Citizens on radar patrol

Agencies involve volunteers to address a common complaint

     "Cars keep going past my house at 100 mph."

     The complaint is a familiar one. In fact, Keep Kids Alive Drive 25 reports speeding in residential neighborhoods represents the single greatest complaint to police departments — and city council representatives — throughout the United States.

     Often what follows the complaint is a request that an officer catch the speeders on radar and issue speeding tickets. While complainants might think this is a quick fix, they need to realize it's not always feasible, especially in neighborhoods with little traffic.

     While an agency can't send a unit out to run radar on every neighborhood street, the complaint can't (or shouldn't) be ignored. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Speed Campaign Toolkit, nationally in 2005, 86 percent of all speeding-related traffic fatalities occurred on non-Interstate roadways — where the posted speed limits were 55 mph or lower.

     Understanding the seriousness of the speeding problem, law enforcement agencies throughout the nation are enlisting the help of volunteers to run radar.

A community policing tool

     "A citizen radar program is an excellent community-oriented policing tool to establish collaboration between the police and the residents to solve a neighborhood quality-of-life problem," says Chief James Kruger Jr. of the Roselle Police Department in Illinois.

     The name of the Roselle program says a lot: Citizen Assisted Radar Enforcement (C.A.R.E.).

     In citizen radar programs, volunteers monitor vehicle speeds using a department-issued radar unit. The vehicle speed and time are written on a log sheet. In the event a violation is observed, the volunteer will attempt to document the vehicle's description and license plate number. Usually, letters are then mailed to the registered owners advising them of the observed violation. When citizens run radar, they don't issue tickets or appear in court.

     "There's no enforcement, but it sends out a strong message," says Lt. Daniel Furseth of the DeForest Police Department in Wisconsin.

     The programs are educational for everyone. Drivers who are going too fast learn they need to slow down, neighbors often learn that vehicles aren't actually traveling as fast as they thought they were, and police departments learn how to more effectively allocate resources to address speeding problems in their communities.

A negative turned positive

     Before learning about SpeedWatch, a program offered by the DeForest Police Department, a group of neighbors were upset about what they saw as the police department's failure to address a speeding problem. Without first contacting the police department, they vented their frustrations at a village board meeting.

     "It would have been nice if they would have let us know about how they felt, but it was actually a great opportunity," he says.

     For three months, Furseth had the SpeedWatch policy, instructions and log sheet done, and a battery-operated radar gun but no volunteers.

     Leaving the meeting, the residents walked out with these things in hand and smiles on their faces.

     Since DeForest started its SpeedWatch program almost two years ago, Furseth says the chronic complainants have stopped carping. Although participation in the program has been waning recently, overall, DeForest citizens felt good about taking part in their neighborhood's speeding solution. One neighborhood even made a day of sitting in lawn chairs and running radar.

Vendettas not allowed

     In Shoreline, Washington, the Speed Watch Program is part of the Neighborhood Traffic Safety Program (NTSP), which combines engineering, enforcement and educational efforts to address neighborhood traffic safety concerns. Before citizens can participate in the program, the community must obtain seven signatures from neighbors who agree there is a problem.

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