Make Traffic Safety a Priority
The city of Capitola is a beach resort community with a resident population of 10,000 that encompasses the largest enclosed shopping mall in Santa Cruz County. in the summer months, the influx of beach tourists and shoppers increases the population from 30,000 to 50,000 people per day. this increases traffic congestion in the 2.5 square miles of the city and creates traffic issues for the Department’s Traffic Unit.
The Traffic Unit is comprised of one sergeant and two motor officers. The motor officers investigate traffic accidents and citizen complaints regarding traffic matters within the city limits of Capitola. The officers enforce the California Vehicle Code through both directed and selective enforcement. The Traffic Unit’s mission is to aggressively enforce the California Vehicle Code in an effort to reduce injuries, and promote public safety and awareness. The officers are involved in several local programs including a Neighbor Traffic Committee and traffic Safety Coalition. The Traffic Safety Coalition is a combined group of individuals from various organizations who apply for grants for school projects such as Bike to Work Week and other educational programs. In addition, three community service officers support the Traffic Unit by assisting with vehicle collisions, the radar Trailer program, Ghost Car program and vehicle abatements.
In early 2004 the University of California Berkeley Institute of transportation Studies (ITS) Technology Transfer Program, with funding from the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), evaluated the traffic situation in the city. The ITS evaluators reviewed the environment, facilities, policies and procedures relevant to traffic safety, and wrote a summary report with recommendations for managers and officials. Pursuant to that report, almost all recommendations were followed. Among the recommendations, the department was to pursue additional OTS grants, establish a Neighborhood Traffic Committee, create a method for collecting collision data and establish “traffic safety goals.” During the same time, a questionnaire was sent to the residents asking them to list in priority their concerns for the city. The result of this questionnaire and the number one overwhelming concern was “traffic.”
Taking this to heart: Police Chief Richard Ehle directed staff to address the traffic situation within the city of Capitola. The department had already applied for and received a $40,978.48 traffic grant from OTS. The Crash Reduction Project began on October 1, 2003, and ran through September 2005. The program’s goals were to reduce speed-related fatal and injury collisions, reduce total reportable collisions and increase seat-belt compliance. A large portion of this burden fell upon the department’s two Motor Officers, who at the time were riding Kawasaki 1000’s.
From 2003 to 2004, 17.72 percent of the injury accidents occurred on 41st Avenue with the Primary Collision Factor (PCF) being speed-related. Realizing speed as a major factor, the department applied for and received a Speed Awareness grant from OTS in October 2005, valued at $75,000. The grant focused on reducing the high rate of collisions with the PCF being speed. Pursuant to this grant, the department purchased a state-of-the-art radar trailer with a statistical package that is deployed five times a week throughout the city. Citizen complaints, school zones and collisions determine the locations. The city also purchased interior mount bi-directional radar for the traffic enforcement vehicle, specifically for speed enforcement.
In October 2004 the department applied for and received an additional OTS grant, “Avoid the Nine,” focusing on DUI enforcement. Capitola became the host agency for Santa Cruz County’s “Avoid the Nine” DUI grant.
The department now had two projects that concentrated on enhanced traffic enforcement, DUI check points and public education. In 2004 Capitola Police Department also obtained the OTS Mini Seat Belt grant for seat belt enforcement. Since 2004 and every year thereafter, the department has participated in California’s Click it or Ticket campaign. The OTS sponsored campaign concentrates on seat belt compliance. The efforts of the participating Officers assisted in California achieving an overall 94.6% compliance rate, with Capitola achieving a 95.5 percent compliance rate, well above the national average of 81 percent.
In 2004, the Department participated in yet another creative program considered to enhance traffic enforcement throughout Santa Cruz County. The $215,000 Santa Cruz Regional Automated Traffic Reporting Writing Project is a multi-jurisdictional traffic safety effort by the local jurisdictions to increase time spent on traffic enforcement. The project is designed to increase the efficient delivery of traffic services throughout the county and is sponsored and funded by OTS. Hand-held PDA devices, used to write citations, collision reports and DUIs, will help achieve this goal. By utilizing a standard computerized system by the involved agencies, enforcement will be more productive because officers spend less time per citation, and the quality of the product will be uniform. The hand-held devices also have a driver’s license reader, where the violator’s driver license is swiped, transferring the information to the citation, saving additional time and reducing mistakes, which also saves time at the court level. This project will greatly improve the quality and accessibility to traffic statistics throughout the County of Santa Cruz.
