McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State House

June 30, 2014

Slowing down speeders: Area towns disclose speeding citation numbers

ENID, Okla. — Since the beginning of the year, one area police force has issued 200 speeding citations while another has handed out just six.

Waukomis Police Department wrote 200 speeding citations between January and June, with fines generating revenue of $40,500.

“Do you know how many vehicles travel up and down Highway 81 every day?,” Waukomis Police Chief Robert Asch asked, when questioned about the high number of citations in comparison to other communities. “There’s an average 3,000 vehicles on that road at any given time during the day. So, if you actually break it down, it’s not that high.”

Average police stop speeds were 63 mph in a 45 mph speed limit zone.

Asch said most of the speeding citations written by the police department are issued on U.S. 81. There are some speeding citations written in the community’s school zone, during the school year.

There were 198 warnings issued for speeding since January, Asch noted.

“People say we’re a speed trap. We don’t set the speed limit on the highway, the state does,” Asch said.

Waukomis police officers do not have a quota for issuing tickets, he said.

Asch would not disclose how many officers work on a shift, due to concerns that someone may see the number of officers on shift working on the highway and take the opportunity to commit a crime in Waukomis.

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Citations                  Fines

Fairview: 6                $506

Cherokee: 61       $14,292

Lahoma: 83          $15,903

Kingfisher: 84         $9,516

Alva: 106              $11,306

Hennessey: 146   $27,625

Waukomis: 200    $40,500       

Note: The fines for Cherokee are the fines for all citations during the time period. Speeding ticket fines could not be separated from other fines. Hennessey speeding ticket fines are face value and cases may have been dismissed or fines reduced.

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With one officer working per shift in Fairview, there were just six speeding citations issued since January. The citations generated $506 in revenue.

Dispatcher and Court Clerk Amy Gibson said officers follow city ordinances and state statutes when issuing citations in the community — through which U.S. 60 runs.

If an officer is working on another case, they cannot be working traffic cases, she noted.

In Hennessey, there were 146 citations issued between January and May 31. Face value revenue from those citations was $27,625.

Police Chief Hank Weber said some of the citations may have been dismissed or the court may have reduced fines.

When it comes to issuing traffic citations, Weber said his policy is for officers to “react firm, fair and reasonable.”

“All traffic stops or encounters are different,” he said. “I believe the citizen has the right to discuss the issue with the officer, to explain the situation. I believe you would be surprised at the speeds officers typically write citations.  

“The majority of citations for speeding would be written in excess of 10 miles over the posted speed limit.”

U.S. 81 and Oklahoma 51 intersect within Hennessey.

“With the surge in domestic oil production, this has greatly increased traffic,” Weber said. “It also seems the number of traffic collisions has dramatically increased (over) the (past) few years.

“Speed limits on the highways, even in town limits, are set by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, not the town. They set limits based on trends, traffic flow and reported traffic collisions.”

According to Weber, the police department receives a “great deal” of complaints about speeding on the highways as well as within the corporate town limits.

“We try to focus efforts to slow traffic down. The point of traffic enforcement is not to write books of citations, but rather to gain attention to driving and deterrence,” he said. “Our warning-to-citations ratio is probably two to three warnings to every citation.”

There usually is one officer on duty per eight-hour shift. During high traffic or special functions, there may be as many as three officers on duty per shift, according to Weber.

“Circumstances like domestic abuse or multiple arrest calls also would result in additional officers activated to provide requisite manning, based on the circumstances,” he said.

In most of the months between January and June 13, Alva police officers handed out between 11 and 17 speeding citations a month — writing a total of 106 speeding citations that amounted to $11,306 in fines.

The only exception was May, when there were 43 citations issued.

City Manager Joe Don Dunham explained that the increase was made possible through a traffic grant.

“We had additional officers on the street that were working nothing but speeds,” he said. “It paid for (their) overtime.

“It was a grant to curb speeding.”

There typically are two officers working per shift. In May, there were as many as two additional officers per shift patrolling for just speeding violations throughout the community, according to Dunham.

Alva officers work traffic, robberies and other crimes, he said. They also serve as detectives, when needed.

U.S. 281 and U.S. 64 run through the community.

Kingfisher officers wrote 84 speeding citations between January and June, with fines amounting to $9,516.

The police force takes school district enforcement very seriously, Police Chief Dennis Baker said, noting the numbers between January and June would have included school district enforcement.

“We write a lot of school zone tickets and we have three different school zones that we have to watch,” he said. “A lot of that’s going to be school zone violations as well, before school was released for the summer.”

One of the larger school zones is located on U.S. 81, and there is a lot of traffic on the highway in the mornings and afternoons, he said. There also are a lot of students crossing the highway to get to school from the east side of town.

“We have a number of crosswalks through that school zone. We watch that pretty close, try to keep people slowed down,” he said.

There are no policies for issuing speeding citations, Baker said.

“Our policies just talk about officer discretion and about how, sometimes, depending on the circumstances and the violation, how a warning may suffice,” he said. “We write a ton of warnings.”

During the January to June time period, the department wrote 268 speed-related warnings.

The department implemented courtesy stops seven or eight years ago. During a courtesy stop, drivers are informed of issues with tag lights, taillights, headlights or other equipment.

“We did some studying and looked at numbers, a year to two years ... after we implemented that, because we expected some things to happen. We found that (what) we hoped would happen actually did,” he said.

The number of arrests for larger violations — no driver’s license, no insurance, wanted individuals, drug offenses — went up, and in some cases doubled. It also was found that accident reports had been cut in half and some minor violations, like vandalism, were down as well.

“I think, just the increase of presence, and people seeing that, had some effect,” Baker said. “So we do make quite a few stops.”

Officers have discretion when writing tickets and each stop is different, according to Baker.

“The violation itself, you take that in consideration, the person’s attitude and demeanor, their traffic record. There’s a lot of things that go in the consideration before a decision is made to either write or not write a citation,” he said.

Typically, there are two officers working per shift, but sometimes a third will be on shift, Baker said.

“We’re real small out here,” Lahoma Police Chief Lloyd Cross said. “We generally have only one officer on duty at any given time. We have to focus on regular patrol around town. We have burglary calls, assaults, larcenies, so we can’t focus on any one thing, like speeding, or seatbelts or anything like that. We try to cover everything.

“We do sit out on the highway and watch for traffic violations, that’s what we do. But whether it’s a seatbelt or improper driving or speeding, DUIs, things like that, it’s a total emphasis. It’s not just any one thing.”

Between Jan. 1 and May 31, there were 83 speeding citations issued in Lahoma. The citations amounted to $15,903 in fine revenue for the community.

Cross said the majority of speeding citations are issued on U.S. 412.

“A lot of that is because, like I said, we’re so small,” he said.

Cross said non-highway citations usually are drivers running stop signs or seatbelt violations.

“Occasionally we’ll have something in a school zone,” he said.

There were 61 speeding citations written between January and June in Cherokee.

Due to the difficult process of separating speeding citation revenue from all citation revenues, town officials provided the amount of revenue for all citations — $14,292.

Cherokee Police Chief Mike Andrews said the department does not have policies related to writing speeding citations.

There are four full-time officers employed in Cherokee and usually just one patrolling at a time. The officer on patrol handles all calls, Andrews said.

U.S. 64 runs through Cherokee.

Watonga officials did not provide the number of written speeding citations and revenue, despite repeated requests for the information.

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