HEMET - It took Hemet police Sgt. Joe Nevarez less than 10 minutes to find a single motorist who made an illegal turn, was driving without a license and with expired registration tags as the veteran officer cruised down Florida Avenue -- the city's main drag -- during the start of a crackdown this week.
"People are in too much of a hurry and need to slow down and think about what they are doing," Nevarez said. "They just don't get it."
For the next two weeks, the department's traffic bureau and other officers will be out in force issuing tickets to motorists who are bent on running red lights, speeding and a slew of other violations.
The special enforcement program was launched Wednesday after the department received several thousand surveys back from residents who said congestion and traffic offenders are making Florida Avenue dangerous, Hemet police Capt. Rob Webb said. The surveys are part of the department's effort to gather information from residents about their views on a proposed measure to raise money for public safety, something police officials say is needed to keep up with growth. The surveys indicated citizens top concerns were gangs, drugs and traffic on Florida Avenue.
Hemet Police Chief Richard Dana said: "We thought we had a need to respond to this right now."
The program is funded through the department's traffic-offender fund, which receives a portion of the fees the city collects from tows, impounded vehicles, drunken driving arrests and other citations.
The traffic unit's newest edition, a Dodge Charger, made its recent debut along with four motorcycles. The car, which cost $25,000, was paid for with the fund and did not cost the city or the general fund anything, Webb said. The Dodge, something that other agencies state and nationwide are also looking at adding, is cheaper than the standard $27,000 Crown Victoria, he said.
Nevarez and his officers issued about 26 tickets and towed several vehicles during the first hours of the program. The citations were issued for speeding along Florida Avenue, failing to stop for red lights, illegal lane changes or cutting people off, not wearing seat belts and driving without a license or on a suspended license. Buena Vista Street and Florida Avenue proved to be popular for those who like to run red lights, Nevarez said.
Nevarez's first stop was at Florida and Sanderson avenues when a motorist made an illegal turn. During the stop, Nevarez said he discovered the driver, Fidel Hernandez, 36, of Homeland, did not have a license and had placed a new registration tag he had not paid for on his car. Hernandez's car keys were taken and he was left at the scene as his car was towed.
"I don't have the money and came here to look for work," Hernandez said. "I will save some money and register it."
Other motorists who travel along Florida Avenue, such as Mark Cohen, seemed pleased to see the extra enforcement.
"I'm glad to see them out here," said Cohen, of Hemet. "People have no respect for others. I pay insurance and have a license. I hope they catch every one of them."
Hemet resident Sandra Vargo said she did not participate in the survey and had not made a decision on whether to vote for the proposed measure but described Florida Avenue as an "accident waiting to happen."
"They seem to be having quite a ticket fest," Vargo said. "I hope it changes something, but I don't think it will. People only think about themselves. They have no manners."
Reach Kenny Klein at 951-763-3466 or kklein@PE.com