PE Aims At More Traffic Enforcement

Published 4:05 pm Tuesday, June 25, 2013

PRINCE EDWARD – County supervisors agreed to a personnel committee recommendation that will warrant some extra time for deputy sheriff patrols for the coming months, but not before some ticketing discussion.

Dubbed an “at will” traffic enforcement overtime program, it would allow sheriff's deputies to work traffic enforcement at will, which would have to be paid as overtime. It would be an enforcement need-based program.

Prince Edward currently has grant funds that help pay overtime for enforcement, but restrict the time when deputies can work. A DMV grant, for example, is restricted between the hours of noon and 7 p.m. Sunday through Saturday; another grant only covers 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturdays.

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“Those high traffic volumes, such as the morning commuting times, weekend morning hours, are not covered,” County Administrator Wade Bartlett highlighted. “Often when staff is working under the grant funding, they become involved in situations that (are) not traffic related, such as handling calls for service. The result is that enforcement does not occur, because they're out answering a call.”

The at-will program would provide additional staff during their busiest periods of enforcement, allowing faster response calls when there is a call for service other than traffic.

“This increased enforcement will increase safety in the county, provide badly needed additional manpower, while the additional cost will be covered by the additional enforcement,” Bartlett advised.

Amelia, Charlotte and Cumberland have such programs, the board was advised.

Supervisors were requested to include the entire State Traffic Code into County Code, allow the sheriff to institute the at will program, and pay part-time employees an overtime rate equal to the lowest amount paid to full-time deputies, or $28.38 per hour if they participate in the program.

Bartlett noted they would maintain some documentation over the course of the next six months “so we can see that this is not a burden on the County plus the sheriff can probably see how that's helped his response for calls of service.”

There are indications, however, that funds would be available.

“…From what I've been able to research on our utilization of the grant, revenues that would be brought in by fines from traffic enforcement are currently covering all the costs to include salary,…wear and tear on vehicles, fuel and maintenance on the vehicles,” noted Sheriff's Department Sgt. Richard Raybold.

The County would chip in the costs above those funded by the grant.

What was proposed was a trial period running to the end of the year, limiting the number of hours an individual deputy could work per month, reports so the county can review the program and effectiveness as implemented by the sheriff.

Sgt. Raybold figured a limit of 20-25 hours per staff member.

“You're probably, realistically, looking at three or four people utilizing this program heavily to supplement their salaries and probably another three or four, depending upon the weather and what's going on, maybe utilizing it to some degree but not to that maximum level,” he said.

Sheriff Reed offered that if the board allows them to do it, it would be a plus. Crime rates are up, he cited, and in “doing traffic, you tend to get a lot of drugs off the street. You tend to pick up felonies, that's wanted persons, so forth…Not only that, it gives us more coverage in the county to answer calls.”

But Supervisor Don Gantt noted that at $125 per ticket, they would have to write about 1,280 tickets to reach $80,000 (a figure used as an example in a neighboring county).

“I'm a hundred percent-everything ya'll have laid out is awesome as long as it doesn't get overboard,” Gantt said.

Sheriff Reed responded that they are not out there solely to write summonses. Regular routine patrol along with VSAP before this, he cited, has generated over $80,000 for the County.

“I have never had anybody come into my office that complained about a ticket one of your officers wrote,” Gantt said. “Ever. No joke. Any of 'em. But when a ticket is written, it has far reaching repercussions. I have seen guys lose their job. I have seen having to take a day off from work. I mean, it's a lot to it and as long as it doesn't get overboard I'm a hundred percent cool with it. What you're trying to do is awesome as long as it doesn't get overboard and I can see it getting overboard about Christmastime. As long as you control it, that's fine.”

Sheriff Reed defended, “I mean, the law is the law and that's what we're here to enforce.”

It was noted that the department is up about $60,000 over last year.

“Mr. Reed, I do like the fact that-I read all of your information-that you don't even start giving tickets until they are like 12 miles over because of speeding,” commented Farmville District (801) Supervisor Pattie Cooper-Jones.

“Yes,” Sheriff Reed interjected. “We don't pick on anyone.”

“And, I mean, when you're getting 12 miles over, it's time to be called back,” Cooper-Jones offered.

Gantt would note that every time they write a ticket, they take money out of the economy.

“Now at 12 miles an hour, I'm totally in agreement with you,” Gantt said. “But I can tell you this: once money starts rolling in, things change. If you do this through December, I can live with it with the stipulation if it gets out of hand, we can stop it.”

Supervisors unanimously agreed to approve the trial period (through December) with the restriction of 25 hours per month per deputy.

Supervisors also set a public hearing for changes in the County Code to incorporate the traffic provisions of the Code of Virginia and DUI statue.

“Our previous section…excluded not only offenses which constituted a felony, but they also excluded Class I and Class II misdemeanors that are contained in the traffic code. This amendment would still exclude offenses which were felonies, but it would now include offenses which are Class I and Class II misdemeanors,” detailed County Attorney James R. Ennis.

One of the byproducts of the amendments would be that they would entitle defendants charged with Class I and II misdemeanors to court-appointed lawyers and it would be the county's responsibility to compensate those attorneys. (When a defendant is found guilty, the cost of the court-appointed lawyer would be added to the court costs and collected.)

Ennis noted that once they see the charge and have an opportunity to look at the individual's driving record, they could waive the jail time and make no request for jail time, only the imposition of a fine. That would take the individual out of qualifying for a court-appointed lawyer. Court-appointed lawyers are only available for an offense where there is the potential for a jail sentence.

Supervisors unanimously agreed to set the public hearing.