The Dalles Police Department has been awarded three grants to do emphasis patrols targeting driving while intoxicated, cell phone use, and failing to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.
The patrols will start this month and continue through next September, and the public will get advance notice each time. The $14,000 in grants will pay for overtime, during which officers will focus exclusively on the targeted behavior, said Traffic Safety Officer Jeff Kienlen, who secured the grants.
The largest grant, at $7,500, is for distracted driving, or cell phone use, followed by $5,000 for DUI enforcement and $1,500 for crosswalk enforcement.
The grants will pay for 170 hours of overtime for cell phone emphasis patrol and 110 hours for DUI enforcement.
The crosswalk grant will pay for one or two emphasis patrols, during which a specific crosswalk downtown is marked for an enforcement action for several hours. It requires multiple officers, with one “pedestrian” who crosses the street to see if drivers properly stop, one spotting violators and radioing their vehicle descriptions, and several officers in patrol cars who issue citations.
The grant rules require drunk driving emphasis patrols during specific times of year, including the winter holidays and over Memorial Day weekend. The department will also try to put officers on patrol during holidays or events such as the Super Bowl, St. Patrick’s Day and the Fourth of July.
On the cell phone emphasis patrol, the grants recommend officers be in unmarked patrol cars, Kienlen said, and he envisions using a mix of marked and unmarked cars for enforcement.
The department is required to spend some of the money during April, which is distracted driving prevention month, he said.
Cell phone use while driving is becoming a bigger problem, and in July, the state increased the penalties for it. Now, the first violation carries a presumptive fine of $265 with a maximum penalty of $1,000. The second violation within 10 years carries a presumptive fine of $440 with a maximum fine of $2,000. A third violation within 10 years is not a violation, but a crime, and is a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a maximum fine or $3,500 and/or up to six months in jail.
Officers regularly comment that they see more people on cell phones when they’re not on duty, and not in a marked patrol car.
The city has had grant funds for drunk driving enforcement before, but it’s probably been 10 years since the last one, Kienlen said.
While the department got more grant money for distracted driving, he said the DUI emphasis would be its top priority. “So many traffic-related deaths are DUI-related,” he said. “It’s not always the drunk drivers who are the ones that are killed or injured. Many or most of the time it’s the people that they hit.”
Kienlen said the emphasis patrols will be in shorter periods of time, and not a full shift. “These aren’t going to be guys out working a 10-hour shift looking for DUI’s, we’re going to have officers out during the peak time we see impaired drivers. The same for cell phones. We’re not going to have officers out working from 10 at night to 2 in the morning looking for cell phone violations when they’re almost impossible to detect during the hours of darkness.”
The grants do not require that a ticket be written if an officer finds a violation or a crime. “They just ask that the departments that receive the money give an honest effort to deal with the issue that the overtime’s being provided for,” he said.
“Citations are always at an officer’s discretion but the chances of getting a warning when an officer’s working a dedicated shift are going to be less,” Kienlen said.
Kienlen often sees people looking down in their lap and he’s certain they’re on a cell phone, but he can’t see the phone and therefore has no probable cause to pull them over.
To avoid that problem, officers need to be in an elevated position, so they can see down into cars. “I’ve got several locations in mind where I plan on having people,” he said.
Years ago, when cell phones were new, people were talking on their phones. Now, with smart phones being ubiquitous, “it introduces even more distractions,” Kienlen said, “like texting. Things that require you to take your eyes off the road to look at the screen.”