| This month, the Salt River Police Department (SRPD) is spotlighting the Traffic Enforcement Bureau as a way to increase awareness about the individual divisions within the police department.
The mission of the SRPD Traffic Enforcement Bureau is to ensure that all roadways of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community are as safe as possible for its citizens by enforcing all tribal, state and federal motor vehicle laws and removing unsafe drivers and vehicles from the roadways.
The Traffic Enforcement Bureau was established in February 1998 with one officer on a Kawasaki police motorcycle, Stanley R. Trott, who is still serving in the motor division today. Trott was the first full-time motor officer in Indian Country. (Other tribal police departments had a few motor officers, but they were on part-time, unofficial service, mainly appearing at ceremonial functions or special occasions).
In 1999, a second motor officer was added to the SRPD, and since then the Traffic Enforcement Bureau has grown to today’s roster of seven sworn personnel: one sergeant and six motor officers. Two of the motor officers are Native Americans, including one who is a Community member.
Motor officers are trained in-house through an AZPOST certified motor officer training program. The training consists of an intensive two-week course in cones and braking maneuvers, one week of road riding, and two weeks of field training with another certified motorcycle officer. Motorcycle officers have several years of police officer experience before being considered for selection into the traffic unit. They must show proficiency in traffic laws, collision investigation and DUI enforcement before applying.
The Traffic Enforcement Bureau operates both daytime and nighttime shifts and is responsible for investigating vehicle collisions and vehicular homicides.
“The officers [stop motorists] for [breaking] both the state and Community traffic laws. We respond to minor collisions when we are available, and to all serious or fatal collisions, for which we do crash investigations,” said SRPD Sgt. Anthony Sandoval. “We also do commercial truck inspections on the big semis; we have three certified inspectors who inspect those for violations. Those trucks are very dangerous. People don’t know that [semi trucks can weigh] 80,000 pounds. They can crush a car if they have a blowout or can’t stop. On truck inspections we’re also looking for drugs, because commercial trucks transport high volume of drugs.”
Traffic Accident Investigations
Modern and innovative equipment is used by the Traffic Enforcement Bureau to assure the accuracy of each investigation. The traffic investigators use the Topcon GRS-1 (GPS + Glonass, a radio-based satellite navigation system), LTI Laser speed-measurement equipment or the Nikon AIMS (Accident Investigation Mapping System) to investigate serious-injury or fatal collision scenes. The collected data is imported to either ARAS360 or Crash Zone software to create a 3D re-creation or diagram of the collision.
The crash investigators may also utilize the department’s Crash Data Retrieval system to obtain a vehicle’s pre-impact speed, driver seat belt status (on/off), driver braking or throttle position before the crash, crash severity, and many more valuable parameters.
A Vericom 3000 electronic accelerometer is used by the investigators to conduct vehicle brake testing and acceleration or performance testing for a variety of applications. The Vericom accurately measures average G force and precisely calculates vehicle speed, time and distance.
If there is a dangerous road in the Community, where there seems to be a lot of serious or fatal crashes, “we work with [the agency that] manages that road (the Community, Maricopa County or the Arizona Department of Transportation) to conduct an evaluation,” said Sandoval. “We put out rubber hoses on the road to tell us how many vehicles travel on that road, what the average speed is and what time of day the road [has the most traffic], to see if the road is built safely enough for the amount of traffic [it carries].” The Traffic Enforcement Bureau conducted one such road survey at McKellips and McDowell roads; as a result, McDowell was repaved and sidewalks and medians were added.
Public Education in Seat Belts and Traffic Safety
Another big job of the Traffic Enforcement Bureau is to educate the public about traffic laws and safe driving.
“Some people don’t know the traffic laws here in the Community,” said Sandoval. “When people are driving recklessly through stop signs and using the Community as a cut-through, we’re there to remind them that the speed limits here are 35 to 40 mph. Being on a motorcycle, you’re less visible and [better able] to catch those violators.”
The Traffic Enforcement Bureau has used billboards to help educate the Community with their “Click It or Ticket” campaign.
