The Buckeye Police Department's traffic officers focus as much oneducating residents about traffic safety as enforcing laws, whichthey say has made the roads safer for drivers. The traffic unit was created almost three years ago, and, after aninitial spike in citations, the numbers have been decreasing, asign that traffic Sgt. John Larson said shows public-educationefforts are paying off. "The public is aware that we're out here and we're aggressivelydoing traffic enforcement, whether we give them a citation orverbal warning," Larson said. "I think the education does a lot forit." Officers Erick Halim and Larry Buchanan make up Buckeye's trafficunit, which was created in September 2009 when the PoliceDepartment bought two motorcycles using grant money from theArizona Governor's Office of Highway Safety. |
A year later, theyadded an undercover Ford Mustang, which also was purchased withhighway safety office grant money, to help catch aggressivedrivers. The number of traffic citations officers wrote spiked in fiscal2010, the unit's first year, with speeding tickets increasing from1,351 in fiscal 2009 to 2,165. Criminal speeding -- driving 20 mphover in a 45-mph zone -- jumped from 9 to 27 in the same time.Similarly, citations for failing to stop at a stop sign increasedfrom 350 to 506. But the numbers have been on the decline since, with speedingcitations dropping to 1,339 and 948 in fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2012(through March 31), respectively. Stop-sign violations fell to 403and 295 in the same time period, while DUI arrests have droppedfrom 215 in fiscal 2010 to 87 in fiscal 2012.
"The guys are still writing a lot of tickets, but they're notwriting as many as they were," Larson said. "That's an indicationthat people are getting educated, that they are slowing down." Larson said the two officers "are very proactive" in conductingenforcement in school zones, residential areas, on all townroadways and in areas where the department gets traffic complaintsfrom residents. They also work with the West Valley DUI Task Force. He said the high visibility throughout the town of the officers andthe unit's two motorcycles and Mustang are good deterrents.
Halim and Buchanan said they also teach residents about theimportance of following traffic laws during each traffic stop, atcommunity meetings and public events and through presentations theymake to students at the town high schools. "A lot of people don't understand," Halim said. "They think thatwe're out there just to write tickets, but our goal is to preventaccidents." The number of non-injury accidents decreased since the unit wasformed, dropping from 316 in fiscal 2010 to 204 in fiscal 2012. Butinjury accidents increased during the same time from 3 to 52.
Larson said it's difficult to pinpoint a cause for the increase ininjury accidents because there are so many different factors,including road and weather conditions, driver experience andimpairment. The officers often conduct enforcement in areas where residentscomplain of frequent traffic violations. Most recently, they weredoing enforcement in construction zones in Verrado where speedersalmost hit construction workers, Halim said. Larson acknowledged a two-officer traffic unit is small forBuckeye's size -- the planning area is about 600 square miles, witha population of more than 50,000. But he said the unit still isimportant because the officers can focus solely on trafficenforcement, unlike patrol officers, who must respond to calls forservice from residents.
He said the grants from the highway safety office have been vital. "Nowadays, as tight as everybody's budget is, we're doing more withless and we're lucky to get these grants, that we can get themanpower to work these kind of details," Larson said. "I thinkthat's made a big difference." Halim said they have begun looking for more grants to try topurchase a four-wheel drive vehicle that they can use on the manydirt roads throughout the town. He and Larson also are optimistic the economy is improving and thedepartment's new budget will provide enough funding to hireadditional officers to expand the traffic unit. "It's getting a little better every year, and ..
I think theeconomy is starting to turn a little bit so hopefully we can hiresome more officers come July 1," Larson said. "We definitely needmore manpower to cover as many square miles as we have." Buchanan urged drivers to slow down and stay calm while out on theroad. "Pay attention to signs, your surroundings, and watch what you'redoing," he said. "Before a lot of people get angry at the other carcutting them off or something like that, take a breath.".
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