Saving lives, one ticket at a time. This simple philosophy is one of the cornerstones of the Fresno Police Department’s revised traffic safety program. Our agency for the past five years has been changing the behavior of errant drivers, one citation at a time.
In 2002, you were more likely to be killed in a collision than be a victim of homicide. There were 42 homicides compared to 52 fatal collisions. Where as many homicides include people that have made a series of poor lifestyle decisions i.e.: drugs, gangs etc, a fatal collision can strike anyone at anytime.
Interestingly enough, most gang or drug related deaths will rate a front page or the lead story on the nightly news, while a family killed in a traffic collision often is not.
With the surge in drug and gang violence in the 90s the department’s resources were focused on combating those issues while Fresno drivers were not held accountable for their behavior. Gang violence was drastically reduced, but at too high a cost.
Chief Dyer realized the department must also address traffic safety concerns in order to truly have a safer community. A successful traffic safety program must have the three “Es” to be effective: education, engineering and enforcement. The problem as so many departments realize is; traffic enforcement is expensive, and who should pay for it?
Chief Dyer’s philosophy is that traffic violators should pay for their own enforcement costs and law abiding tax payers should not have to subsidize that negligent behavior. This simple concept represents a fundamental shift in traditional policing philosophy where cities often just increase taxes to provide a higher level of service.
In order to have a significant improvement in traffic safety there must be a sustained revenue source. In late 2002, Chief Dyer renegotiated the traffic revenue sharing agreement with the County of Fresno so that a portion of each fine would now go back to the police department, specifically to fund traffic safety efforts instead of remaining with the county.
In California, 20% of the drivers on the road are estimated to be unlicensed and Fresno is no exception. Unlicensed drivers are a huge liability to themselves and the public with their driving inexperience. According to a Triple A insurance study, unlicensed drivers are four to six times more likely to be involved in an injury or fatal collision than a licensed driver.
To reduce collisions involving unlicensed drivers, an aggressive impound policy was implemented. Impounding an unlicensed driver’s car is time consuming and expensive, requiring a large number of personnel. This ranges from the officer on the stop, the dispatcher who handles the radio traffic, teletype officer who enters the information into CLETS, to an entire tow unit who monitors and regulates the tow companies, to the cadet releasing the cars.
The City of Fresno conducted a cost estimate of the department’s time involved and increased the towing fees to cover the department’s actual impound costs. Combined with these two revenue sources, our agency was able to lower traffic collisions, increase enforcement and increase educational opportunities over a sustained period of time; all with out increasing taxes!
The Traffic Bureau expanded from 22 officers in 2002, who all shared the same responsibility of investigating collisions, handling traffic complaints and issuing citations, to 76 officers with specific assignments and additional support staff today.
District Traffic Enforcement Unit (TEU) officers are assigned to the five policing districts and are responsible for investigating collisions, handling traffic complaints from citizens and city council as well as patrol calls for service. Each policing district is assigned a traffic car in addition to the motorcycle officers.
Metro Officers are strictly proactive. They do not handle calls for service or investigate collisions. Their jog is to write citations. Last year the 16 officer squad wrote over 15,000 citations, impounded 900 cars and arrested 44 felony and 765 misdemeanors subjects.
Collision Reconstruction Detectives (CRU) respond to all fatal and major collisions with significant city liability as well as homicide crime scenes involving a vehicle collision. CRU detectives conduct scene, mechanical, autopsy (injury patterns) and reconstruction investigations and follow a case through prosecution. Last year they responded to 76 call outs.
Neighborhood Traffic Unit (NTU) is a 34 officer, two sergeant night time DUI and gang suppression unit. They provide 7 day coverage during the afternoon commute and DUI and gang suppression during the late evening hours. Last year they arrested 1,339 impaired drivers, made 423 felony and 6,028 misdemeanor arrests, issued 17,063 citations and recovered 19 guns!
The Tow Unit has two Community Service Officers and two administrative clerks with a civilian supervisor which is responsible for the monitoring of the 52 companies who tow for the City of Fresno and processing tow related complaints and hearings. The tow unit also conducts business inspections and conducts decoy operations to ensure proper compliance with the city contracts. Our agency towed 19,190 cars last year!
Information and Photos provided by the Fresno, CA Police Department