An Alcoa police traffic safety officer stops a driver for a traffic violation during a wide area saturation patrol. The traffic safety unit will focus primarily on making sure people are driving safely on Alcoa roadways.
There’s a new cruiser in charge of safety on the Alcoa roadways.
The Dodge Charger has taken over the town’s roads and is the new force to be reckoned with in traffic safety enforcement.
The Alcoa Police Department purchased two Chargers with money from their drug fund after starting their traffic safety unit with a grant received from the Tennessee Governor’s Highway Safety Office. Alcoa Patrol Capt. Rick Arnold said the new traffic safety cruisers hit the roads in June.
The aluminum-colored Dodge Charger, powered by a 340 horsepower Hemi V8 engine, costs almost $22,000, compared to the Ford Crown Victoria that runs about $20,500. The units were purchased by money from the department’s drug fund, which comes from money and property confiscated from people convicted of drug crimes.
Alcoa police officers are hoping all eyes will be on the sporty new cruiser as they try to raise awareness of traffic safety in the city.
The police department received three grants for overtime, a traffic safety unit and two hand-held LIDAR guns to detect speed.
The traffic safety unit was funded by the Aggressive and Impaired Driving Traffic Enforcement Grant, written by Sgt. Hank Morris and Officer Jeff Parsons. It provides $114,850.78 for two full-time traffic safety officers and equipment for the unit.
About $64,000 is designated to pay for the department to have two full-time traffic safety officers. The grant pays for the entire salaries of the two officers for the first year, pays 75 percent the second year, 50 percent the third year and 25 percent on the fourth year, Arnold said.
Chief Ken Burge said they were able to move veteran officers Rodney Wilson and Jay Cameron into the traffic safety unit positions and then were able to hire two new patrol officers.
Approximately $35,000 of the grant money was used to pay for equipment for the traffic safety unit. According to Arnold, it costs approximately $12,000 to stock each cruiser with the proper law enforcement equipment such as a radar, mobile radio, computer and lighting system.
Arnold said $15,000 of the grant is spent on indirect costs including training for the traffic safety officers.
Burge said the department purchased the Chargers for a high visibility approach in the community. He said he wants the traffic safety cruisers to be “set apart” from other patrol cruisers.
“People notice them,” Burge said. “It’s not about sneaking around.”
Arnold said they want people to see the traffic safety units on the roadways as a reminder to obey traffic laws.
“When they see those Chargers, we want people to associate it with traffic safety,” Arnold said.
The department received the grant for the traffic safety unit in Oct. 2006, the officers began working in the unit in January and they received the Chargers in June.
According to Burge and Arnold, the traffic safety unit has made a positive impact since the department received the grant. Arnold said they discovered that tickets have gone up and wrecks have gone down.
The department totaled the number of tickets given and the number of wrecks between Jan. 1 through Aug. 21, 2007. Arnold said that wrecks were down 15 percent and the number of citations given was up 45 percent compared to the same time period last year.
The two officers also spend time educating the community on traffic safety, Arnold said. He said Wilson and Cameron have spent time teaching local high school students the importance of safety while driving.
While on the road, Wilson and Cameron focus on working crashes and enforcing traffic laws versus patrolling zones and answering dispatch calls, Arnold said. He said the officers are able to participate in other patrol duties as needed.
The officers will concentrate on high violation areas and will also pay attention to Alcoa Highway, where 70,000 to 80,000 vehicles travel daily.
“Any complaint we have on traffic, we address pretty promptly,” Arnold said.
So far, Burge and Arnold said the traffic safety unit is meeting expectations and said there has been a lot of positive feedback from the community.
The department’s traffic safety unit was audited once this year by the Tennessee Governor’s Highway Safety Office and was found to be “in full compliance for the traffic safety grant,” Arnold said. The department is also required to provide quarterly reports on their expenditures to the highway safety office.
The department also received a $31,000 grant, that was written by Parsons, for wide area saturation patrol overtime and $5,000 for a High Visibility Law Enforcement Campaign grant for equipment. Arnold said the department used the equipment grant to purchase two LIDAR guns.
Morris said the LIDAR is more accurate than the radar when monitoring drivers’ speeds because the laser can pinpoint a speeding driver in a group of vehicles.
Arnold and Burge said the police department is focusing on making Alcoa’s roads safer with these grants and they hope drivers will also focus on traffic safety.
“We encourage people to allow themselves enough time to get where they’re going,” Burge said.