MOUNT VERNON — A pilot program geared toward reducing speeding in school zones, off-route trucks, and other traffic issues in Mount Vernon is getting positive results since its inception six months ago.
The program calls for a dedicated officer — Ptl. Justin Trowbridge — who primarily handles traffic complaints, accidents, and other violations. An initial three-month trial begun in May stretched to six months.
Trowbridge does not work normal shift hours. Instead, as Police Chief Robert Morgan put it, Trowbridge works “rush hour to rush hour,” which is from before school is in session to after it lets out.
“We think it's a valuable program, and we are going to continue with it.” — Police Chief Robert Morgan
“In the six months we have been doing this, we have seen a marked reduction in complaints,” Morgan said, specifically referencing a reduction in speed in school zones. “Having a dedicated traffic enforcement officer also allows other officers on the shift to handle other calls and not handle traffic issues.”
Trowbridge said the criteria for the traffic officer is school zones and residential areas. Residential area issues include running stop signs, speed, and use of trucks on residential streets.
Relating to schools, Trowbridge said he has concentrated on Twin Oak, Mansfield Avenue around Dan Emmett Elementary, Pleasant Street Elementary, and East Elementary.
Violations are down on Mansfield Avenue around Dan Emmett Elementary, as well as the areas around Pleasant and East elementary. However, Twin Oak is still prevalent for speeders. Trowbridge said trucks are still a problem on residential streets, mainly because they are using their GPS and Google maps for routing.
“The nice thing about the program is I get a lot of neighbors coming up to me, and I learn about other issues,” Trowbridge said. “They are grateful things are being addressed.”
In areas where enforcement is difficult from the patrol car, Trowbridge moves to the street to monitor. Positive results, he said, come from “not just seeing a patrol car; it's the enforcement action.”
Trowbridge still handles crashes, which numbered 117 during the six-month trial period. Of those, 102 were non-injury; 15 involved an injury. He said being a dedicated traffic officer gives him more time to focus on hit-skips, which typically get pushed back due to higher-priority incidents.
“Crash reports pull away a lot of time [from officers],” he explained. “[The program] has allowed patrol units to focus on other things.”
Trowbridge also assists the city's code enforcement officer with removing vehicles, helps disabled vehicles, handles parking complaints, and sets up the department's speed signs.
The department has one speed sign but has ordered two more. Trowbridge said the sign provides data on speed and traffic volume, information which he can pass on to night shift officers so they can help monitor problem areas.
Morgan said the program is not just about giving out tickets and reducing speed. It also includes investigating accidents and accident prevention, issuing warnings, and educating the community.
“We think it's a valuable program, and we are going to continue with it,” Morgan said.
Future plans include possibly adding an enforcement officer to the night shift to handle citizens' complaints and impaired driving issues.
“The program is in direct response to the city's strategic plan and where stakeholders have told us to focus,” Mayor Matt Starr said.
The top five priorities are:
• Police protection
• Fire and EMS
• Utility infrastructure
• Transportation infrastructure
• Economic development
“We are focusing on the first four and creating an environment for the fifth to happen,” Starr said. “I am really proud of this department for seizing the moment, showing initiative, and improving public safety.”
Mount Vernon is not the only city taking steps to increase traffic safety and reduce violations. Neenah, Wisconsin, budgeted nearly $91,000 this year to hire a dedicated traffic enforcement officer.
Neenah Police Chief Aaron Olson said the program is going exceptionally well.
“By deploying a dedicated officer who promotes and facilitates the smooth and orderly flow of traffic to reduce traffic congestion, reduce motor vehicle violations within the city, and promote overall traffic safety for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians, we are seeing a reduction in traffic crashes and speeding complaints,” he told Knox Pages via email. “We are extremely happy with this new program and hope to increase the number of traffic officers in the future.”
The Appleton, Wisconsin, police department implemented a six-month trial traffic enforcement program on June 1. Montana's Hamilton Police Department started its dedicated officer program on Sept. 25.
A federal grant in the 1970s enabled the police department in Eugene, OR, to hire four Traffic Enforcement Unit officers. The department added three new motorcycle officers to the team in 1989.
Now known as the Traffic Safety Unit, the team currently consists of four officers overseen by a sergeant.
Melinda McLaughlin, public information director for the Eugene PD, said via email that given the department's levels of staffing versus the many calls for service, officers do not always have time to make traffic stops.
"Dispatch is constantly sending the officers to calls based on priority. An officer can’t stay on a call with a traffic offender if they get a call of a crime in progress that is a higher life/safety priority," she said. "Yet, the safety of our roads impacts us all. Traffic safety officers can focus on the road safety issues and do special, targeted enforcements as problems arise. They can also fill in on high-risk calls that are in progress as needed."
McLaughlin said another benefit is the officers are specially trained for traffic and can assist in traffic control planning for public events and dignitary visits.