CORNELIUS – Since creating a traffic unit last year, the Cornelius Police Department has recorded a 200 to 300 percent increase in citations, and for the first time in five years, the town has seen a decrease in wrecks, Police Chief Bence Hoyle told town board members Monday, April 18.
Rather than patrol randomly, the traffic unit responds to neighborhoods complaining about traffic problems, and the unit has produced results, the chief said. “The likelihood of you getting tickets is tenfold” in any neighborhoods asking for assistance, he said.
The traffic unit concentrates on drivers who are:
• Intoxicated. “We’re stopping several a night and sometimes 20 in a week,” Hoyle said.
• Consistently exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 mph. Hoyle has his traffic officers note with each speeding citation the legal speed limit and the driver’s clocked speed, and he hasn’t seen a case of a driver cited for less than 10 mph over the limit.
However, Hoyle added, “Ten miles over the speed limit should not be considered an allowance. Officers have the discretion to write citations lower than 10 miles per hour over the limit”.
• Driving “aggressively,” seen most often in run stop signs and ignoring other traffic rules.
Department statistics document the dramatic increase in citations, once the unit began operating in the second quarter of 2010.
In the first quarter of 2010, officers issued 319 citations, including 228 for speeding, 56 for aggressive driving and 35 DWIs. In subsequent quarters, through this spring, the department recorded:
• April-June 2010: 917 citations, including 743 speeding, 93 aggressive driving and 81 DWIs.
• July-September 2010: 801 citations, including 657 speeding, 75 aggressive driving and 69 DWIs.
• October-December 2010: 720 citations, including 468 speeding, 122 aggressive driving, 86 seatbelt violations and 44 DWIs.
• January-March 2011: 761 citations, including 485 speeding, 109 aggressive driving, 98 seatbelt violations and 69 DWIs.
The same reports shows the unit targeting these roads:
• March 2010: Westmoreland Lake and Heritage Green drives.
• April 2010: Tryon Street, near Washam-Potts Road, and Townley Road, at Easton View.
• May 2010: Coachman’s Trace, at Kanawha; Caldwell Station, at Crossing Gate; South Street; 7400 block of Windalere Drive; and Meadow Crossing.
• September 2010: Knox Road near Harken Drive.
• November 2010: Bailey Road; Ruffner Drive; Bustle Road, near Meta Road; and Townley Road, at Easton View.
• December 2010: Westmoreland Lake Drive.
• January 2011: Lake Pines, Harbor Walk and Magnolia Estates drives.
• February 2011: Danesway Lane – at Bone Meade Lane and also Shevington.
At Monday night’s meeting, Hoyle sought to assure commissioners and the few people attending a quarterly town hall meeting that the traffic officers have no quotas to meet, and the town doesn’t get the money. All fines paid by drivers go to the school system, and any assessed court costs go back to the state court system, Hoyle said.
Hoyle brought up his traffic unit Monday partly because the unit is taking part in the statewide Click It Or Ticket campaign, targeting drivers who don’t wear their seat belts. The chief and Mayor Jeff Tarte said they’re already getting calls from people upset about getting seatbelt citations.
“I just want to say: Buckle up, slow down and don’t drink and drive,” Hoyle said.
And if a officer stops you in Cornelius, don’t call the chief for help, Hoyle said. “The chief has no ability to override a ticket,” he said. “… The good ole boy network is long gone.”
In other police business, Hoyle said his agency plans to continue extending a network of cameras placed in public areas – “not residents’ back yards” – that police officials can monitor at the police department. Hoyle gave two examples of how the cameras can be useful.
One resident who attended Monday’s meeting asked if the town could do anything about loitering problems, citing people who gather at Burton Lane and Catawba Avenue, who many drivers notice as they leave Interstate 77 to drive into downtown Cornelius.
“When I first drove into Cornelius, I thought to myself, ‘Well, now I know where to go if I need to buy drugs,’” the resident remarked.
When Hoyle asked, the man agreed that he noticed fewer people gathering at that spot now.
“We placed a camera at Burton with a zoom lens controlled” from the police department, Hoyle said. “For some reason, they don’t like cameras.”
The department also hopes to place cameras:
• On the new mast arms along Catawba Avenue, thinking that many thieves or robbers trying to get out of the town will have to use that artery and, thus, get captured by the cameras.
• In town parks, including the new Westmoreland Athletic Complex, where vandals already have caused some damage. Hoyle said he’s working with Paul Herbert, director of the Parks, Recreation, Arts and Culture Department, to build security cameras into the budgets of new parks.