By Patty Hastings The Columbian
VANCOUVER, Wash. — Deputy Chris Luque is not what one would expect from the sheriff office’s most ticket-happy patrol deputy.
He’s not old or intimidating-looking, and he doesn’t walk around with a chip on his shoulder. So far this year, though, the 30-year-old has given out 109 tickets for speeding and 61 for using a cellphone or texting while driving.
Luque has been with the sheriff’s office five years and works enforcement out of Hazel Dell. He does traffic stops on top of his normal 911 calls and assignments as a drug recognition expert.
He’s not an engineer, so he can’t make cars any safer, he said. But he can make people safer.
“Every traffic stop is education,” he said.
He got into traffic enforcement because he saw it as the best opportunity to change driver behavior and keep the motoring public safe. By educating people now, he could prevent a serious accident later, he said.
When he pulls people over, some argue with him, some are honest, but more often than not, he said, drivers recognize their error. At 33 percent of his traffic stops, he lets people off with a verbal warning. The agency average is 54 percent.
“What we try to do is get people to modify their behavior,” said Fred Neiman, spokesman for the sheriff’s office. “If we can accomplish that in a warning instead of a penalty or a citation, I think we’re just as successful.”
About a year ago, Luque created a two-hour multimedia presentation on impaired and reckless driving. He presents it at Big John’s Driving School in Orchards and Camas, and at Driving 101, hoping to inspire new drivers to adopt safe behaviors. He also teaches a refresher course for driver’s education teachers, along with an impaired driving class at the Clark County Skills Center.
“I don’t know how to do anything just a little,” Luque said.
In about 10 percent of the vehicles he stops, the drivers are under the influence, he said, but that doesn’t automatically mean he stops a lot of drunk drivers. Drugs, even prescription drugs, can pose a problem on the road. Through his traffic safety presentations, he teaches people what happens when they take anti-depressants or sleep aids, and what the difference is between methamphetamine and caffeine.
He’s done about 110 presentations to nearly 2,200 students, who are constantly challenging him with new questions about driving and the rules of the road.
Luque said people often think police seek out cars to stop just to be mean or to get a few extra bucks. He said, however, deputies with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office don’t get paid extra for pulling over more people.
They just get a little extra incentive that what they say during a traffic stop could prevent an accident down the road.
Traffic enforcement isn’t always easy, either. One time he was hit by a drunk driver while directing traffic for a Def Leppard concert at the Clark County Amphitheater.
“I’ve had some rough goes,” he said. “You kind of laugh it off.”
Deputy James Naramore has also handed out a few of those white slips. So far in 2012, he’s given out 120 tickets for drivers and passengers not wearing their seat belts and typically lets off 13 percent of drivers with just a warning during routine traffic stops. Naramore is the only officer in the traffic unit working commercial vehicle enforcement. Most of his traffic stops deal with trucking safety violations, which can have a greater impact on the motoring public’s safety than everyday passenger vehicles.
During his eight years with the traffic unit, he’s seen a lot of fatal traffic accidents.
“I’ve seen more death than I ever thought I would,” he said.
The officer is a big fan of prevention. He organizes multi-agency efforts emphasizing truck safety. Wearing a seat belt, he said, can make the difference between a noninjury crash and a fatality.
“I’ve seen a lot of crashes where the seat belt would have saved a life,” Naramore said.
He gives seat belt citations to commercial vehicle drivers as well as passenger vehicle drivers. Sometimes, people tell him they weren’t wearing a seat belt because it’s uncomfortable, they forgot to put it on, or they have a right not to wear it.
But traffic accidents are volatile, he said, and everyone should take precautions to be safe on the streets.
“It could happen to anyone, anytime, any moment,” Naramore said.