Citizens on radar patrol

Agencies involve volunteers to address a common complaint


     "It needs to be clear to us that this is not just one person against another," says Sgt. Kevin Fagerstrom, who recently retired from the Shoreline Police Department.

     After signatures are obtained, city staffs meet with residents to identify their concerns, talk about the NTSP process and work cooperatively with them to select preferred solutions for addressing these concerns. The Speed Watch Program is one of several possible solutions that residents can choose to pursue. Neighbors pick up the radar units, and receive proper training on how to use them, from their neighborhood police center.

     Data collected by citizens will be compared with data collected by a traffic engineer using traffic counters.

     "It's very important that citizens are given proper training to use a radar gun," emphasizes John Marek, an associate traffic engineer in Shoreline. "There are ways to use the radar gun that would give them better results from their efforts."

     Upon borrowing a radar gun, citizens are instructed that the radar gun is to be used strictly for monitoring.

     "They are not in any way to attempt to engage or otherwise influence a violator," Fagerstrom says.

     If a pattern develops as citizens are recording speeding violations, for example, a neighbor goes out three times and sees the same red Corvette speed by, an officer will contact the registered owner and inform him or her that complaints have been filed. The officer also lets the violator know that the police department has a low tolerance for speeding violations observed by officers.

Speed monitoring in Seattle since 1979

     In Seattle, Washington, the Neighborhood Speed Watch program is administered by the Department of Transportation. Programs like these are fairly common in this area, particularly in the suburban cities (including Shoreline and Kirkland), says Luke Korpi, who supervises Seattle's Neighborhood Traffic Engineering section for the Seattle DOT. In some cities near Seattle, the police department administers the program. To maximize resources and encourage a collaborative approach, Korpi advises police departments to develop a close relationship with the city's public works or transportation department.

     Seattle has had a Neighborhood Speed Watch since 1979, and thousands of citizens have participated over the years.

     "We require citizen involvement and make it their responsibility to collect the initial data," he says. "Sometimes, they feel that we should do this for them. Sometimes they have concerns about neighbor retaliation."

     But, Korpi reports there's been no real resistance.

     At one time, Seattle sent letters to the owners of vehicles who were caught speeding but the city no longer does that.

     Citizens running radar on residential streets in Seattle are advised to be discreet. For example, it's common for citizens to sit in their cars and run radar.

     Overall, Korpi estimates Seattle has implemented more than 1,000 neighborhood traffic calming projects citywide (some of which have included the Neighborhood Speed Watch program) and has reduced speeds and collisions as a result.

Making lemonade

     From time to time, residents within a community will disapprove that someone's aiming a radar gun at them — and fire back with a letter or contact the news media.

     "The public can sit in their driveway selling lemonade or do whatever they want for the most part," Furseth argues. "Citizens running radar are just trying to keep the streets safe."

     After a teenager is caught speeding and parents receive a letter informing them the vehicle was observed speeding at this time and location, Furseth says they are usually thankful it was brought to their attention. That, he says, is different than the negative — and defensive — reaction parents have to their teenager coming home with a speeding ticket.

     St. Joseph Police Department in Missouri has not received any complaints since citizens started running radar in their neighborhoods this past June, but many negative comments were posted online in response to a newspaper article.

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