Police target speeders

Star-Tribune staff writer Saturday, April 14, 2007

Casper police Sgt. Doug Beran steadied his laser gun and aimed at the maroon Chevrolet Tahoe speeding down 13th Street.

The Tahoe's driver saw Beran's patrol car and hit the brakes. But he was too late: The gun had already registered the Tahoe's speed at 40 mph -- 10 mph over the limit.

Beran turned onto 13th Street, hit his emergency lights and pulled the Tahoe over. It was the veteran cop's first speeder of the morning, and he'd catch another three during the next hour and a half.

Beran was one of 12 officers from Casper area law enforcement agencies who spent Friday focusing exclusively on traffic violations like speeding and red-light running. They are part of the Combined Accident Reduction and Traffic Enforcement Task Force, which was formed to improve driving habits and decrease the number of crashes in Natrona County.

"Our goal is compliance: To get people to drive better and pay attention to what they're doing" Beran said.

Participating in the effort were the Casper, Mills and Evansville police departments, Natrona County Sheriff's Office and Wyoming Highway Patrol.

The task force grew out of a January traffic summit held in Casper and concern about the high number of car crashes in Natrona County. In 2005, the county led the state in total crashes with 2,461. The Casper area led Wyoming cities and towns in fatal, injury and property damage crashes during that time. Speeding is also the top complaint made to the Casper Police Department.

The task force began publicizing the traffic enforcement day about two weeks ago. But on Friday, there was no shortage of speeders on 13th Street.

Beran had been parked on the corner of Oakcrest Avenue and 13th Street for only a few minutes when the Tahoe sped by. After being pulled over and ticketed for speeding, the driver told Beran that he knew about the task force's effort and even suggested some other places in town that should be targeted.

"You have a safe day," Beran told the man before driving off.

To gauge speed, the sergeant used a laser gun that he aimed at cars that were either approaching or driving away. Pulling the trigger told him how fast the car was traveling, and its distance from his patrol car.

By 1:30 p.m., Beran had pulled over two more cars on 13th Street and a Nissan Pathfinder on Wolcott Street. One woman tried to explain her way out of the ticket, saying she had a lot of work to do. The sergeant was polite, but undeterred.

"People rarely talk their way out of a ticket," he said, adding that drivers sometimes admit to additional violations as they are trying to make excuses. "A lot of people talk themselves into a ticket."

When the traffic enforcement program was announced, some people questioned whether police officers would write tickets for rather minor traffic offenses.

"We don't need to," Beran said, a few minutes after handing out his fourth speeding ticket of the day. "We're not stopping anybody that's not doing 10 (mph) over."

The task force plans to have another traffic enforcement day on April 27 -- this time focusing on drunken drivers -- and a couple of days each month for the foreseeable future.

"Our goal is to get people to driver safer," Beran said.

Reach Joshua Wolfson at (307) 266-0582 or at josh.wolfson@casperstartribune.net.