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October 05, 2004
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ARCHIVE: The Politics of Safety #2

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SOUND: Traffic

PLASKON: The light at the intersection of Summerlin Parkway and Anasazi in the northwest area of Las Vegas turned red and Mina Ozkan stopped. There she saw someone standing in the bushes at the side of the road. On closer examination she noticed it was a police officer pointing a radar gun up the Summerlin Parkway.

OZKAN: The cop was actually hiding behind a tree holding the radar gun and I was kind of laughing at it and after the light turned green I saw there were like 10-15 cops pulling everybody over.

PLASKON: The general speed limit is 55 miles an hour here, but where Summerlin Parkway crosses Anasazi, the speed limit suddenly drops to 35 miles and then jumps back up to 55. When the light's green people regularly speed right through the 35-mile an hour zone. Using 15-20 highway patrol and metro officers, the idea is to catch drivers the instant they pass that 35-mile an hour zone. It's the perfect place to issue speeding drivers tickets and that's what was happening here.

SOUND: Sirens

PLASKON: This traffic enforcement initiative began in June. Every week a dozen Metro and Highway patrol motorcycle officers team up in a different area of town to stop hundreds of cars.

MCDONALD: Actually it was my idea.

PLASKON: Metro Traffic Sergeant Tracy McDonald explains it's part of what police call a pro-active approach to preventing crime. The idea is that issuing tickets to speeders will reduce the number of speeders and the number of accidents. Each week Sergeant McDonald says police set up these enforcement initiatives at dangerous intersections.

MCDONALD: On June 1st we started this initiative and we have already noticed a significant decrease in the number of accidents so we are already calling this initiative a success.

PLASKON: But the Summerlin-Anasazi crossing isn't on Metro's list of 20 most dangerous intersections. Meanwhile, he says using cops for this rather than patrolling the streets limits the ability to respond to emergency calls for service.

MCDONALD: It takes quite an effort to get this many officers together based on the number of calls for service, highway patrol's call for service will not be handled as quickly nor will metros because we are out here doing an enforcement.

PLASKON: Police officers elsewhere say they are in a crunch responding to calls for service that in most cases do not involve a crime at all. Ted Lamay of the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement agencies says Las Vegans should be deciding what takes precedence, traffic initiatives, proactive policing, investigating the most common crimes or responding to calls for service that mostly involve mediation.

LAMAY: Weather there is an auxiliary type group that will handle as the police would say a mediation type thing it is up to what the community will allow.

PLASKON: For now, those calls for service remain a top priority. On KNPR's State of Nevada Metropolitan Police Department Sheriff Bill Young used the high number of calls for service as one main reason voters should approve higher sales tax and fund more officers.

YOUNG: Our cops now log on and they are immediately dispatched to a call and they have 4 or 5 calls that are waiting for them so they hurry up and try to get through that call and then off to the next call and it's not the right way to run a business.

PLASKON: From a business perspective, traffic enforcement initiatives are pretty lucrative. Officers issue more than 300 tickets at a minimum of 167 dollars each, raising more than 50 thousand dollars in 5 hours at each weekly initiative. The sergeant in charge says there is no leniency. But leniency does come in court. Traffic tickets make up 20 percent of Attorney Hank Gordon's caseload. He always negotiates with the city reducing the cost to the alleged dangerous driver.

GORDON: They will usually settle with us because there is no profit in going to trial.

PLASKON: Profits from tickets police issue are up for local city and county government. Ticket revenue is up 10 million dollars since the year 2000 to 26 million dollars a year today. That's mostly due to hikes in fines. Over the same period police have written 60-thousand fewer tickets annually and bring 6 thousand less criminal cases to court - that's even as the population, number of police and level of funding have increased. Now crime is up 20 percent since 2002 according to the FBI. The Sheriff hopes the publics' demand for service is up as well, enough to approve a tax increase.

Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR

TAG: Tomorrow Ky Plaskon explores how approving sales taxes for police would divert tax dollars elsewhere in the city and county. Then on Thursday, guest host Steve Sibelious looks at the ballot initiatives on this issue with a panel of guests on KNPR's State of Nevada.

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