After months of complaints by residents, Phoenix Police are cracking down on speeding in Ahwatukee.
Cmdr. James Gallagher of the department’s South Mountain Precinct, which covers Ahwatukee, told an audience at last week’s PD Tukee Talks session that officers are focusing traffic enforcement for now on the eastern portion of the community, but will be moving westward as time and manpower allows.
Gallagher said the stepped-up enforcement marks a new phase in the department’s efforts to make Ahwatukee’s streets safer.
“We want to change driving behaviors through education and enforcement,” he said. “Education comes first. What we want to do is get out into the community, recognize the behaviors that we want to change and make better and contact people and say, ‘Hey, do you realize that you’re going at the speed limit?’ Or “You didn’t make that yellow that you thought you did, and you ran a red light. And what that could lead to is you have a collision with a car that may have the right of way.’”
He said that during “a week’s worth of educational contacts down here, we pulled over about 67 people, including another cop.” He said off-duty police are required to obey traffic laws “just as any of you.”
Noting that the highest speed clocked on one of those motorists was 70 mph, Gallagher said, “We’ve now moved into enforcement.”
He said additional traffic patrols have been moved in to join regular units and that the department was concentrating right now on an area around 48th Street and Chandler, which he called “the epicenter of traffic issues” in Ahwatukee.
He also said police are “doing things a little differently” by monitoring Ahwatukee social media sites and putting patrols in areas called out as dangerous by people who post on those sites.
In recent months, a number of people have expressed alarm about what they perceive as an increase in accidents on Ahwatukee streets, especially at 48th Street’s intersections with Ray Road and Chandler Boulevard.
Data police gave city Councilman Sal DiCiccio’s office two weeks ago showed that the number of accidents between 2013 and 2017 annually ranged from 561 in 2015 to 601 in 2013. The total last year was 586, and the grand total for all five years was 2,905. There was no breakdown of the number of injuries and deaths.
But police also told DiCiccio’s office that they have no data on crashes in Ahwatukee this year and that they probably won’t have numbers for even the first half of 2018 until next year. They said they rely on the Arizona Department of Transportation, which analyzes reports it receives from police departments across the state.
Over the five-year period covered by the data police provided, the different types of accidents also were fairly consistent from year to year, with rear-end accidents, “angle accidents” and single-vehicle mishaps accounting for the lion’s share of all mishaps.
There were a total 723 rear-end accidents over the five-year period, 699 angle mishaps and 514 single-vehicle crashes.
The fourth most frequent type involved vehicles making left turns in the path of oncoming cars or trucks, while sideswipes occupied the fifth most common mishap.
There were 97 accidents involving vehicles and bicycles and 48 involving pedestrians.
Last month, two fatal accidents occurred in Ahwatukee within 70 minutes of each other, one involving a 70-year-old pedestrian killed trying to cross Ray Road and the other a passenger in a two-car collision at 48th Street and Chandler Boulevard that is under investigation for possible impairment of the driver of the car carrying the female victim.
Gallagher said the stepped-up enforcement also promises to help police in other ways.
“The research shows that when you change driving behaviors and you stop people from doing things, many times you’re going to come across people that have warrants, that may be a DUI, that maybe they have drugs in the car, and then we could arrest them. So, we’re reducing the potential for additional crime in Ahwatukee by smart, strategic traffic enforcement,” he said.
That enforcement strategy comes despite a chronic understaffing in the department.
“We would all agree we would have liked to have more cops everywhere, but what we’re doing is taking advantage of the resources that we have in house, and we’re supplementing our traffic cops” with patrols from other parts of the precinct, Gallagher explained.
“Some people may get tickets and they may be unhappy, but that’s not our goal. Our goal is to make Ahwatukee safe,” he added. “We want to change behaviors.”
Gallagher’s remarks came after Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams addressed the gathering of about 50 people.
Williams covered a wide range of topics and spent a considerable amount of her presentation on how the department’s Community Action Patrol members – uniformed personnel on the city payroll who are trained but unarmed – have helped by handling more routine calls so that uniformed officers can be dispatched more quickly to serious crime scenes.
For example, she explained that people who find their homes or businesses burglarized usually get an initial visit from a civilian patrol, while a uniformed officer would be sent to a burglary in progress.
Nevertheless, she said, the department is wrestling with an uptick in the number of officers who retire or simply quit.
Conversely, recruitment “is going slow,” partly because a number of applicants don’t meet department standards but also because adverse publicity may be dissuading many young people from a career as a police officer.
“There are still kids and people and individuals out there who still want to be police officers,” Williams said. “Our challenge is really trying to reach out to people in different ways, through social media…We’re still finding people. We just have to be very smart about how we find them.”
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