Park City police officers pulling over driver after driver after driver
The Park City Police Department in the second half of 2009 stopped 4,244 drivers, an average of nearly one per hour every hour of every day during the six-month period, recently released police statistics show.
The numbers are some of the most striking evidence of the department’s progress in its long-running efforts to curb speeding and drunken driving, among other moving violations. The Police Department in recent years has bolstered its traffic patrols, especially in neighborhoods, and has been the key player in City Hall’s wider efforts against traffic violators.
The Police Department released the data during City Hall’s recent budget talks, and some of the information in the report is more detailed than what the department releases in its annual crime reports.
The numbers cover only the first half of City Hall’s last fiscal year, a time period that ran roughly from July 1, 2009 until Dec. 31, 2009. City Hall’s fiscal years run from July 1 of a year until June 30 of the next year.
The 4,244 traffic stops outpace, by a wide margin, the rate of the previous three complete fiscal years. In the entire 12-month 2009 fiscal year, police officers pulled over 2,355 drivers. The number during the entire 2008 fiscal year sat at 2,065 while the figure in the 12 months of the 2007 fiscal year was 4,883.
The 4,244 traffic stops also greatly exceeded the Police Department’s target of 3,000 traffic stops, which had been forecast for the entire fiscal year instead of the six-month period between July and December.
"You’re seeing the community more and more concerned about traffic safety," said Phil Kirk, the Police Department captain who oversees the patrol division.
People who live in Park City have complained about speeding drivers for years, with stories of drivers hurrying through neighborhoods and buzzing down the state highways that lead in and out of the city. In some instances people have posted their own signs with anti-speeding messages and in other cases they might motion to or yell at drivers they are worried about.
Kirk said Parkites from divergent neighborhoods and walks of life support the increased enforcement. The traffic patrols have emphasized neighborhoods rather than the entryways, he said, with Police Department data showing 60 percent of the patrols occurred in neighborhoods in the second half of 2009 while the other 40 percent were conducted on either S.R. 248 or S.R. 224. Summit County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Utah Highway Patrol troopers also patrol the state highways.
Both the Police Department’s traffic officers and regular beat officers are under orders to conduct traffic patrols. Meanwhile, Kirk said, the Police Department has increased its fleet of motorcycles, from four to six, in the last year or so, saying that motorcycles are "extremely effective" in traffic patrols.
"We’re not out looking to harass people," Kirk said, indicating the police intended to top the target number of 3,000 traffic stops.
The increased traffic stops led to a sharp jump in the number of citations the Police Department issued in the second half of 2009, and police officers also arrested people suspected of drunken driving at a higher clip.
According to the data, the police issued 1,252 citations during the six-month period, a pace that put the Police Department on a target for upward of 2,500 citations over the 12-month fiscal year. In the previous three complete fiscal years, the citation figure topped out at the 1,509 issued in the 2009 fiscal year.
A separate report provided by the Police Department shows approximately one out of every four traffic stops resulted in a ticket in the second half of 2009, a lower rate than the previous two six-month periods. The others who were stopped were warned.
The Police Department does not operate under a quota system, meaning that officers are not required to pull over or ticket a certain number of drivers during each shift, he said.
The number of arrests on charges of drunken driving sat at 57 in the second half of 2009, a figure that put the Police Department on a pace to roughly double the numbers tallied in the previous three fiscal years.
"There are going to be some people who probably don’t like our enforcement," Kirk said.
The Police Department numbers were released at about the same time a driver who had been stopped late last winter made an unscheduled appearance in front of Mayor Dana Williams and the Park City Council criticizing the way his case was handled. The man contended the Police Department was overbearing. It was a rare instance of someone criticizing the police in a public setting.
But on Thursday, another man, who also appeared unscheduled, spoke favorably about the Police Department’s traffic patrols. Walt Stowe praised officers’ decisions to issue warnings in many cases instead of tickets among other commendations he offered to the police.
Meanwhile, in an interview, Dave Rosenbloom, a Park City attorney who specializes in defending people charged with drunken driving, said he has noticed a "phenomenal" change in the Police Department’s traffic patrols, saying officers have been more aggressive in their enforcement.
"They can always find probable cause to pull someone over," Rosenbloom said, describing that the police then check drivers for alcohol. "They’re pulling over and sniffing more people."
He acknowledged the support for the patrols from regular Parkites, though.
He has especially noticed an increase in nighttime traffic stops. He said police officers working in the overnight hours typically inquire about alcohol in the first moments of a traffic stop.
Rosenbloom recounted a trip he took from Summit Park to Old Town toward the end of the last ski season, witnessing, he said, six traffic stops on the route. Park City police officers were conducting three of the stops, he said.
"Holy moly. I didn’t even know we had this many cops," Rosenbloom said.
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