Traffic officer hits the streets full timeSpeeders are targeted in a new campaign by Bainbridge Police.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:47 PM
"Radar loves a blind corner. The crest of a hill will do just fine, too, as a driver on New Brooklyn Road is about to find out.Coming into sudden view from the direction of Mandus Olson Road, a Volvo zips over the hill, greeted by the sight of Bainbridge Police Officer Rob Corn. On the latter's dashboard, a small radar unit clocks the vehicle's speed and - click! - locks on.I'll take 58 in a 40, Corn says as the vehicle goes past, its driver tapping a belated foot to the brake. The red-and-blues light up, Corn does a quick U-turn, and a minute later he's chatting to the driver through her rolled-down window. Corn hit the streets at 6 a.m. Monday, on his new assignment as full-time traffic enforcement officer. Over the course of a not-too-busy morning, he issued four citations and as many written warnings, contacting still other drivers about possible registration violations or outstanding warrants.On Miller Road, a Poulsbo contractor bound for a south-end job site is caught flying around the curve from the highway; Corn gives him a break on his speed - 15 mph over the limit - but cites him for no insurance.On High School Road, a BHS student is nicked for doing 48 mph in a 25 zone on her way to school. After speaking with the driver, Corn uses his discretion to knock the citation and its attendant fine down a notch.It was her first ticket, he says. She was crying. She learned her lesson.The traffic enforcement position - made possible as the police department gets up to full strength through new hires and training - marks a high-profile turn for the campaign against local speeders.(Speeding is) an identifiable problem, not a perceived one, said Bainbridge Police Chief Bill Cooper. Our goal is just to get people to slow down.But Cooper, a long-time crash investigator, calls traffic work the bastard child of law enforcement - police commit far fewer resources to roadway safety than to crime, even though the social cost in lost lives and property is three to five times higher. Cooper now has the resources to shift the Bainbridge department's focus in a direction more to his liking. And he cites the three traffic fatalities he's seen in his two years as Bainbridge chief - one blamed on alcohol and drug use, one on icy road conditions, one to driver inattention on the highway- as reason to raise awareness of safe travel and slower speeds.Violators will learn that trying to catch the ferry is not likely to fly as a valid excuse.A lot of it comes down to people being late, Cooper said. Leave a couple of minutes earlier, and life will be easier for everybody.In the short term, the traffic officer will be a visible presence on the streets and should have plenty of contact with citizens. A hoped-for residual benefit is what police call the halo effect - the tendency for drivers to slow down when they see other motorists pulled over.Long-term, Cooper hopes to see fewer crashes around the island, and enforcement will focus in part on areas where collisions have been frequent. The enforcement program will be complemented by an educational component later this year. Using a new, portable radar speed display - which replaces a heavy and poorly designed unit that was purchased last year but never hit the streets - citizen volunteers will be asked to monitor speeds in their own neighborhoods. License plate numbers of offenders will be recorded, Cooper said, and drivers who turn up on the list repeatedly will get a personal visit from an officer.For now, though, the program is tilted toward direct enforcement.Its figurehead is Corn, who grew up on the island and has been associated with the department since becoming a police cadet under former Chief John Sutton in 1989. A 1993 BHS graduate, he joined the department in 1998 after five years' service the military police. I left the Army on Friday, and was working here Monday morning, he said. I wasn't unemployed very long.Having volunteered for the new traffic position, he is charged with combating a speeding problem that has sparked complaints island-wide. More than 60 problems areas were identified by police last year, with that number since halved through investigation and spot enforcement.Areas sure to be targeted include Eagle Harbor Drive - Corn wrote nine tickets in a single afternoon on that stretch, with the slowest being for 16 mph over the limit - arterials like Miller Road, and anywhere with steep hills that inspire some drivers to charge to the bottom. Motorcyclists speeding off the ferry will also be targeted, Cooper said.Among egregious violators, Corn recently cited a driver for going 81 mph on Koura Road. Another Bainbridge officer nabbed a driver doing 92 mph on New Brooklyn Road over the weekend.And while other patrol officers will respond to routine calls for thefts, vandalism and the like, Corn won't be pulled off the road except for emergencies.His hours will be staggered throughout the week - Monday and Tuesday, early mornings; Wednesday, mid-morning to late afternoon; Thursday and Friday, late morning to early evening.Lest people get too comfortable with those hours, Cooper said, they are adjustable. "