Citing cost, Virginia ends aerial speed patrols | HamptonRoads.com | PilotOnline.com
By Kristin Davis
© November 1, 2009
The Cessna spent 4-1/2 hours in the air Dec. 6, manned by Virginia State Police and winging over Interstate 64 in Chesapeake on a hunt for dangerous drivers.
They issued 14 tickets that Saturday, and it turned out those would be the last. Troopers haven't taken to the sky to enforce the rules of the road since.
Those 14 tickets came at a cost of roughly $90 an hour.
Nine years after Virginia changed its law to allow State Police to catch speeders from the air, the program is effectively over.
State Police blame millions of dollars in budget cuts, which have also forced the closure of its Manassas airport and the sale of one of its planes, spokeswoman Deborah Cox said.
The program might be re-instated when times are better. But the lawmaker who sponsored the bill that made aerial patrols possible doesn't expect that to happen until 2011 or later.
"It's really a shame," said Del. Jim Shuler of Blacksburg. "It's an excellent additional tool to monitor traffic and keep it under control. I hate to see programs like this cut. But the fact of the matter is Virginia State Police have been asked to do more and more law enforcement duties over the last few years with less and less funding."
State Police tout air patrols as a stealthy way to crack down on aggressive and dangerously fast drivers. You can see more from up there, drivers watching for police don't think to look up and radar detectors don't give airplanes away.
In 2000, signs went up along interstates across the commonwealth alerting drivers: "Speed limit enforced by aircraft." Four Cessnas were equipped with devices that calculate speed based on distance traveled and the time it took to travel that distance. A pilot, along with a trooper or sergeant or both, flew over interstates with course sites - three solid white lines at which State Police pushed a button when a vehicle crossed it, Cox said.
If the driver was speeding, the trooper in the air radioed a trooper on the ground, who would pull the car over. By year's end, State Police had issued 671 tickets. In 2001, they wrote 2,145. Then the number dropped drastically the following year, to 686. It fell to 111 in 2004.
Cox said pilots flew depending on weather, budget, man power and State Police projects; they never intended to patrol from the air every day.
When State Police began Operation Air, Land and Speed in July 2006, tickets took a big jump. The project pulled extra troopers to certain areas to target speeders and aggressive and reckless drivers, Cox said. The project continued through all of 2007; nearly 700 tickets were issued that year.
Then came 2008, and a single mission - the one over Chesapeake that produced 14 tickets. Deaths on Virginia roads last year dropped to the lowest point in the more than four decades State Police has tracked them, in part because fewer people were driving.
But, Shuler noted, truck traffic remains plenty heavy on Interstates 81 and 95. Those are the same roadways that concerned him nine years ago.
Kristin Davis, (757) 222-5208, email@example.com