Tuesday, June 10, 2008

No, Speed Racer!

Traffic tickets are up 85 percent in 2008 over 2007 under a new initiative to destroy the impression that Plainfield is soft on speeders and other violators of motor vehicle regulations.

Police Director Martin Hellwig told the City Council Monday he wants the public to know about the new enforcement, highlighted by creation of a Traffic Unit within the Police Division. He said police issued 1,809 tickets from January through April in 2007 and 3,338 in the same time frame this year for both moving and non-moving violations.

The new direction is in response to citizen concerns about speeding and other infractions that residents say are not allowed in neighboring municipalities. The Traffic Unit will address all aspects of traffic safety, Hellwig said, noting last year there were more deaths from traffic fatalities in Plainfield than from homicides. The incidents involved car accidents as well as pedestrian deaths, he said.

In his 60-day report on his reorganization of the Police Division, Hellwig described the Traffic Unit within the new Community Relations Bureau that aims to address “quality of life” issues. In all, the reorganization has resulted in seven bureaus, including a new Information Technology Bureau.

Assignments are as follows:
--Captain Ruth Selzam, Patrol Bureau.
--Captain Keith Lattimore, Administrative Bureau.
--Captain Anthony Celentano, Criminal Investigation Bureau.
--Captain Edward Santiago, Narcotics Bureau.
--Captain Steven Soltys, Information Technology Unit.
--Captain Michael Gilliam, Community Relations Bureau.
--Captain Siddeeq El-Amin, Service Bureau.

Hellwig said under his new management model, both captains and lieutenants will be expected to develop executive skills to enhance the professionalism of the Police Division. He will also seek accreditation of the division, a 110-point measure of national and international standards so far attained by only 90 police divisions in the state. Hellwig said it could take up to 18 months to achieve the “lofty goal” that would place Plainfield among the police elite.

Patrol officers will also be asked to improve their performance, with training on dealing with the public, greeting people at the front desk and sensitivity training.

“We want it to stand out,” Hellwig said of the Patrol Bureau.

The wide-ranging report covered aspects of police work ranging from keeping order when the high school lets out to increased safety in Municipal Court and other city buildings. Liquor establishments will receive closer scrutiny for their effect on neighborhood quality of life and the Mobile Command Unit will be deployed across the city for higher police visibility. Hellwig said the innovations will come at a cost and will put some stress on the Police Division, but he intends to see them through.

Councilman Don Davis asked about the status of a plan to place surveillance cameras in problem areas. City Administrator Marc Dashield said funding for the cameras is included in the 2008 capital improvement plan. Hellwig said the city is also talking with the Housing Authority about downloading images from their cameras.

Councilman William Reid told Hellwig he hoped the public would “get the word that you are cracking down” on traffic violations.

Hellwig said he had begun talking to the press about it.

“It’s a new day,” he said. “We will be enforcing traffic laws quite strictly.”

--Bernice Paglia


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