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More drivers seeing blue lights

There has been a spike in traffic stops by the Farmville Police Department (FPD) in recent weeks. FPD Chief Andy Ellington shared some insights into why, while also addressing how this issue could be impacted by new laws going into effect March 1.

Andy Ellington

After averaging 38 traffic stops the last 12 weeks of 2020, the department had two weeks in January and a week in February where the total traffic stops topped more than 100 per week. In the first week of February, Farmville police had 117 traffic stops, the most in at least three months. From Jan. 4-10, the department had 102 traffic stops and 103 traffic stops the week of Jan. 18-24 . Aside from those two weeks, FPD has been averaging 38 traffic stops the past 12 weeks, as of last week.

Ellington said there are several factors contributing to the spikes.

First, officers are trying to get back into their regular routine after reducing traffic enforcement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, later adding that several young officers have now stepped up the pace, so to speak, and are writing more summons than normal and for no special reason.

“Most young officers come out, and they’re gung-ho and write a lot of tickets,” he said. “We had some new officers that, once COVID hit, we drew back, and we tried to keep them safe, reducing their exposure, and we laid off from writing tickets, so to speak. And now that things have eased up a little bit, they went back to doing their job, so they’re writing tickets.”

Ellington said one of the biggest factors he can see accounting for spikes in stops since Jan. 1 is that officers can now tell which inspection stickers are expired simply due to the stickers’ color.

“There’s been a big influx in summonses being issued, and the main reason for that is last year the state colored the inspection sticker so they’d be more easily visible by the officers to know when they’re expired,” he said. “So going into Jan. 1, anything that has a blue sticker on it, you automatically know that’s last year’s sticker, and as of Dec. 31st, they’re expired.”

Officers are no longer having to look so hard at the month and the year.

However, due to a new law soon to go into effect, after March 1 an expired inspection sticker will be a secondary offense, meaning an officer cannot pull someone over because of it alone.

Ellington said that for a driver to receive a summons after March 1 for an expired inspection sticker, the sticker would need to have been expired for four months or, before four months has passed, they would have had to have committed a primary offense, like speeding. During that stop for speeding, the officer could also ticket the driver for the expired sticker.

This change in law is very concerning to law enforcement, Ellington said.

“Safety inspection, we feel, is a must as far as the safety for everybody on our highways,” he said.

When asked how much he expects traffic stop numbers to drop come March 1 when inspection stickers and other offenses are no longer primary offenses, Ellington said that is a really good question.

“I’m really anxious to see,” he said. “First, I expect that they’re going to drop, but then I don’t know if that’s going to increase them to write more speeding tickets as a primary offense. It’s going to be interesting to see how officers react to it.”

A new law already in effect makes it illegal for a person to be holding a cellphone in the car for any reason while driving. Ellington said he has already seen an accumulation of stops made due to this law.

“I can’t tell you the percentage,” he said. “I don’t know yet because we just recently started writing them, and I haven’t worked that up, but I know the officers have written several of those violations.”