Two communities in the Press distribution area have acquired a reputation for speed enforcement.
One, Woodville, is home to Speed Trap Diner, an eatery located at the village limits featuring a 1950 DeSoto black and white police car with a cherry on top, which is attached to the diner’s roof. The other, Northwood, has two red-light camera intersections that also nab speeders in addition to red light runners. At the Woodville Road-Lemoyne intersection, there are digital signs that flash motorists their speed, warning them to slow down before the camera shoots their picture.
As you can see, neither community hides their speed enforcement policy. In Woodville, Police Chief Roy Whitehead told a Press reporter he found the diner’s approach humorous and a positive influence on his department’s goal of reducing speed past two elementary schools located on U.S. 20. The four-lane highway has heavy truck and transient traffic.
In Northwood, the Woodville-Lemoyne intersection is located in front of the Northwood Schools complex. It is one of two intersections with red light cameras; the other is at Oregon and Wales roads.
So, are their reputations for aggressive speed enforcement deserved?
It would appear so, according to information recently compiled by The Press news staff. Northwood issued 1,457 speed violation tickets in 2009, despite a population of 5,471 and its 8.4 square-mile size. These numbers do not include speed violations at two intersections equipped with red-light-speed cameras. By comparison, Oregon, a city with a population of 19,355 and 38.1 square-miles issued 726 speeding tickets for the same period.
Woodville ranked second with 928 tickets despite its population of 1,977 and its 1.25 square-mile size.
Northwood also led the eight communities surveyed in the increase in speeding tickets from 2008 to 2009, suggesting the city is being aggressive to shore up revenue during the recession. Violations jumped from 809 in 2008 to 1,457 in 2009.
Northwood Police Captain Trent Schroeder said officers are not issuing more citations due to the recession.
“Our officers professionally police our community in attempts to increase the safety and security of the residents and visitors of the city,” said Schroeder.
“The increase of all traffic violations is directly attributed to the enforcement efforts of our officers,” said Schroeder. “We have made a concerted effort to focus heavier on traffic enforcement compared to some previous years. In 2009, approximately 6 million vehicles traveled east and west on Woodville Road at Lemoyne Road, along with an approximate 3.5 million vehicles traveling across the intersection of Oregon Road and Wales Road.”
Increased traffic enforcement, he added, reduces crime, which was down 9.65 percent from 2008.
Speed fines vary and are calculated according to how fast the violator is traveling over the posted speed limit, according to Schroeder. For example, the average speed fine is approximately $110, placing the vehicle in the range of 11-15 mph over the speed limit. Out of the $110 fine, $39 goes to the state of Ohio and the remaining revenue goes into the general operating fund of the city.
The number of speeding citations is lower in school zones and highways, compared to citations coming from other city streets, said Schroeder. Although school zones are heavily enforced, the enforcement time of the school zone is limited, leaving the majority of an officer’s shift open to patrol other areas in the city when possible.
Unless an assignment is given to focus on a certain area or police are acting under the direction of a grant, the location where enforcement occurs is based on the discretion of the officer, said Schroeder. “Since excessive speed is the number one reason for traffic crashes, officers will frequently focus their enforcement efforts on heavily traveled areas of the city,” said Schroeder.
Although enforcement of the speed limit is important, police give top priority to calls for service, said Schroeder.
“Calls for service are the first priority when it pertains to the Northwood Police Department’s responsibilities,” said Schroeder.
Northwood has also had red light speed enforcement cameras installed at Woodville and Lemoyne roads, and Oregon and Wales roads, two intersections with the highest traffic accident rates. The cameras have been operating at those intersections for the last five years and the city recently renewed its contract with Redflex, the company from Arizona that administers the cameras. The cameras take photos of the license plates of motorists who speed or run red lights. In 2007, the city received $65,186.09 in revenue from citations issued to motorists at those intersections. In 2008, the revenue dropped to $48,455.42, and in 2009, the revenue was further reduced to $36,506.72.