“The billboards have been running since the first week of May,” said Sandoval. “This year we have a new design with a graphic of Red Mountain in the background. Both billboards are targeted toward drivers in the Community. They are paid for by a grant from the Bureau of Indian Affairs Highway Safety Program. It cost over $10,000 for these two billboards to run this year alone.”
Currently the Community doesn’t have a seat belt ordinance, so the Traffic Enforcement Bureau is trying to get one.
“We are working closely with the subcommittee that is developing the new traffic ordinance, which went out for 90-day review earlier this year,” said Sandoval. “That will have the new seat belt ordinance in it. We were very instrumental in giving the law-enforcement perspective so that the new law [would include] a seat belt ordinance.”
As for now, the Traffic Enforcement Bureau can’t enforce a law that doesn’t exist, so they try to educate the public to buckle up, especially if there are children involved.
“[Having an improperly restrained child in a car] is endangering a child’s safety, and if they were to get into a wreck they could be charged for other crimes, such as child endangerment,” said Sandoval. When traffic officers pull over a vehicle with an improperly restrained child, they use that stop as an opportunity to educate the driver about the importance of proper car seats or booster seats for children. “Adults are going to make their own decisions; unfortunately, some are not the right decisions for their child’s or their own safety.”
Driving under the influence of alcohol is a common violation that the Traffic Enforcement Bureau has attacked through strong enforcement. For holidays and major events, “We [operate] the DUI task forces with officers highly trained in DUI detection with alcohol and drugs,” said Sandoval. These task forces have reduced the number of alcohol-related DUIs in the Community, but they are now seeing a lot of DUI-D—driving under the influence of drugs—and that’s an area where more education is needed. One of the street drugs popular now is using CO2 cartridges to inhale nitrous oxide; Sgt. Sandoval said that multiple fatal car crashes can be traced to this behavior.
In December of 2010, a SRPD motorcycle officer was hit by an impaired driver while he was pulling the driver over. He is very fortunate to be alive. The driver was found guilty and sentenced.
“It takes a unique person to get on a motorcycle and drive on the roads when there are people possibly out on the roads driving [while] impaired,” said Sandoval. “When we get together during the Holiday DUI Task Force, everyone is so motivated. It’s not about the work, it’s about trying to make the roads safer, because our families drive on the same roads as everyone else.”
Seeing Is Believing
By Tasha Silverhorn
Au-Authm Action News
The Salt River Police Department Traffic Enforcement Bureau has many methods of educating the public about the dangers of driving while impaired. One of the most effective is a pair of goggles called Fatal Vision. When people wear them, they experience what it’s like to see through the eyes of an impaired driver.
“These goggles changes your depth perception and equilibrium, affecting your balance,” said SRPD Sgt. Anthony Sandoval. “If you’re not seeing right, you’re not driving right.”
Sgt. Sandoval put me to the test. I put on the goggles at three different levels: low impairment, moderate impairment and severe impairment.
The first set of goggles represents what someone sees who has consumed an amount of alcohol just under the legal limit. They made my vision blurry and already I couldn’t walk straight without stumbling. Sandoval tossed a tennis ball at me; I was able to catch it and toss it back, but I did it with a little force because my visual perception made me think he was farther away than he actually was.
The second pair of goggles represented alcohol consumption over the legal limit. As I attempted to walk a straight line, I could not keep my balance. I kept leaning to the left, grabbing the wall to catch my balance. As Sandoval tossed me the ball, it looked as if the ball was more to my left side than to the center, so as I tried to catch it I missed.
While wearing the third pair of goggles, I started getting used to the way the ball would go and where the line was, but it was still difficult to complete each task perfectly. I started to rush myself
walking the straight line quickly to get it over with.
As I tried to complete these tasks, I started to laugh at the thought of myself trying to do these things but looking foolish to the people watching. But then I thought again about the situation I was experiencing; I thought to myself, “This is not funny at all, because this is what people actually do.” They drive impaired, whether it’s from drinking or using drugs. This affects their motor skills and their ability to function correctly. This is what gets people killed.
“The ability to do multi-tasking, two things or more, is impaired—you can’t do it. So when you’re impaired, the ability to do all those things is diminished, and that’s how easy it is for a driver to get into a wreck,” said Sandoval.