Blaine’s two newly assigned traffic cops have been busy warning and ticketing people who are speeding through the city.
The Blaine Police Department officially started a new traffic unit on June 14. Between that date and Aug. 15, the two patrol officers stopped 766 vehicles, handed out 370 citations and warned the others that they need to slow down and be more attentive drivers or they could be stopped again and get a ticket next time.
In comparison, the full Blaine Police Department stopped 297 people and wrote 107 tickets between May 16 and June 23. The council had asked the police department to use its overtime budget to do extra traffic enforcement on some of Blaine’s busiest county and city roads.
“It’s that education and creating that responsibility for people that whether they see officers or not the speed is the speed and someone can get hurt,” said Interim Police Chief Dan Szykulski.
During the overtime saturation period from May 16 to June 23, Szykulski directed Blaine Officers Matt Langreck and Zach Johnson to Rice Creek Parkway, 129th Avenue, Lakes Parkway and Radisson Road since that is where the most complaints about speeding come from. The interim police chief asked his two traffic enforcement officers to ticket everyone who was driving more than 5 mph over the speed limit.
Additionally, Szykulski wanted to see whether these speeders were neighborhood residents or people passing through.
On Lakes Parkway, 86 percent of the people pulled over from May 16 to June 23 reside in The Lakes residential development. They found that 64 percent of the people pulled over on Rice Creek Parkway were neighborhood residents.
But on 129th Avenue, only 20 percent of the people pulled over were neighborhood residents.
“The leads up to believe that 129th Avenue is a cut-through,” Szykulski said in his report to the Blaine City Council at its Aug. 17 workshop meeting.
They did not track the local resident statistic for Radisson Road since this is a county road that would typically see more people driving from one end of a community to the other than a city street.
Szykulski said it’s not that surprising to see speeders caught close to home.
“We’ve found over the years even without tracking this information, but anecdotally, we find that people are speeding in their own neighborhoods,” he said, noting that these people are likely speeding in other places as well.
A message Szykulski would like to get across is, “Don’t always look to your neighbor, but keep an eye on yourself. Often times we do happen to go above the limit and we don’t mean to, but they just really need to pay closer attention to their speed limits in the residential areas. There’s just too many things that can happen with kids and bikers and joggers that are going to be unexpected. And if we don’t mind ourselves, then bad things are going to happen.”
Nevertheless, two officers can only cover so much ground and they each work 12-hour shifts but Szykulski hopes that the increased traffic enforcement will lead to people slowing down regardless of whether the drivers see a police squad car or not.
Council Member Wes Hovland believes increased enforcement can make a difference.
“It doesn’t take long for word to get around and it does make a difference. Just having that presence in the neighborhoods will help,” he said.
The key to good traffic enforcement is also to not be predictable and always be on the same street at the same time every week to the point that fast drivers know which roads to avoid or people slow down in those areas before speeding up again.
“They’re trying to do it so they’re getting back to each spot not on a specific rotation but more spontaneously so that they never know when they’re going to be there,” Szykulski said. “If we work one road for a week and we don’t get back there for three (weeks), bad habits are going to come back into play.”
Beyond making traffic stops and writing tickets, Szykulski said these two officers can “be the eyes” for city engineers and the Blaine Traffic Commission as they look for options to address residents’ concerns about a particular street.
“We can put the tubes and we can put our trailers out to do (traffic counts and speed control), but sometimes physically being there and seeing what is taking place is a lot better to be able to relate back to other departments,” he said.