Beaufort police can't keep up with speeding complaints
Published Thu, Jun 5, 2008 12:00 AM
By BRANDON HONIG
Louis Rabinowitz moved back to Beaufort 6 1/2 years ago, and he spent his first year in town "railing" about drivers' excessive speed near his Bay Street home.
"It is dramatically a problem," he said. "It's very, very fast in both directions."
Rabinowitz contacted the Beaufort Police Department numerous times, and an officer went to his house to "quiet his complaints," Rabinowitz said, but the police presence remained "nonexistent."
"I am firmly convinced that nothing's going to get done about it until some child gets hit or some senior citizen gets hit crossing the road," he said Wednesday.
The problem, police Chief Jeff Dowling said, is not a lack of awareness or a lack of caring about speeding in residential Beaufort neighborhoods; it's simply a matter of priorities.
"Our first priority is to respond to citizen calls, and then we have an obligation to ensure the highways are safe," he said Wednesday. "We work as much traffic as we possibly can, but with call volume today, we're just not able to do as much traffic enforcement as we would like."
Last year, the Beaufort Police Department received 51,498 calls -- about 1,000 a week. During the same period, it handed out 5,992 traffic tickets -- about 115 a week.
"When I was a kid in Beaufort, we were reminded pretty heavily ... (not to) go through Beaufort doing any traffic infraction," City Councilman Mike Sutton said Wednesday. "(There has been) a population increase and a service call increase, and the police department hasn't grown (as much)."
The council last month nudged up the police budget for fiscal year 2009, which begins July 1.
The budget increased from about $4 million to $4.2 million and includes money for a "giant display" that shows drivers the speed they are traveling as well as the posted speed limit. Dowling said the equipment will cost $8,000 to $9,000 and could be in use by late July.
"That (equipment) is a big deterrent," he said. "We have borrowed the sheriff's before, and it's a great tool."
He said the display likely will be used in residential neighborhoods as well as other "target areas" in the city.
"Target areas are normally brought to our attention by complaints," Dowling said. "Calls come in and (officers) set up in that area."
In target areas, the department also sets up equipment -- noticeable as rubber hoses lying across the street -- that measures the speed of each car for seven days. The numbers don't lie, and while they sometimes show residents' complaints are accurate, sometimes they are not.
"Some cars, by shape and sound and especially larger vehicles, like a school bus or large delivery truck, it looks like they're speeding, but when you put a radar on it, it's actually not," Dowling said. "We have gone and set this device up and come up with an average speed at 32 or 33 mph. What that means is it's a perception problem."
Often, however, the complaints are valid, and data show drivers going as fast as 50 or 60 mph in a 30-mph zone.
"If it shows the average speed is way up there, then we are going to work it strong, and word will get out that we're doing radar in that area," Dowling said.
Reducing speeds is vitally important, Dowling said, because speeding is the No. 1 cause of collisions and injuries in the state.
Speeding is rampant in the downtown residential neighborhoods, Sutton said, and there are "constantly" accidents, particularly on Charles Street, which many people use as a shortcut between Carteret Street and Ribaut Road.
"The east-to-west streets become major thoroughfares during (rush hour) and any time there's a bridge closing or an accident," he said. "I would love to see us have some enforcement in that arena that would give confidence back (to residents) that we are concerned about public safety."
Sutton added that the empty police cars often seen parked on the side of the road in Beaufort help deter speeding, but he would prefer to see more cars with officers inside, using radar.
"I guarantee you if you put a car on the side of the road and people don't realize they are speeding, they'll slow down (when they see the car)," he said. "But you've also got to get some interaction between officer and citizen."
The Beaufort Gazette: Beaufort police can't keep up with speeding complaints