Schroeder said the amount of accidents overall has decreased since the installation of the cameras, as evidenced by the decreased number of citations issued at those intersections.
In 2003, there were 21 accidents with three injuries at Woodville and Lemoyne roads. In 2006, the year after the cameras were installed, there were 13 accidents, out of which three involved injuries. In 2009, there were 17 accidents, with two injuries.
Since the cameras were installed at Woodville and Lemoyne roads, there has been a 5.8 percent decrease in accidents, said Schroeder.
At Oregon and Wales roads, the number of accidents has been drastically reduced as a result of the cameras, as well as a continuous turn lane from eastbound Wales Road to southbound Oregon Road that was installed with funds from the citations. In 2003, there were 33 accidents with three injuries, and 18 accidents with one injury in 2006. In 2009, the number of accidents at Oregon and Wales dropped to seven, with one injury.
Since the cameras have been installed at Oregon and Wales roads, there has been a 19 percent decrease in accidents, said Schroeder.
Excessive speed is directly connected to crashes, said Schroeder. “And we have experienced a reduction in crashes over the past years.”
The following statistics show the reduction:
• 368 in 2003;
• 306 in 2004;
• 303 in 2005;
• 262 in 2006;
• 251 in 2007;
• 237 in 2008;
• 215 in 2009.
Long before Roy Whitehead became the police chief of Woodville the Sandusky County village had a reputation as a speed trap.
And with the police department issuing 2,057 speeding tickets to motorists between Jan. 1, 2007 and Dec. 31, 2009 – a number that includes 928 in 2009; 507 in 2008, and 622 in 2007-- many motorists might contend that reputation is still deserved.
But Chief Whitehead counters that patrol officers exercise their discretion and usually give warnings to motorists exceeding the limit by 10 miles per hour or less.
“Our average ticket is for drivers going 13 miles an hour over the posted limits,” he said in a recent interview while sitting in his patrol car on Main Street. “We definitely give many more breaks than citations.”
And with U.S. 20 cutting right through Woodville’s downtown business district and passing Woodmore Elementary School and Solomon Lutheran School, village residents – those with young children in particular - are supportive of a rigorous enforcement of speed limits, the chief said, adding he is often criticized for the department not writing more tickets.
Except for those in pre-school and kindergarten or having special needs, students either walk or ride bikes to school, the chief explains, and many use a cross-walk in the downtown district.
The speed limit in the school zone is 20 miles per hour during the zone’s restricted hours and the limit on Main Street in the downtown area is 25. Not surprisingly, most tickets are issued along the school zone and business district.
Non-residents have speculated that because Woodville has no municipal income tax, village officials rely on fines from speeding violations to bolster village coffers and departmental operations.
Chief Whitehead notes, however, the village has a 7.4-mill property tax and state law requires a portion of that be allocated to public safety.
The village doesn’t have a mayor’s court. Traffic cases are heard in Sandusky County District Court 2, which functions as a municipal court but also has jurisdiction in surrounding townships.
According to court figures, it remitted $47,167 to the village in 2009 from all fines stemming from citations issued by the police department, including drunk driving and drug arrests.
In Oregon, police have issued fewer speeding tickets in the last two years, according to statistics provided by the Oregon Police Department.
In 2008, police issued 876 speeding citations, and 726 in 2009.
The revenue from citations goes into the city’s general fund.
There were 29 speeding tickets issued in school zones in 2008, and 18 in 2009. On I-280, there were 82 tickets issued in 2008, compared to 43 in 2009.
It is left to the officer’s discretion on where to set up radar, according to Oregon Police Lt. Hank Everitt. “Officers know where the problem areas are in their assigned patrol areas and can use unencumbered time (time not on a call or taking care of other duties) to target these areas. Occasionally, we will instruct officers to work a certain area based on complaints, crash statistics, or traffic enforcement grant requirements.
