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Published: Thursday, 3/21/2002

Speeding `buffer' admitted in Waterville, not elsewhere

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Waterville police officers are encouraged by their boss to give drivers as much leeway as possible when it comes to speeding tickets - up to 12 to 15 mph over the speed limit.

Although there is no written policy, Steve Miller, Waterville's acting administrative chief of police, said he's trying to avoid giving the community a reputation as a community “so tight” that officers ticket motorists going five or six mph over the speed limit.

“We do not want to have a reputation as a ticket mill,” he said.

Several area law enforcement agencies contacted yesterday said there are no written policies or rules, and it is up to the individual officer's discretion as to how many miles per hour one can travel over the speed limit before being stopped.

The wiggle room an officer gives to the offending motorist can vary by such factors as weather and road conditions, location (a school zone or congested business district versus a rural stretch of road), and the speed at which the driver was clocked, law enforcement officials said.

When asked whether there is any “buffer” for motorists traveling through the city of Maumee, Police Chief Robert Zink said the speed limit is the speed limit.

Likewise, Lt. Gary Lewis, spokesman for the Ohio Highway Patrol, said the OHP's official stance is that “the speed limit is exactly that.” Motorists who exceed the limit are violating the law, he said, noting that 23 percent of fatal crashes in Ohio are speed related.

But Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre said it's fairly common knowledge that law enforcement officers offer a little leeway before stopping someone for speeding.

“The speed limit is the speed limit, but we are realists,” he said, adding that it would be unusual for an officer to write a ticket to everyone who was driving one or two miles over the limit.

Chief Navarre said when he ran radar patrol, there were enough people driving 70 mph in a 55 mph zone that he didn't have to worry about the slower violators.

“Normally, there's enough offenders out there that officers pick the worst offenders,” he said. “Going 10 mph over in a school zone may be much more dangerous than on a freeway.”

Sergeant Jeff Hook of the Michigan State Police's Monroe Post said there is “no such thing” as a magic number that would determine whether a trooper would pull over or issue a ticket to a speeding motorist.

“Every department is a little different, but as far as our department goes, we don't have a number that decides what we do. It's all officer discretion,” Sergeant Hook said.

Waterville officers, who are told to use their own discretion when issuing citations, are concentrating their efforts on “clear-cut offenses,” Chief Miller said. If a person is cited for going 12 to 15 mph over the speed limit, then that is “clearly a good stop” by the officer, he said

Typically when that happens, he added, the ticket won't be contested.

But the department's approach on issuing speeding tickets primarily to motorists who blatantly violate the law is raising some concerns.

Jamie Black, a Waterville Township resident and longtime supporter of efforts to make U.S. 24 safer, said he thinks the Waterville Police Department's buffer of 12-15 mph might be “a bit high” when it comes to traffic along U.S. 24.

“Stricter enforcement is better” on that highway, a major artery for truckers with a lot of curves as it travels alongside the Maumee River, he said. “If you can get people to slow down, it helps efforts to make a safer road.”

Mr. Black said he would like to see the police department's policy reviewed.

Council hasn't had the chance to review the matter at the safety committee level to decide whether elected officials agree with the police department's guideline, Waterville Mayor M. David Myerholtz said.

The guideline shouldn't be so stringent that motorists are ticketed for going a mile or two over the limit, he said, and it shouldn't be “excessive as far as the allowance is concerned.”

Until council met last week, officials did not know about the department's approach to issuing traffic citations, the mayor said.

Chief Miller commented during the meeting about a speed limit “buffer” after council member Lori Brodie asked about the number of tickets issued by the police.

According to the department's monthly report, 34 traffic citations were issued during February, compared with 149 during the same month last year. Year-to-date figures show 73 traffic citations for 2002 versus 280 tickets for the same period in 2001.

Mayor Myerholtz said yesterday that he was concerned about the numbers in the report, but noted that the department has been “operating two people short” and that could help explain the numbers in the report.

The number of tickets has declined in part because one of the officers who left the department nearly a year ago, was a “ticket writer,” said Chief Miller.

While Waterville officers won't be writing as many as they did under the former chief, “we need to bring the numbers up some for balance,” Chief Miller said.

If an officer is writing tickets for motorists going 10, 12, or 15 mph over the limit, he will not get pressured to write tickets for 7 over or 8 over, the chief said.

Instead of emphasizing traffic enforcement, officers are assigned to more foot patrols to give them a chance to talk with the community, the chief said.



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