Driving in Edmonds? Watch your speed

EDMONDS — A lot of drivers found out the hard way last year that the city’s traffic enforcement unit was back at full strength.

Edmonds police wrote 4,939 tickets in 2008 compared with 3,328 in 2007 — a 48.4 percent jump and a record for the city.

The unit bounced back after a tough start to 2007, said Sgt. Karl Roth, the division’s manager.

One motorcycle officer suffered an on-the-job injury in August 2006 and his position in traffic was not filled until March 2007, Roth said. Another position was open during roughly the same period, when another officer was out on medical leave.

During that time, other patrol officers had to do traffic enforcement in addition to their regular duties, Roth said. As a result, the city couldn’t provide as many special patrols in areas such as school zones, said Sgt. Don Anderson, a police spokesman.

It was a matter of “being able to provide consistent enforcement on those specific problems through the week,” he said.

Last year, either Officer Steve Harbinson or Officer Eric Falk was on full-time motorcycle traffic patrol from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. A squad car officer also is assigned to traffic and DUI patrols from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m.

Altogether, the traffic unit consists of the two motorcycle officers and two officers in cars, Roth said.

The department changed its shift schedules in 2006 to give motorcycle officers more time on the road and to add the patrol car at night, police officials said.

“It was a more efficient use of our personnel,” Anderson said.

The beefed-up unit paid immediate dividends for traffic enforcement in 2006, despite officers missing time toward the end of the year. Police wrote 3,548 citations in 2006 compared with 3,035 in 2005.

About 55 percent of the money collected from traffic fines goes to the state and is distributed among several law enforcement-related programs, Edmonds District Court administrator Joan Ferebee said. The 45 percent that stays in the city goes into the general fund, she said.

That 45 percent amounted to $635,946 in 2006, $651,020 in 2007 and $755,955 last year, she said.

Police departments in other cities such as Everett and Marysville also have dedicated traffic units, officials in those cities said. Infractions were up in Everett last year, Sgt. Robert Goetz said, and slightly down in Marysville, Cmdr. Ralph Krusey said. One traffic officer position was vacant for part of last year, Krusey said.

Traffic enforcement is one of the major concerns heard by police departments from their taxpayers, officials said.

While getting a ticket might be frustrating for a driver, the added enforcement is being cheered by people who live on streets where speeding is common, Roth said.

“People are very pleased,” he said, adding that having officers on motorbikes makes them more approachable.

“People feel very free to come up and speak with them, and be very open, it creates a lot of goodwill in the neighborhood,” Roth said.

In their patrols, traffic officers emphasize streets where they receive the most complaints from residents. These include Olympic View Drive, 76th Avenue W., 100th Avenue W. between 220th Street SW and the county line, Highway 104, any school zone, and the Main Street hill.

Drivers fly down Main Street at more than 40 mph, while the speed limit is 30 mph, Harbinson said.

“We really don’t start issuing infractions until you hit 11 over,” he said. “You’re not guaranteed you won’t get a ticket (within 10 mph of the limit) but you’re much safer.”

The most common violations, he said, are speeding and failure to wear a seat belt.

“I also write the ticket for wearing it under your arm, which is improperly worn,” Harbinson said. “I gave warnings the first seven or eight years of my career and now, nothing but tickets.”

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439, sheets@heraldnet.com.

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