Reorganized cops issuing more tickets

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

If you’ve got a lead foot, beware.

Sweet Home Police Department has dedicated one officer and is planning to dedicate a second to running traffic.

Last week, his first dedicated to working traffic, Officer Ryan Cummings wrote 37 tickets.

At this point, the department is writing about one ticket for every one or two warnings, Police Chief Bob Burford said.

Last year, the department reorganized, with two police officer positions assigned to traffic, but with call loads and a lean roster, the department didn’t get those officers working traffic right away.

Based on citizen surveys and input, the City Council’s direction and the Budget Committee’s comments, Burford said, the department would emphasize traffic enforcement “when we can bring staffing up to a level that would allow it.”

The department’s newest officer, hired in July, is on the road solo, Burford said. “That’s allowed us to assign an officer to work traffic.”

Cummings is a state-certified drug recognition expert, Burford said, so he was the logical choice for the traffic assignment.

Cummings is working a rotating shift that includes weekend nights and weekdays, Burford said. He is focusing on the downtown area, areas around schools and specific issues in specific neighborhoods based on citizen complaints.

For example, he is watching First Avenue where drivers of loaded trucks sometimes use the street as a shortcut between Highway 228 and Highway 20. Trucks are prohibited on that street.

“What we’ve been trying to do is get him all over and be highly visible to let the public know he’s out there, beware,” Burford said.

The majority of the citations issued last week were for speeding violations, Burford said.

“In our organizational structure,” Burford said. “We have an officer still off on long-term disability. Once that officer returns to work or we fill his position, we’ll assign a second officer to traffic.”

Right now, the department has a traffic officer 25 percent of the time, Burford said. When the second officer is assigned, the city will have traffic coverage 50 percent of the time.

The traffic officers also will work during department sting operations and during traffic blitzes, he said.

Traffic enforcement is not about generating revenue, Burford stressed. “The purpose of traffic enforcement is to change driving behavior.”

Money from writing tickets does not go to the Police Department, Burford said. “It costs us money to enforce traffic.”

Fines and fees are divided among the city, county and state. Approximately 9 percent is sent to the state, 1 percent to the county and 3 percent to the Circuit Court and restitution, city Finance Director Pat Gray said.

In April, the city received $27,392 in fines and fees. The city’s general fund received approximately $23,857, which is used to pay court-appointed attorneys, the judge and operate the Municipal Court.

If an officer believes only a warning may be required to change a driver’s behavior, then the officer issues a warning, Burford said.

Factors affecting whether an officer issues a citation include how fast the driver was traveling over the speed limit, the number of warnings the driver may have received, how long the driver has been driving and whether the driver seems willing to accept a warning in the spirit it’s given.

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