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Traffic Safety Absent in MPD Budget



This post is from testimony submitted for the Performance Hearing on the Metropolitan Police Department on March 30, 2012, DC Council Committee on the Judiciary (chaired by CM Mendelson) on behalf of Iona Senior Services.

The lack of a priority given to traffic enforcement clearly shows up in the current budget narrative.   Traffic safety is only mentioned once and traffic enforcement not at all.  Under Patrol Services there is only mention of crime prevention and fighting, but no mention of traffic crash prevention and enforcement.  There have been bicycle and pedestrian hearings that detail the abysmal record of police investigation of pedestrian and bicycle crashes, but there is no mention of traffic crash investigations.  

As the pedestrian advocate at Iona Senior Services, I come before you to make the case that MPD budget resources need to be increased  for traffic enforcement  to make our streets safer for pedestrians, as well as cyclists and motorists.  I commend Chief Lanier and MPD for its investment in expanding photo enforcement, but it will take more than this to make an impact in reducing the number of pedestrian crashes which have been slowly climbing over the last few years.  It will take resources for training officers and increase in the number of PSA officers assigned to full time traffic enforcement duty, and a much more comprehensive public education campaign than what  is presently conducted by DDOT and MPD.   Given that traffic enforcement is an important component to fighting crime, as well,  it deserves to be a higher priority in our police department by showing increased resources devoted to it.

Since the cost of pedestrian injuries are over $52,000 and deaths over a million dollars , should not the investigations of such matters deserve higher priority?  Again there is no mention of traffic safety and enforcement within Homeland Security where the most of the traffic safety and enforcement reside.   Is there any analysis and strategic  planning for improving traffic safety within the Strategic Services Bureau?  Again there is no mention in the budget narrative.  And the only measures used across all these branches relate to reductions in crime, and no measures with respect to reducing traffic crashes among motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists.  Traffic safety and enforcement is hidden in this budget.

The police need to take on the risks posed by traffic in the same manner it takes on fighting crime.  In A Guide for Traffic Safety in the New Millennium, the International Association of Chiefs of Police states that police departments with proactive traffic enforcement programs have lower rates of crime and traffic crashes.  It recommends traffic units for police departments and short of that traffic officers trained and assigned to traffic enforcement. 

This will take assigning more officers for full time traffic enforcement.  We have 56 PSA’s in DC.  If one officer per PSA is assigned to traffic enforcement, that would be 56  officers, and this is a small percentage of the total police force.   In the Second District, which encompasses Connecticut Avenue and Wisconsin Avenue from Western Avenue into Georgetown and part of the downtown area, we have only three full-time traffic officers.   One police officer suggested that we have each PSA assigned a traffic officer.  That would be 8 officers.   And why is there a  need for such assignments?  Officers who do traffic enforcement, but it is not their full-time responsibility, explain that they are often pulled off duty to respond to other priorities.  This needs to be their priority.

I do applaud MPD’s promoting  photo enforcement with an investment in equipment of $4,224,000 — a one-time expense, and an ongoing expense in personnel of $1,587,000, which will assist police officers in changing the traffic culture in this city.  Photo enforcement works in slowing speeds and preventing red light running.  And the present contract, which the Council should approve, will expand its focus to monitoring crosswalks without signals and intersections which get blocked  by traffic which makes it difficult and dangerous for pedestrians to cross.   But technology cannot do all the work.  We need officers out on the streets.

Last but not least is the need for investment in an ongoing and ramped up public education campaign on traffic safety.  There are two jobs for this campaign:  education about the law, and notification about photo enforcement.    Motorists in this city do not know the law.  In fact,  I question whether all police officers do.    There is a crosswalk at every intersection, whether marked or not, where a pedestrian can cross, and a car must stop if there is someone in the crosswalk.   Also,  it is legal for a pedestrian to cross mid-block when there is not a traffic light at both ends of the block.  From all the uproar over the red light camera at Fessenden Street and Nebraska Avenue, many drivers do not how and where to stop for a red light  before they make a right hand turn.  The DMV website,  public service announcements, and car insurance companies could be avenues for such a campaign.  I also suggest that MPD invest in “Welcome to DC” signs that warn drivers about photo enforcement, and hotels and car rental agencies  get information they can provide their customers.    

DC is leading the country on photo enforcement, let it also lead the country in an effective program of traffic enforcement and  show what it can do to reduce pedestrian crashes to make this a safe,walkable, and  livable city.  I would like to leave you with a quote from the report by the International Association of Police Chiefs, “More people are killed and injured and the economic losses to society are greater from traffic crashes than that from crime.”  

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Written by Marlene Berlin