The Chattanooga Police Department announced recently that traffic citations are down for the fifth consecutive year. Before you get too comfortable, though, be aware that the reduction may be due in part to officer attrition in the traffic division.
“We have officers retiring, and it takes over a year to train someone to replace them. When you lose those people, they may have been some of your performers that might have been producing some of these numbers,” said the traffic division’s supervisor. “Out of the traffic unit we lost a 28-year officer, who was one of the best we’ve had.”
Partial numbers are also in for the “Booze It and Lose It” campaign, which we discussed on this blog before. The campaign ran from early December through New Year’s Day and involved the Chattanooga PD and law enforcement statewide. The goal of the campaign was to prevent driving under the influence and fatal accidents over the holidays.
As part of that campaign, the Chattanooga PD, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office and the Tennessee Highway Patrol collaborated on a joint enforcement initiative on Dec. 21. That single day, officers arrested 17 people for DUI “during one of the busiest travel days of the season.” They also cited three people for narcotics involvement, 12 for driving on a suspended or revoked driver’s license, and three more for allegedly speeding in excess of 100 miles per hour. One of those was also charged with DUI.
As for ordinary traffic citations like those for speeding or running red lights, the traffic supervisor says there isn’t enough information to explain the decrease. It seems unlikely that area drivers have dramatically changed their behavior, although self-compliance with traffic laws is something the Chattanooga PD strives for.
Beyond officer attrition, one factor may be that officers are using their discretion to give more warnings than citations. The Chattanooga PD does focus on educating drivers who are caught for relatively minor violations. “We’re not giving someone a verbal warning for going 100 miles an hour. They’re going to court,” the traffic supervisor said.
Similar policies can be found at other law enforcement agencies. A spokesperson for the Tennessee Highway Patrol confirmed that officers are focusing on behaviors that are known factors in crashes. Those include not wearing seat belts, distracted driving, aggressive driving and DUI.