I’d like to take some time to address some things that have been printed in the newspaper — many of them just flat-out wrong — about traffic enforcement in our county.
Contrary to what some people seem to think, we do spend a significant amount of time doing traffic enforcement. Unless I missed it, there wasn’t another sheriff’s office working in our county that wrote 2,802 citations last year (around eight per day) and 1,900 the year before that. Those 2,802 citations my deputies wrote last year, by the way, were 834 more than the Florida Highway Patrol, Sebring Police Department and Lake Placid Police Department combined. That’s pretty good for a bunch of deputies who some claim are never working traffic enforcement.
As a matter of fact, our number of citations written has gone up each of the last three years.
As for those empty patrol cars parked on the side of the road, anyone who was truly paying attention would have seen that those cars were placed near some of the most dangerous intersections on U.S. 27. How do we know? Because we work 46% of the traffic crashes in the county.
From October of last year until the end of this March, those empty cars (which, by the way, have been proven to have a positive impact on driver behavior) were just a small part of a traffic initiative that focused on those dangerous intersections. These are the places where we have not only the most crashes, but the most serious crashes.
We spent more than six months concentrating our traffic enforcement on these high-crash intersections. Many times, there was a deputy not too far away from those empty cars using one of our 16 laser speed checking devices or 40 radars. We even occasionally put a deputy in one of those previously empty cars and ran radar, too.
As a result, the number of crashes at those intersections was reduced by 20.4% compared to the same time frame the previous year. Fatalities were down even more — 33%. During that span, which started Oct. 4, 2018 and ran through March 31 of this year, we made 7,090 traffic contacts resulting from infractions in the target zones. We wrote 2,326 citations, gave out 3,085 written warnings, 1,649 verbal warnings and made 30 DUI arrests.
I don’t know about you, but more than 7,000 traffic stops in a span of a little more than six months by an agency that also has to patrol around 1,100 square miles of area and answer around 90,000 calls for service every year with only 75 uniformed deputies is a far sight from what was recently called a “total and complete lack of traffic enforcement.”
In fact, I would say that claiming we don’t care about traffic enforcement is offensive to the men and women of the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office. I am very proud of the hard work these deputies do day-in and day-out keeping our streets safe.
Some folks seem to think that it would be easy to find the money to start up a 24/7 traffic unit. Well, just to start a traffic unit with four deputies and a sergeant (which is only half of what you would need to have a full-time traffic unit) would cost north of $1 million. Considering that our agency recently had to drastically increase our school resource deputy unit to make sure our students are safe, there isn’t funding for a traffic unit. That likely won’t change unless the County Commission wants to make a traffic unit a priority and increase our funding by the necessary amount.
The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office does everything in its power to keep our roads safe, and anyone who says we don’t just needs to ask us for the statistics that prove otherwise or maybe ask one of the 2,802 people who got a ticket from one of my deputies last year.
Paul Blackman is the Highlands County sheriff. Email him at email@example.com Guest columns are the opinion of the writer, not necessarily that of the Highlands News-Sun.