.”
Alderman Gene Newkirk said he recently rode in a police car with officers and appreciated the experience.
“It was very enlightening and it was amazing to see what they have to put up with,” Newkirk said.
Curenton said he would be happy to arrange ride-along trips for council members with police officers but cautioned that police duty can be hazardous.
“We cannot guarantee your safety, but we will make every effort to keep you safe,” Curenton said. “We don’t want to be losing a councilman.”
Alderman Larry Mayes asked Curenton if he was monitoring people who drive while using cell phones; Curenton said that’s banned on Fort Leonard Wood but he doesn’t have the legal authority to stop people in the St. Robert city limits for driving while talking on a cell phone.
“We need to look at going to that,” Mayes said.
Curenton said that decision would need to be made by elected officials, not police.
“A lot of communities are going to that, but I can’t tell you if it has made a difference in safety or not,” Curenton said.
Curenton also introduced a new St. Robert police officer, Tammy Ziegler, who previously served on the Dallas Police Department before returning from Texas due to health issues of her father. Ziegler previously lived in the Plato area as a teenager when her father was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, and Curenton said she applied for a St. Robert position after learning the department had a vacancy.
Alderman Theresa Cook said she was glad to have an experienced officer come to St. Robert.
“I would like to welcome you, and hopefully we are not as active as the Dallas Police Department,” Cook said.
Mayor George Sanders said he’s received several complimentary letters recently, including one from a Rolla resident who said even though he was pulled over by St. Robert police and ticketed, the officers were professional. The Rolla resident said he “thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience,” leading to surprised looks from aldermen.