Fort Collins police zoom in on traffic violations

Number of tickets to nearly double '05 level by year's end

BY NATE TAYLOR June 7, 2009

Fort Collins police have consistently increased the number of charges filed for traffic violations in the last four years, and the agency is on pace so far in 2009 to nearly double its total from 2005 by charging drivers for roughly 19,000 violations.

Drivers are being charged with an average of 52 traffic violations per day so far in 2009, which is still 10 more than the per-day average in 2008 and is 24 more than the per-day average in 2005, according to data provided by police at the request of the Coloradoan.
In 2005, the agency filed charges for 10,261 drivers for traffic infractions. In the following two years, the agency increased on the previous year's total by an average of 1,132, but in 2008 there were 2,650 more charges filed than in 2007.
And at the clip officers are at so far this year, there will be an even larger leap by the end of 2009 of approximately 3,365, compared to 2008.
The increases have come while Fort Collins' population has increased from an estimated 122,297 in 2005 to 137,200 in 2009.
As traffic unit Lt. Jim Szakmeister points out, that sort of crackdown doesn't happen by accident. He said since 2006 when Captain Don Vagge took over the patrol division, there has been a concerted effort to catch more drivers in the act.
"For many years on the citizen surveys, traffic enforcement has always been number one or number two for citizen complaints," Szakmeister said of the biennial surveys the city conducts. "(Vagge) just said we need to respond to this. Back then, he talked to all the watch commanders and asked the patrol division to enforce the traffic laws with more consistency."
In the city's 2003 citizen survey, 46.2 percent of respondents rated traffic law enforcement as average, poor or very poor. By 2008, that number dropped to 36 percent.
Vagge's charge to patrol officers has been aided by the addition of an extra photo radar vehicle, two traffic unit officers and a second intersection utilizing red light camera enforcement since 2006.
Szakmeister said those additions along with an increased focus from the traffic unit and all patrol officers has been the source of the increase. He even said officers aren't shy about pulling over violators while off duty.

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"Quite a few officers, when they are driving off duty, will make traffic stops and give out tickets," he said. "When you look at everything we're doing as a whole, that's why there is an overall increase."

Despite the efforts of police, Kathy Agnew, 49, a resident in Fort Collins for the past 28 years, said she still doesn't feel safe on the city's roads.
"So many people break the law as far as running stop signs or running red lights," Agnew said, admitting that she has a speeding ticket on her record in recent years. "There are a lot of crazy drivers out there."
Mason Carter, 75, has lived in Fort Collins for 11 years, and he said he does feel safe on roads, but said the increased focus on traffic patrol is only worthwhile if there are fewer crashes on the roads and drivers obey speed limits.
"We are blessed with some wide streets here, but it's rare to drive on Timberline and not have cars passing you," Carter said.
Statistics provided to the Coloradoan by police earlier this year showed injury crashes inside the city dropped from 816 in 2004 to 316 in 2008, a 61 percent reduction.
Speeding violations always have been a focus of police; but in recent years, statistics show other violations have led to charges, as well.
In 2007, the number of speeding violations comprised approximately 76 percent of all charges, a figure that dropped to 63 percent in 2008 and is on pace to fall to 58 percent in 2009. The total number of speeding charges, however, is on pace to increase from 5,403 in 2007 to 6,900 in 2009.
"I think traffic safety is important," said Gary Bamford, a resident of Fort Collins for 23 years. "I''m assuming police officers are looking at significant safety concerns and not being petty and focused on raising revenue."
Szakmeister said revenue from traffic violations does not go directly to the police department fund, but rather to the general city fund.