2012-08-02 / Front Page

Police release traffic report

Study shows citations are consistent with recent past
BY TIM RIEL

A study by the Police Department has concluded that the number of citations issued to drivers in Jamestown this year is consistent with the average yearly total dating back to 2007.

According to the report, Jamestown police officers have issued 361 traffic citations through the first six months of 2012. The fiveyear average is 745. At this rate, Jamestown officers will issue 722 citations in 2012.

Police Chief Ed Mello crunched the numbers after several residents contacted him and voiced their concerns about speeding on the island. Before beefing up traffic enforcement, Mello said he wanted to make sure that speeding was an actual epidemic, not a perceived one. In order to do so, the chief adopted a department-wide policy to establish a standard method of responding to traffic complaints.

“We wanted to see if the speeding problem is reality,” said Mello, “or perception.”

The new procedure took effect in December. It consists of three topics: engineering, education and enforcement.

“Traditional policing response to traffic-related complaints resulted in assigning officers to enforcement at specific sites,” Mello wrote in his report to Town Administrator Bruce Keiser. “This often resulted in limited impact.”

With that in mind, Mello said added enforcement in a particular area would be a last resort. To figure out whether a specific stretch of road was prone to speeding motorists, Mello, along with Sgt. Karen Catlow, who oversees the department’s traffic matters, began evaluating traffic speeds on the roads that drew the most criticism: Conanicus Avenue, Southwest Avenue and North Road. The department used obscure devices to detect speeds over the course of a determined time.

For example, Jamestown police evaluated speeds on Conanicus Avenue near the police station over a weeklong period in December. Out of 36,034 vehicles, nearly 92 percent drove above the 25 mph posted speed limit. The majority of cars drove between 26 and 35 mph (27,346). Only 3,036 vehicles drove at the speed limit or below; 1,079 drove above 40 mph.

“After we evaluate the traffic speeds,” Mello said, “we take time to look further into the issue.”

Mello and Catlow, with help from Town Engineer Mike Gray, then began to study the situation. They assessed the road’s construction and design. Was 25 mph appropriate? Was there adequate signage?

That’s when they discovered a problem. Going north on Conanicus, the speed posted was 30 mph; going south, it was 25 mph.

“We had a conflict,” said Mello. “So we had to do something about that.”

Town officials went in front of the state traffic commission, and now both sides will posted at 25 mph. (The town is still waiting for the 30 mph sign to be changed.) “We realized that Conanicus is a residential area with a lot of kids,” Mello said. “And there are crosswalks. We decided it should be 25 mph for safety reasons.” (Another example is north of the overpass on North Road, where the speed limit is 25 mph. South of the overpass is 40 mph, and officials decided there wasn’t adequate signage north of the overpass to alert motorists that the speed limit decreased. Since then, the Public Works Department has added signs.)

After the engineering phase was finished – not just at Conanicus but at other troubled intersections and stretches of road throughout the island – Mello turned his attention to education. Residents may remember seeing message trailers equipped with radar detection earlier this year. Mello said the purpose of the signs wasn’t to catch speeders, but to make them aware.

“It lets drivers know that we are concerned about speeding in certain areas,” Mello said. Mello said that by posting those signs, it gives people who travel that route fair warning that it is a section that may be enforced.

While police enforcement has been a hot-button topic with some residents recently, Mello says the numbers show that his officers show leniency and discretion, especially toward residents.

In a three-month analysis (Jan. 1 to March 31) that Mello prepared for the Town Council, it showed that officers issued 182 citations. Of those 182 citations, 53 percent were given to non-residents, even though, according to Mello, that study was done in the winter when nearly all traffic is attributed to islanders. Of the 86 citations issued to islanders, 54 had previous violations or were already warned. From January to March, according to Mello’s report, only 32 islanders without a clean driving record were issued a citation.

In the six-month report, which didn’t contain whether the drivers were residents or not, officers issued 856 verbal warnings. Less than half as many citations were issued during that time frame.

“We do give a lot of latitude,” said Mello. “The officers have discretion. They don’t like handing out tickets. There are factors. Were there recent education efforts in that area? They also look at the driving history of the offender. They even consider if the driver is a resident or not.”

Mello added that the rule of thumb for police officers is 10 mph over the speed limit. He said rarely will a motorist get pulled over for going 30 mph in a zone posted 25. If the 10 mph allowance were attached to the Conanicus report, only 16 percent would have exceeded the 35 mph and been subjected to a traffic stop, not the 92 percent that drove faster than the posted speed limit.

The number of citations issued in each of the last five years were 891 in 2007, 914 in 2008, 714 in 2007, 624 in 2010, and 582 in 2011. While the five-year average is consistent with this year’s number of citations, 2012 is on pace to become the most-ticketed year since 2008. The three-year average is 640 citations, or approximately 80 below this year’s projected total.

No town money was used for additional officers during this study. All overtime was funded by state grants.

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