What priority is given to officers to ticket speeders compared to other responsibilities?
“We are a community policing based agency,” said Everitt. “In large part, we allow the officers to determine how much priority they place on traffic enforcement as opposed to other responsibilities. We do not assign quotas or have a standard for citations.”
Village police officers issued 70 speeding citations in 2008 – 11 each along Washington and Main streets.
Seventy speeding tickets were also issued in 2009.
“As with most police departments, funding has been limited during the last several years,” said Chief Randy Hill, “As a result, personnel and equipment have been reduced, thus hindering the ability to be proactive in daily operations.”
According to Charles Brinkman, village fiscal officer, the village received $3,237 from Ottawa County Municipal Court in 2009 from all fines.
The village receives half of the fine amount levied by the court, he said.
Chief George Hayes said most of the speeding tickets issued by his department are for violations on residential side streets where the limit is 25 miles per hour.
Traffic around Woodmore High School is one of his primary concerns, he said, but the department doesn’t routinely use radar patrols in an attempt to catch speeders.
According to department records, 12 speeding citations were issued in 2009 and 27 in 2008.
In 2009, the Elmore Police Department received $100 from the Ottawa County Municipal Court in drunk driving fine disbursements. The village received $300 in drug fine disbursements and $671.50 in other court disbursements, according to the court’s annual report.
In the Village of Walbridge, on-duty police officers enforce speed limits as part of their patrols. There are no specific assigned areas.
“Traffic control is just as important as all the other responsibilities for the police department,” said Walbridge Police Sgt. Curtis Schober. “Having said that, there is typically only one officer working per shift. Due to this fact, the officer on duty is also responsible for working for handling all other calls for service that may occur over the duration of the shift.”
Radar enforcement areas are determined by officer discretion, Sgt. Schober said, adding, “An officer may use personal observations, complaints from citizens and safety to make this determination.”
In 2008, police issued 132 speeding tickets. Speeding citations were down, in 2009, numbering 72. The numbers represent convictions for speed through Walbridge Mayors Court.
The fines from speeding tickets represent three percent of the police budget, Sgt, Schober said.
Oak Harbor has multiple state highways heading through town, which for traffic duty draws the enforcement efforts of the village police, Ottawa County sheriff, and state highway patrol.
Steven R. Weirich, who has served as police chief since November 2002, says his department has a “higher priority on handling calls and criminal patrol than speed enforcement.”
Sgt. Robert W. Paulsen along with two full-time and four part-time officers work under Chief Weirich.
There were 31 speeding tickets issued by the police department in 2008 and 37 in 2009. Chief Weirich says the average revenue per violation his department receives after court costs and other expenses is $16, which provides less than one percent of the department’s budget.
Weirich said citations in school zones and state highways do not create more revenue than in residential and other areas.
To determine the locations police set up radar, Chief Weirich says the department listens to resident’s complaints and pays attention to where accidents occur. The chief adds that speeding violations are a duty for all on-duty police personnel.
“Officers are specifically assigned to enforce speed at a specific location,” Chief Weirich said. “Most are done while on normal patrol.”
The Oak Harbor Police Department also provides a 24 hour communication center that deals with the walk-in public, paying fines, waivers and bonds as well as getting copies of reports. Chief Dispatcher Anna Bahnsen, oversees the communication center, and has one full-time dispatcher, and five part-time dispatchers working this center.
“Keeping the community safe is always our main concern,” said Pemberville Police Chief James Darling.
One to three officers work daily in the village of Pemberville, including performing traffic duties. In 2009, village police issued 1,073 traffic warnings and 100 speed citations.
The village receives 30 to 50 percent of the original cost for a speeding citation, the revenue from which is put into the village general fund.
According to Chief Darling, concerns from citizens are a consideration when determining where police focus on speeding and other traffic enforcement areas.
Contributing to this report: Kelly Kaczala, Larry Limpf, J. Patrick Eaken, Tammy Walro.