By Andrew Gorosko

In response to continuing public calls for heightened traffic law enforcement amid growing local traffic flow, the Police Commission has endorsed a planning document explaining how the police will work to enforce traffic laws, with the overall goal of improved traffic safety.

Police Commission members, acting as the local traffic authority, endorsed the eight-page document presented by Police Chief Michael Kehoe at an October 2 session. Police Commission members urged that the plan be implemented as soon as possible. The Police Commission serves as the traffic authority for the town and the borough.

Chief Kehoe noted that due to police staff shortages, the police patrol unit has only about three-quarters of its authorized complement now available for patrol duty. Consequently, a special police traffic enforcement unit tentatively is scheduled to form next spring, when the number of officers available for patrol duty is expected to increase, according to commission records.

The police department currently finds itself short-staffed for a variety of reasons. There has been a high job turnover rate during the past year, with several officers leaving the department for various reasons. One officer is on extended medical leave. Another officer is on a light-duty assignment. Several recruits are undergoing training at the police academy.

When it is formed, the traffic unit would include motorcycle patrol Officer Steve Ketchum and patrol Officer David Kullgren. Also, Officer Jeff Silver would participate in his capacity as the police department's commercial truck inspector.

The traffic enforcement plan's main goals are to reduce the number and severity of traffic accidents, cut traffic congestion, reduce aggressive driving, and control speeding.

By making local roadways safer, police would seek to increase the local quality of life.

"Over the past several years, traffic, traffic congestion, and complaints of traffic violations on our thoroughfares and in our neighborhoods have become more common...Each year the community has become increasingly dissatisfied with the level of traffic, traffic congestion, speeding, aggressive driving and other traffic issues," according to the traffic plan. Police research into public opinion has found "a high level of concern" on traffic-related issues, the plan states.

Traffic is "a neighborhood issue that has an impact on the day-to-day, moment-to-moment quality of life in our neighborhoods," according to the plan.

"Communities support traffic enforcement when it is done with courtesy and professionalism," it adds.

During the past several years, residents' concerns about traffic problems in the town center, and especially along Queen Street and Glover Avenue, have been a focus of much Police Commission attention. The town commissioned the recent Queen Street Area Traffic Improvement Plan to address those issues.

The police's public opinion research, coupled with the many traffic-related complaints made to the police department, to the Police Commission, and to the selectmen's office, indicate that improving traffic conditions is one of the highest priorities for local government, according to the traffic plan.

Police Commission Adopts Traffic Enforcement Plan Continued...

"Saving lives, preventing injuries, and improving the quality of life for neighborhoods will be the driving force in our efforts," according to the plan.

Through the plan, the police would seek to ensure the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists.

Police would seek to have the public comply with traffic laws through their enforcement patrols in marked vehicles, unmarked vehicles, and nontraditional vehicles. The traffic enforcement unit would target the locations of persistent traffic problems.

An existing regional traffic squad, comprised of Newtown, Bethel, and Redding police officers, would continue its focus on enforcing specific persistent traffic violations.

Toward improving the local quality of life, police would continue targeted enforcement against commercial truckers, all-terrain vehicle drivers, and aggressive drivers. Such heightened traffic enforcement also may result in criminal charges against traffic law violators, according to the plan.

As part of a public education campaign on traffic enforcement, police would meet with neighborhoods, schools, businesses, and churches to discuss traffic issues and develop solutions.

The local traffic unit officers would receive advanced training in areas including: radar use, accident investigations, accident reconstruction, child safety seat use, commercial truck enforcement, drunken driving enforcement, and seat belt enforcement.

The police department plans to measure the effectiveness of its traffic enforcement plan. Such measures will include the annual number of traffic fatalities, the annual number of traffic accidents involving injuries, the annual number of traffic accidents involving property damage, and the annual number of traffic-related complaints lodged with the town.

If significant increases occur in such categories, the police department would analyze the causes, deciding whether added traffic enforcement and/or public education, or traffic engineering changes are required.

In the traffic enforcement plan, Chief Kehoe notes that since 1999, the town has received more than $400,000 in grant money for traffic projects. That money has covered approximately 5,200 staff-hours of traffic enforcement, as well traffic equipment acquisition.

The police department's broad goals in law enforcement as stated in its current five-year strategic plan are: achieving voluntary public compliance with the law, protecting life and property against crime, facilitating the safe and rapid movement of vehicular and pedestrian traffic in town, and improving the local quality of life by reducing crime and the fear of crime.