Traffic citations speeding upward
by Jamie Belnap
Jul 14, 2009 | 150 views | 0 | 6 | |
Law enforcement officials say trend is due to more cars on roads, better enforcement
Motorists not adhering to local traffic laws are the No. 1 problem local law enforcement agencies combat, and traffic citations issued across the county show it’s a problem that continues to grow.
The Sheriff’s Office recorded a record-high 3,420 traffic citations last year — a 20 percent increase from the previous year and a 62 percent increase from the 2,115 citations issued in 2004.
“Population growth and the increase in traffic flow that comes from that is why we’ve seen an increase,” said Tooele County Sheriff Frank Park. “Since we got our new mobile radar sign three years ago, we’ve been able to record the time of day we have the highest levels of traffic and speed violations, allowing us to narrowly focus a deputy in an area that is going to be more productive.”
Park also attributes the trend to better enforcement.
“The caliber of officer is going up and the training is better,” Park said.
Deputies on motorcycles tend to have the most success catching up with violators, because motorists are generally keeping watch for a squad car with lights affixed to the top, rather than a maneuverable motor bike.
“We have four motorcycles, one assigned to each shift, and their main emphasis is on traffic patrol,” Park said.
Agencies who work to patrol the county’s more populated and well-traveled areas tend to see even more citations per year, however. The Utah Highway Patrol’s Tooele section office issues the most citations in the county, mostly because traffic control is the agency’s main task.
“I-80 and SR-36 are some of the county’s busiest roadways,” said UHP Lt. Troy Marx. “That’s where we see the most speed and other traffic violations.”
Although UHP’s traffic citation statistics for the last five years resemble the shape of a bowl — decreasing from 5,672 in 2004 to 3,411 in 2006 before jumping back up to an all-time high of 5,690 in 2008 — the agency has seen the steepest jump countywide in citations recently. Between 2006 and 2008, UHP citations issued increased 67 percent. Marx attributes the increase to technology now present in every squad car on his force.
“Now, with the computers and software we have in our cars, we are able to keep troopers out on the road more,” Marx said. “They can do everything in their car that they used to have to go back to the office for.”
The Tooele and Grantsville police departments have seen similar up-and-down trends in citations issued in the last five years.
Tooele cops saw a slight dip in traffic citations issued during 2006 compared to 2007, but overall have seen fairly consistent increases over time. Grantsville has generally seen more of an upward trend over the last five years, though the department did record an 8 percent decrease in 2008 compared to 2006 — from 1,938 to 1,781.
“One of the reasons we are seeing an increase is because we are striving to respond to citizen complaints,” said Tooele City Police Chief Ron Kirby. “We get complaints on a regular basis and we post them to all officers. When they have time, they go and hit that street.”
Kirby said his officers are generally kept busy responding to calls for service, but try to do traffic enforcement whenever possible. When officers are participating in traffic control, however, the No. 1 citation they issue is for speeding — a trend that all local agencies are seeing.
“Seventy-five to 80 percent of our traffic violations are speeding,” Park said. “That’s the easiest thing to enforce because of radar units. And then sometimes the mere fact that they are speeding leads to other citations. The speeding gives us the right to pull someone over and then we might find they don’t have the appropriate paperwork in their vehicle.”
Traffic citations are also issued for stoplight and sign violations, improper seat belt use, driving without an active driver’s license, driving without functioning lights, reckless driving, and improper lane changes or turns, among other infractions.
Motorists speeding is especially common in Stockton, where officers keep watch for Dugway commuters failing to yield to the reduced speed limit signs.
“Ninety to 95 percent of our traffic citations are speeding,” said Stockton City Police Chief Heinz Kopp. “In any given month we issue a minimum of 40 and a maximum of maybe 100 speeding tickets. Most people don’t slow down. They fly right by you. One of my officers recently pulled over a gal going 81 in a 40.”
Park said while it’s nice to see traffic citations going up overall because of the increased safety it brings to the roadways, the trend doesn’t benefit his office financially.
“The number of citations does not increase our operational budget,” Park said, adding that deputies who issue the most citations don’t qualify for any special honors. “It doesn’t help the Sheriff’s Office, but hopefully it helps the other people driving down the road.”
Kirby echoed that sentiment.
“We receive no feedback for the money coming in because of traffic citations issued,” Kirby said. “It gets dropped into the city’s general fund. We don’t see any of it. We certainly recognize the officer with the most citations for being proactive, but that’s about it.”
Jamie Belnap: email@example.com