May 9, 2008
Police step up traffic patrols
City streets with high accident rates, routes 281 and 13 targeted
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Cortland Police Department officer Sean Byrnes keeps an eye on traffic along Clinton Avenue Thursday afternoon. The city has increased patrols in high-traffic areas of the city.
Local police agencies are using state grant money to increase patrols in traffic areas that have high accident rates around the city and county.
From now through September, extra patrol cars will monitor areas identified as being high risk for crashes, including Port Watson Street and Clinton Avenue in Cortland, and Tompkins Street and Route 281 and the southern section of Route 13.
The Cortland City Police Department and County Sheriff’s Department each received state grants from the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee to increase police presence in areas where car accidents happen most often, said Lt. Jon Gesin of the city police.
The program, called STEP for Selective Traffic Enforcement Program, is aimed at cutting down on risky driver behaviors such as using cell phones while driving and following too closely.
“When enforcement increases, incidents go down,” Gesin said. “That’s why the state continues to give out this grant money.”
City police received an $8,700 grant, which Gesin said will be used to put extra patrol cars on Port Watson Street and Clinton Avenue between 3 and 6 p.m. weekdays.
The Sheriff’s Department has used the $10,000 grant it received to keep a closer eye on Route 281 and Route 13, from the south end of Tompkins Street to the county line in Virgil, said Lt. Mark Helms, who oversees the Sheriff’s Department road patrol division.
City police plan to run the additional patrols on Clinton and Port Watson streets through September. During that period in 2005, there were 538 crashes, with one fatal and 83 resulting in personal injury. In 2006, there were 451 accidents, with two deaths and 60 injuries resulting from them.
In 2007, the first year the department participated in the STEP program, there were 423 crashes that resulted in 58 injuries and no deaths in those areas.
While accidents went down in the city between 2006 and 2007, traffic tickets went up — year-end numbers for 2006 and 2007 were 2,655 and 2,676, respectively.
“We believe it’s a factor,” Gesin said of the STEP program.
Both the city and county police patrols will be looking for distracted and aggressive drivers.
“A lot of what we see lately is driver distraction,” Helms said, adding that the department has issued 310 tickets for cell phone use this year and issued 303 cell phone tickets for all of 2007.
“It’s one car right after another on that,” he said.
Gesin said other “distracted behaviors” include brushing teeth or applying makeup while driving or letting a pet ride in a driver’s lap. Too many people riding in the front of a vehicle is also a ticketable offense, since it constitutes an obstructed view.
“You’ve got to have at least one hand on the wheel,” Gesin said. “On this detail, we’d ticket that.”
While the grant also specifies speeding as a target behavior, Gesin said the areas city police are targeting are not hot spots for speeding during hours they are increasing patrols.
“In those areas, there’s so much congestion,” he said. “We find that it’s more confusion and being distracted — and not paying attention.”
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