Of all the things that the citizens of Akron complain about, it’s not potholes, sewer bills or abandoned properties that top the list, it’s residential speeding. More than half of the phone calls that council representatives get from their constituents are complaints about speeding on residential streets.
Marilyn Keith,Council President
“Speeding certainly is the biggest issue in our wards,” said Marilyn Keith (W8), who has been working with Donnie Kammer (W7) and Bob Hoch (W6) for three years to address the issue. They’ve looked into how other cities prioritize speed enforcement, researched new enforcement technology and scoured the city budget for money. They found the funds to buy speed indicators — lighted signs that show drivers how fast they’re going — and they found the company that now is providing photo enforcement in school zones. Kammer, who is chair of the public safety committee, also led the drive to budget an extra $10,000 last year for police overtime to run radar. The newest technology they’re targeting is handheld speed detectors. They’ve witnessed demonstrations from three companies and made a recommendation to Akron police chief James Nice.
“We have to increase radar enforcement on residential streets,” said Keith. “The quandary has been how to pay for the equipment and allocate the man hours needed to run radar, and we think we’ve found the solution.” The company with the best proposal, Blue Line Solutions, is offering to give Akron five or six handheld radar guns in exchange for 30 percent of the ticket revenue with no quota for tickets issued. The police department will be free to calibrate each gun to the speed at which they want a ticket issued on that particular street.
Bob Hoch, Ward 6
Like with the school zone photo enforcement carts, the tickets will be generated automatically and transmitted to Blue Line, which will mail the tickets to the violators.
“The fines from these tickets are considered simple fines, which means all of the money stays within the city,” said Hoch. “The 70 percent of the fines that remains after paying Blue Line will pay for police to run the handheld radar units, and any money that remains will go into a fund to support additional radar enforcement.”
It's about saftey
Keith, Kammer and Hoch realize there will be those who say the city is trying to make money by writing tickets. They respond that it’s not about generating revenue, and it’s not that the police want to write more tickets, it’s about safety. And the best way to describe their feelings about critics is that they don’t care.
“If running radar makes us look heavy-handed, so be it. If they want to blame City Council for getting a ticket, we’ll be glad to take the heat,” said Kammer. “I’ve asked police to run radar in my ward before and one irate citizens who got a ticket called me that night and asked what I thought I was doing. I told him, ‘I’m doing my job.’ ”
Even though the technology makes running radar easy, a police officer must be present to witness the offense and confirm an automatically generated ticket. However, 10 of the 16 officers in the traffic division have been reassigned as police prioritize efforts to improve citizen-police relations and fighting the heroin epidemic.
Donnie Kammer, Ward 7
“We have six school zone speed carts, but police are only operating three right now. I’ve also heard that the motorcycle unit is not running radar anymore, and that’s one of their primary jobs,” said Kammer. “We need more detection on the streets. We need to make speed enforcement a priority, both for the safety of our children and because it’s what our citizens want.”
“The mayor has said he wants to direct more attention to the neighborhoods, and this is a very visible way to tell our citizens that we are doing that and we care about their safety,” added Keith. “As the city administration promotes its people-friendly, get out and walk and bike initiative, the administration has to realize that speeding is a huge deterrent to people feeling safe doing that.”
Though the city finance department maintains that there is enough money in the police budget to enforce speed laws, Keith, Hoch and Kammer are continuing to search for more funds as additional motivation. The city has a budget of $100,000 set aside for neighborhood grants, but last year only $14,000 of that budget was used.
“I view speed enforcement as a neighborhood enhancement that fits within that program, and I’d like to see a sizable sum from that budget allocated for enforcement,” said Keith. “That budget has been available and mostly unused for several years. With it, we can implement a consistent program, and that’s what it takes to make a difference.”
For proof, she suggests looking north to our neighbor, Cuyahoga Falls, asking, “Who doesn’t slow down as soon as they cross the border into Cuyahoga Falls?”
In the two years since Keith, Kammer and Hoch made speed enforcement a priority, Lt. Richard DeCatur in the traffic division provided these numbers as evidence of the initiative's effectiveness.
"For the last couple of years, council and the traffic division have worked hard on this," said Kammer. "Sadly, though, Council has no authority. It's up to the mayor and chief of police to make speed enforcement a priority. All we can do is to keep asking, and we will."