Traffic summons shoot up as police crack down on violations

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Citing a need to decrease the number of serious injuries and deaths from car accidents, East Hampton Town Police have stepped up enforcement of traffic and motor vehicle laws over the past two years.?Town Police issued 6,814 summonses for vehicle and traffic violations in 2007, an increase of 13 percent over the previous year and almost 60 percent since 2003, according to statistics from the police department’s annual report for 2007, which was released last month.?The violations in that category include DWI, unlicensed operation, speeding and other vehicle or traffic violations, and they reflect an increased commitment in his department to improving road safety, according to Town Police Chief Todd Sarris.?”I don’t think there is any question that we have stepped up enforcement in the hopes that we can actually reduce accidents with serious physical injuries,” Chief Sarris said earlier this month. “I think a lot of it has to do with us being more aggressive.”?Chief Sarris said that he and his captains and lieutenants made a tactical decision to start cracking down on traffic and motor vehicle violations at the end of 2005, a year in which seven people died in East Hampton in motor vehicle accidents.?”That kind of drew to our attention the fact that we may be able to try to do something to lower those numbers,” Chief Sarris said.?Starting in 2006, the department set specific goals to reduce motor vehicle accidents and had the five sergeants in the department stress to the officers under their command the importance of working toward these goals.?Chief Sarris said the sergeants had the responsibility of devising strategies and the department as a whole increased “step outs,” in which police officers park on the side of the road and stand outside watching for violations. The police have put an increased focus on targeting certain areas in town that are susceptible to speeding or traffic accidents.?”It’s a general, overall change in attitude in what we want them to do and what we expect them to do, and, fortunately, they embrace that wholeheartedly,” the chief said.?Since then, fatalities from motor vehicle accidents have dropped. According to figures from the department, three people died in car accidents in 2006 and one was killed in 2007. One person has died so far this year.?Tina Piette, an attorney in Amagansett whose clients include people accused of traffic and motor vehicle violations, said recently that she hadn’t noticed any difference in her business since 2005, but that she has seen more police cars on the road, particularly in wintertime.?”There used to be one or two police officers at night at a car pulled over,” Ms. Piette said, adding that she now sees as many as three or four police cars responding to a single traffic stop.?Chief Sarris said that the number of cars that will be used for a traffic stop depends on the situation, but added that the department has not changed its policy in that respect.?In an effort to better measure the impact of its more aggressive approach, the department started collecting information in 2006 on numbers of accidents with serious physical injuries. According the report, 39 people were seriously injured in 2006 and 22 in 2007.?The number of arrests for driving while intoxicated has also increased over the past few years, going from 153 in 2005, to 193 in 2006, and to 238 in 2007.?In order to better enforce traffic laws, the department gets some county and state assistance. Since 2006, Chief Sarris said, the department has received $6,000 a year from the New York State Governor’s Traffic and Safety Committee for step-outs and since the early 1990s it has been given $25,000 a year to increase DWI patrols.?Chief Sarris said that the “lion’s share” of income from fines and fees goes to the county and state. According to East Hampton Town’s budget for 2008, the town received $634,124 in “justice fees and fines” in 2006, and estimated a revenue of $650,000 for 2007 and $750,000 for 2008.?The chief insisted that the decision to step up enforcement and crack down on violations was made by members of the Town Police department, without any input from the Town Board or the East Hampton Village Police Department.?Despite the heightened enforcement and increased number of traffic summonses, and the drop in deaths and serious injuries, the new system has had little impact on the total number of accidents in town. According to the report, there were 978 accidents in 2005, 957 in 2006, and 1004 in 2007.?Even with an increased focus on traffic violations, Chief Sarris said he doubts that police can do much to decrease the number of accidents on the road.?”People backing into other people is just something you can’t control,” he said.?Statistics for traffic and motor vehicle violations were not provided in the annual report for East Hampton Village.?But since the Village Board at the end of last year bought the department a license plate reading camera and computer, which can speedily alert officers if a car owner lacks insurance or a car does not have proper registration, Village Police have increased the number of stops they make each week for driving with a suspended registration.?

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