After many vendor demonstrations and proposals, Crossroads Software was awarded the contract in September 2005, and an enormous amount of groundwork was completed during 2005 prior to the implementation of this project.
In 2005, it became necessary to find innovative ways to supplement traffic enforcement patrols when the department lost its two motorcycle officers. Chief Ehle looked into photo red-light enforcement and put it into effect on 41st Avenue. He took into account the roadway’s status as the most-traveled in Santa Cruz County and a 2002 study by the California State Auditor that found a 3-21percent decrease in red-light accident rates after cameras were installed. The department chose American Traffic Solutions (ATS) from Scottsdale, Arizona, after looking at several vendors.
After the selection, the department brought the Santa Cruz County Court on board. Santa Cruz Traffic Commissioner Kim Baskett pledged her full support for the proposed program. The photo red-light system was installed in August and September 2005 on 41st Avenue at the entrance to the Capitola Mall – it is the first in Santa Cruz County.
The system is timed with red lights that control north and southbound traffic. The cameras are equipped with motion sensors that detect movement after the red light illuminates. Still photos are taken of the driver and front license plate of the violating vehicle, along with photos of the rear plate of the vehicle. The camera also videotapes the violation. On the still photos, the speed of the vehicle is digitally placed in the top of the photograph. The citations are electronically sent to ATS and examined for quality. The usable citations are sent to the traffic Sergeant for approval. Citations that are approved are sent to the court for processing, and then sent to the registered owner of the vehicle.
Once a registered owner receives a citation, he/she has the standard choices of paying for the violation, going to traffic court or traffic school. The violator also has the option, if he or she wasn’t driving, to fill out an Affidavit of Non-liability and identify the driver. If an Affidavit is filled out, the registered owner’s citation is dismissed and the offender is sent the citation. When the violator receives the citation, he/she is given a document number and a personal PIN number and views the same photos and video as the defendant. To this date almost 2,500 citations have been written.
Capitola also participates in a countywide traffic task force, Before Aggressive Driving Gets Everyone Stopped (BADGES). The task force gathers motor officers from all county agencies and works specific problem areas in the host agency’s jurisdiction. This occurs once a month and officers enforce all vehicle code violations. This program has been a qualified success along with developing camaraderie between all of the county’s motor officers including the California Highway Patrol.
In early 2006, the city regained its two motor officers. The two new officers attended Basic Motor School and assumed their new duties, assigned to the Traffic Unit. In October 2006, Capitola received an “Avoid the Nine” grant. This was a three-year DUI grant continuing to focus on drug and alcohol enforcement. Two officers were sent to DRE (Drug Recognition Expert) school to enhance their capabilities as DUI enforcement officers. The program emphasizes drug recognition, report writing and courtroom expertise. This grant included a DUI trailer for DUI checkpoints, which are conducted five times a year: two during the winter holiday (Christmas), and one during Memorial day weekend, one on the Fourth of July, and One during the Labor Day weekend.
In March 2007, Capitola replaced its aging Kawasaki 1000s with 2007 Harley Davidson Road King Police Motorcycles. The two motorcycles were purchased through Harley-Davidson’s “buy-back program,” where the department makes the initial purchase and pays for maintenance of the motorcycles and in three years, the motorcycles are returned and the department receives new models. The two new motorcycles have been a positive addition to the department and community.
The Capitola Police Department’s traffic program, spearheaded by the two motor officers, has been a huge success. Over the past five years, the efforts of the Police Department has reduced collisions and improved the safety of Capitola’s streets. In 2003, there were 269 reported roadway collisions, not including private property or counter reports. In 2007 just four years later, there were 193 reported roadway collision, a total reduction of 39.38 percent. In 2003, there were 45 injury collisions and 224 non-injury collisions. For the year 2007, there were 23 injury collisions and 170 non-injury collisions. This was a reduction of 48.89 percent for injury collisions and 24.12 percent for non-injury collisions. DUI arrests have gone from 78 in 2003 to 228 in 2007 – an increase of 192 percent. Collisions with a PCF of unsafe speed were at 60 in 2003 and decreased to 43 in 2007 – a reduction of 28.33 percent. In 2003, officers wrote a total of 1,868 citations compared to 3,100 in 2007 – an increase of 66 percent.
For these efforts, the Capitola Police Department received a second-place award in the OTS California Law Enforcement Challenge in 2004 – and first place in 2005, 2006, and 2007 for agencies between 11 and 25 sworn personnel.
Information and Photos provided by the Capitola, CA Police Department