Interim Chief Mark Beckett says speeding and red light running is an issue throughout the city, and education and warnings simply are not working.
Over the past month the Steamboat Springs Police Department has had officers on patrol put extra focus on traffic violations in town, believing incidents of speeding, red light running, stop sign running and other infractions have seen steep increases.
Starting Memorial Day weekend and continuing through the rest of the summer, Interim Chief Mark Beckett said they plan to crack down on these violations further, with teams of officers having shifts devoted specifically to increased traffic enforcement.
“We have legitimate problems anywhere you go in the city,” Beckett said. "I was over by City Market a couple of weeks ago in my personal vehicle and some guy was stopped at a red light and just decided to go. It wasn’t like he ran it like he was going and didn’t want to slow down. He stopped and made the conscious effort to go through the light.”
Beckett said there isn’t just one part of the city that is a problem, rather they get reports of issues in a wide variety of places. When the enforcement strategy kicks into high gear towards the end of the month, several officers on each shift will be fully devoted to this effort and won’t be asked to take routine calls.
While it hasn’t fully ramped up, Beckett said they have already been writing a lot of tickets.
The additional effort was included in City Manager Gary Suiter’s report to City Council on Tuesday night and Council President Robin Crossan thanked the department for trying to focus on these infractions.
“Thank goodness. People don’t stop at stop signs and people are going through red lights every day of the week,” Crossan said.
Officers will use the department’s unmarked police vehicles to be a bit more covert in this effort. Beckett said they will be taking a zero-tolerance approach, meaning if you get stopped you are getting a ticket. Tickets are not the measure of success for this effort though, rather, Beckett hopes to see fewer traffic accidents, fewer speeding incidents and much less red light running.
“Tickets are a tool, tickets are not our first choice. We prefer education and warnings, it just isn’t working,” Beckett said. “The goal here would be through enforcement, through zero tolerance, [we get] compliance.”
Officers won’t necessarily be stationed at any one area, as Beckett said the public often catches on to that kind of strategy pretty quickly. Instead, they will be roaming near a wide variety of problem areas and working together to spot offenders. Areas they frequently hear complaints are along Steamboat Boulevard, Fish Creek Falls Road and Whistler Road, to name just a few.
Beckett said they are working to pull together more data on the frequency of violations since the informal effort started last month to present to the community before the formal effort starts Memorial Day weekend. He plans to continue the increased enforcement effort through Labor Day.
Beckett said one of the reasons he believes things have gotten so “out of control” is because people know his officers are shorthanded where they are really only responding to calls that come in.
While staffing remains an issue for the department, he said they in a better position now where officers can take on an effort like this.
“I’ve got a lot of young officers who are really motivated, in fact, all my officers are pretty motivated,” Beckett said. “I think this department’s been through a lot over the last few years and I think having a fun detail to remember what it’s like to go out and just do something that’s specific to helping the community is going to be good for them.”