Targeting Speeders: Putnam deputies focusing more on traffic laws
By Bob Mayes

The number of speeding tickets written by Putnam County deputy sheriffs has risen significantly since 2001.

That year, 352 drivers were written up for “unlawful speed.”

Ticket writing increased dramatically the next year, when 1,330 speeding tickets were issued. Three years later, the number peaked at 2,712 and has dropped slightly since.

Dean Kelly, who became sheriff in January 2005, says the figures reflect concerns voiced by residents.

“I think the reason you see the big spike in speeding is I said, ‘I hear what you are saying,’” Kelly said in a recent interview.

“If the citizens are saying, ‘Because of speeding or traffic-related problems, my family is being put in jeopardy,’ how dare me not address that issue?”

The increase began during the last term of four-term sheriff Taylor Douglas, but surged after Kelly took office.

Now a real estate agent, Douglas attributed the increase to grants that paid for increased enforcement, including a focus in drunken drivers, and special equipment, such as radar units.

Douglas said deputies did “traffic enforcement when the call volume allowed.

“I encouraged my officers to use a lot of common sense and discretion when issuing a traffic citation,” he said.

Kelly said the emphasis during his tenure was in response to priorities stated in community forums and the agency’s Citizens Contact Program.

Deputies have asked about 14,000 residents their concerns since the CCP began in 2004.

Traffic issues dominate the tally, according to the sheriff’s office.

The top 10 are speeding vehicles, drug activity, reckless driving, juvenile activity, suspicious persons, four-wheelers, animal complaints, noisy vehicles, noise complaints and littering.

Speeding vehicles was cited more than twice as often as drug dealing.

“Speeding is by far the No. 1 complaint we hear,” Kelly said. “When I talk about this, people say, ‘Kudos, you ought to be doing more.’”

As Kelly’s first term in office has unfolded, the number of overall and speeding tickets peaked n from the surge that started near the end of the Douglas administration n in 2005 and has declined each year since.

Here are the annual figures:

n 2001 n 352 (total traffic citations 2,686).

n 2002 n 1,330 (5,425).

n 2003 n 1,987 (6,125).

n 2004 —- 1,841 (5,007).

n 2005 —- 2,712 (7,049).

n 2006 —- 2,537 (6,271).

n 2007 —- 2,415 (4,891).

During the first quarter of this year, 846 tickets have been written, of which 355 were for speeding.

If that pace continues for the rest of the year, deputies will write 3,384 citations, including 1,420 for speeding.

Why the decline over the last two-plus years?

“There are two possible causes,” said Kelly, who is seeking a second term. “Our call volume has increased by 10 percent (while not adding personnel), giving deputies less time to perform traffic enforcement duties.

“The second thing is we hope that we are seeing better compliance as a result of the enforcement.”

Just more than 100 sworn sheriff’s personnel are authorized to write traffic citations; only two of those are designated as traffic deputies. Kelly said that while traffic is important, it is only a part of what the sheriff’s office does.

“Every deputy is a traffic cop,” he said, “but they have other duties that do not allow them to focus their energy (on traffic enforcement).”

The sheriff acknowledged his unmarked patrol car carries a radar gun and he makes traffic stops.

“If the occasion warrants me making a traffic stop, I will,” he said. “Whatever the appropriate act is, I will take it, whether it is giving a citation or giving a warning.”

Deputies do not have a monthly quota of tickets to write, Kelly said.