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Drive carefully: Borough police start traffic safety unit for Middletown

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 2/28/18

If you’re speeding when you cruise into Middletown, you might want to take your foot off the gas from now on.

Maybe make sure you stop at that stop sign, use your turn signal, and that all …

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Drive carefully: Borough police start traffic safety unit for Middletown

Posted

If you’re speeding when you cruise into Middletown, you might want to take your foot off the gas from now on.

Maybe make sure you stop at that stop sign, use your turn signal, and that all your lights are working.

In other words, drive like your mom — or borough police — are watching. If your mom isn’t, chances are better these days that borough police are.

Police Chief George Mouchette has formed a new traffic safety unit.

The unit will allow police to provide more “focused attention” on enforcing traffic laws in the borough, said Patrol Officer Juan Castro, who has been assigned to lead the new unit under Mouchette and Sgt. Dennis Morris.

For example, police on routine patrol can seldom focus their full attention on traffic enforcement, because they must respond to all types of 911 calls and requests for community assistance.

But for officers assigned to a traffic detail through the new unit, their first priority is on traffic enforcement for as long as the detail is in place, Castro said. Police while on traffic detail can be called away, but only for calls of “a more serious nature.”

The new unit, including Castro and three other officers, plans to hold dedicated traffic details on a regular basis each month.

The time and location of each detail will be based on traffic-related concerns made known to the department, through call statistics, multiple observed violations, and/or community complaints.

The officers assigned to the unit will be expected to identify areas of concern regarding traffic issues borough-wide, Castro said.

When not assigned to a traffic detail, these officers will be expected to interact with borough residents and provide community education “in order to reduce traffic collisions and maintain a safe environment for motorcyclists, cyclists, and pedestrians on borough streets,” he added.

Two traffic details have already taken place since the unit was stood up in late January.

On Friday Feb. 2, police issued 11 citations during a traffic detail focused in the area of Spring Street and Wharton Avenue.

Motorists were cited for speeding and running a stop sign. One arrest was made for a small amount of marijuana and for possession of drug paraphernalia.

Police were called away from the detail to respond to a man in a nearby parking lot who had overdosed on heroin. Police gave the man three doses of Narcan.

A fourth dose was given by emergency medical personnel who took the man to the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

On Friday Feb. 16, police issued 19 citations during a six-hour traffic detail from 4 to 10 p.m. The detail started on North Union Street and later moved to West Main Street near the Wells Fargo Bank.

Most of the violations were for speeding, careless driving, and failing to obey a traffic control device. Police made one arrest for DUI and drug possession.

The 11 citations from the Feb. 2 detail totaled $1,746, while the 19 citations from the Feb. 16 detail netted $3,472.50.

That sounds like a lot of money going to police, but that’s not true, Castro said. “Popular misconceptions that traffic citations generate revenue for the borough are false.”

The borough gets 50 percent of the fine portion of the citation.

For example, if a driver gets a $141.50 citation for running a stop sign, the fine accounts for $25. The rest goes to emergency medical services and for court costs.

That leaves the borough’s take at $12.50, which the borough gets only after the motorist agrees to pay the citation, or is found guilty.

If the motorist fights the citation before the district judge, “in most cases an officer will be required to attend a court hearing for an issued citation meaning the $12.50 would not cover the majority of expenses the borough incurs during a traffic detail,” Castro told the Press & Journal.

In some cases two officers may have to attend a hearing. Then, a traffic ticket may end up costing the borough money, especially if one or more of the officers has to be paid overtime, said Patrol Officer Mark Laudenslager, MPD spokesman.

The traffic detail is not about generating revenue, but “to address traffic conditions” in Middletown, Mouchette said.

In addition, the details create a “large presence” of uniformed officers that serves to deter overall criminal activity, Castro said.