Illegal turns also for police officers
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

BRIDGETON -- What's good for the goose is good for the gander -- at least it should be when it comes to the traffic-pattern changes resulting from the ongoing $14 million Broad Street bridge construction project.

That's the logic several area residents have used in recently contacting the News to report they have observed law-enforcement officers ignoring the temporary left-turn prohibition on Broad Street between Fayette and Laurel streets.

"It ain't right for them to give people tickets when they're going to make left-hand turns themselves," Bridgeton resident Larry Gentile said.

Depending on the circumstances, the heads of two law-enforcement agencies based in the city agree with Gentile and the others.

Tickets for making the now-illegal left turns will cost violators $140, according to the municipal court. Fines are doubled for traffic violations occurring in construction zones in New Jersey.

Gentile, 76, reported that he saw two unmarked, "county government" tagged police cruisers, which were traveling west on Broad Street, make left turns onto Atlantic Street between 3:10 and 3:15 Monday afternoon.

"It wasn't that they were trying to chase anybody," he said. "They were just trying to beat traffic."

Cumberland County Sheriff Michael Barruzza and acting Bridgeton Police Chief Mark Ott said Monday afternoon that they had not heard any complaints from the public about their officers flouting the left-turn prohibition.

Barruzza and Ott feel their officers should follow the same rules of the road as civilian motorists, unless, of course, they are responding to emergencies.

"I agree. If there's not an emergency, it should be obeyed," Barruzza said of the left-turn ban.

"Basically, they should be following standard traffic laws as anyone else would," Ott said.

Barruzza and Ott indicated they would be informing their officers that they must observe the left-turn ban.

"We're putting out a memo just to remind everyone," Barruzza said.

Ott said motorists can report directly to him any instances when they observe city police officers making the now-illegal left turns. It would be helpful if they can provide the police cruiser's number and the date and time of the infraction, he said.

While willing to do his part to make sure his officers aren't taking lefts off Broad when unwarranted, Ott cautioned that appearances can be deceiving.

"You never really can know when an officer is responding to an emergency," he said, noting police officers often will not activate their vehicles' emergency lights and sirens when moving in on suspects, so as to not announce their presence, unless they're traveling at high speeds.

For the record, Gentile didn't contact the News to complain about what he saw because he had received a ticket for violating the left-turn ban, which took effect earlier this month.

In fact, he said he hasn't been ticketed in years.

The bridge construction, with all the traffic-pattern changes resulting from it, including the left-turn prohibition and a ban on right turns on red signals at several intersections, isn't scheduled for completion until May 2009.