New traffic unit targets speeders

Trace ChristensonThe Enquirer • September 14, 2008

Tom Rivera sees Battle Creek with a red dot.

An officer with the Battle Creek Police Department, Rivera peers through the sight of the Pro Laser III looking for speeders.
"Forty, thirty-nine, forty," he reads from display, "Lucky," he said because his unofficial cutoff for a ticket is 10 miles per hour above the speed limit.
Moments later, he calls out "Forty-five," puts down the laser gun and pulls the woman driving the car to the side of Michigan Avenue near Bedford Road.
A few minutes later, Rivera hands her a ticket for 15 mph above the limit, which will cost her $115 in fines and costs.
It's one of several tickets Rivera wrote in a couple hours one morning last week. He is one of three officers working traffic for the Battle Creek Police Department's newly assigned traffic unit.
The newest version of a traffic unit was officially in place Monday, according to Lt. Duane Knight, the supervisor. Five officers and a sergeant are assigned to the day shift unit though they don't all work each day.
"A big part of what we do is trying to get traffic to go slower and so reduce the number of accidents," Knight said. "Speed is a factor in many accidents."
Knight said the department has periodically put extra emphasis on traffic patrols. The last traffic unit operated by the department was in the late 1990s, though Knight said all officers are always encouraged to write traffic tickets.
He said the first priority is writing tickets and covering accidents, but the officers also are available to take 911 calls for service and assist other road patrol officers.
And on both Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, Rivera was called away from traffic to assist with shootings.
Knight said traffic affects many residents of Battle Creek, "and I have calls daily from people who are having trouble with speeders."
He said officers will work in areas of town where speeding and other traffic violations are frequent. When residents complain about a particular area, he will assign officers to add patrol time in those areas "to give a presence when people feel there is a problem."
With the recent beginning of the school year, officers also are closely watching school zones and encouraging bus drivers to complete forms when a motorist passes a stopped bus with students getting on or off.
On Wednesday, Rivera stopped by the Urbandale home of a 78-year-old man after a Battle Creek Public School bus driver said his pickup truck passed her stopped bus on West Michigan Avenue.
The man told Rivera he didn't remember passing any stopped bus and expects to fight the $240 ticket because the sheet completed by the driver was dated more than a week earlier, on Sept. 2.
Also, officers have been told to watch for school buses speeding and Rivera clocked a bus Wednesday at 10 mph above the speed limit in the Urbandale Elementary school zone on North Bedford Road. That information would be turned over to the bus supervisor, he said. Rivera said he didn't pull over the bus driver because police are concerned about the safety risks involved in stopping buses full of kids.
Knight said having officers visible in areas where speeding occurs and writing more tickets can slow traffic and cut the number of accidents.
"This is not about numbers," Knight insisted. "We don't have a quota and I want solid tickets, not cheap shot tickets. I want more visibility and I am OK with warnings. There is no direction on numbers."
As Rivera parks in the narrow driveway of a business on West Michigan Avenue, he aims the red dot of his laser at the grills of approaching cars. Unlike radar, he said, the laser is not confused when several vehicles are traveling together and is accurate up to 4,000 feet.
As he watches traffic in the school zone, Rivera aims at all the approaching vehicles, saying he doesn't care who is speeding.
Pulling over a small car for doing 40 in a 25 mph school zone, he finds a Battle Creek woman in her 70s driving her granddaughter to school.
"The laser doesn't say 'Grandma,'" he said, after giving her a ticket.
Trace Christenson can be reached at 966-0685 or