Putting brakes on violations
The goal is to achieve the reputation Canfield enjoys, a cop says.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The disembodied voice crackled over the CB with an urgent Interstate 680 bulletin: "Full grown bear, your side, 4-mile marker."
Patrolman John Prest smiled.
He was the full grown bear, in plain sight, at the 4-mile marker -- with his own CB.
"There are too many violators, I don't need to hide," Prest said as he monitored northbound freeway traffic from the berm, alternating between dash-mounted radar and hand-held laser. "I usually stop drivers going 12 over" the speed limit.
Drivers who spotted Prest's cruiser or heard the CB bulletin slowed down to 50 mph, the posted speed.
Prest then picked a new spot to park a few miles away, in the median.
He aimed the laser's red dot on the license plate of a silver Chevrolet Impala as it rounded the bend, headed southbound. The laser clocked the car at 66 mph.
Prest hit the cruiser's overhead lights and pulled the Impala over at the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard exit.
A check with the index operator downtown revealed that the driver, a Mineral Ridge woman, had a valid license and a spotless driving record.
"I'm gonna give her a break," Prest said as he left the cruiser to hand the woman back her license. "She didn't realize how fast she was going. She had her seat belt on."
As part of the state's "What's Holding You Back" seat-belt campaign, the city has adopted a zero-tolerance policy -- "click it or ticket" -- for those not buckling up. The campaign includes the mandated use of child restraints.
Lt. Mark Milstead, commander of the accident investigation unit, said the death of a 5-year-old boy catapulted from a van on the North Side this past week could have been prevented had the child been properly secured.
Unbuckled drivers face a $30 fine, and it's $25 for unbuckled passengers.
The crackdown on speeders, meanwhile, began in January when Milstead took a look at a series of multiple-car pileups on 680 and knew something had to be done.
Last year, of the 18 traffic fatalities in the city, five occurred in I-680 freeway accidents, three of them between January and May, Milstead said. From January through May this year, no fatal crashes have occurred on the freeway, and he hopes the trend continues.
Milstead said the idea isn't to have officers hand out as many tickets as possible, but to change the public's perception of traffic enforcement in the city.
The accident investigation unit commander said his goal is to have Youngstown achieve the reputation Canfield enjoys.
"As soon as people hit Canfield, they slow down to 35 because Canfield has a strict-on-enforcement image," he said. "I want drivers, when they enter the city, to know that police could be around the corner."
Police Chief Robert E. Bush Jr.'s desire for an aggressive traffic division took shape about a year ago. Officers, such as Prest, joined the team.
Having a specialized traffic unit to handle traffic enforcement and accidents frees up beat officers to do what they're supposed to do -- answer calls for service, Bush said. Accidents, he said, are time-consuming events.
City police are also working four-hour blocks of time on an overtime basis as part of the federally funded Selective Traffic Enforcement Program. Milstead said STEP targets speeders and seat-belt and child-restraint violators.
In one four-hour block, Capt. Kenneth Centorame ticketed seven early morning speeders this past week on I-680 northbound by South Avenue, where the posted speed is 60 mph. The drivers, from Poland, Boardman, Struthers and New Waterford, were speeding in the 79 to 86 mph range.
"It was really excessive speed for the conditions," Centorame said. "The roadway was crowded and it was cloudy with light rain."
Across town, Prest was kept busy with two accidents.
Aside from $60 in court costs, drivers caught going 1 to 14 mph over the posted speed pay a fine of $85; those going 15 to 20 mph over the limit pay $90. If no other violation is noted, the driver can opt to mail in the fine and court costs.
If caught speeding 21 mph over the posted limit, or some other violation is charged, such as speed in a school zone, driving under suspension, loud music, third violation in one year and so forth, the driver's ticket will be marked with a court date. Then, the fine is up to the judge's discretion.
What happens in court
Municipal Judge Elizabeth A. Kobly said each case is different, and she considers the person's record before assessing a fine. If records show the driver has a history of not paying fines, "that's where it gets interesting."
Judge Kobly said sometimes people will come to court to meet with the prosecutor and try to get a "no points amendment." If the prosecutor agrees, the driver can plead guilty to unsafe vehicle, which carries no points, instead of speeding, which does. A driver who reaches 12 points will have his license suspended and likely see his insurance rates increase.
The $60 in court costs, meanwhile, is split this way: $23 basic court costs; $3 computer fee; $9 to victims of crime; $11 to public defender fund; and $14 special project fee (now for new building).