Number of traffic stops, tickets up in many areas - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Number of traffic stops, tickets up in many areas

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WAUSAU (WAOW) -

Police in our area are busier on the roads.

In the past few years, there have been more people pulled over and more tickets issued in many parts of the Newsline 9 viewing area.

But what's driving the increase? Is it safety? Money? Or something else?

We rode along with police in our area to discover the answers behind traffic ticket trends.

We started with Lt. Shawn Becker of the Wood County Sheriff's Department.

"Traffic enforcement is part of a deputy's job," said Becker.

We watched as Becker pulled a guy over for speeding. It's one of more than a thousand traffic stops in Wood County so far this year. Overall, the county's traffic enforcement is up recently.

And Wood County's not alone. Newsline 9 analyzed data from 12 police agencies in our area. The numbers show a lot of those agencies are busier, especially during the past two years.

First, we looked at traffic stops. Eight police agencies provided complete data. Others said they didn't have the software to do so. Of the eight, six agencies made more traffic stops during 2010 and 2011 than the two years before that: Adams County, Clark County, Oneida County, Portage County, Wausau Police, and Wood County.

For citations during that same time, eleven agencies provided complete data. Seven of them saw an increase: Clark County, Everest Metro, Forest County, Portage County, Vilas County, Wausau Police, and Wood County.

Four agencies—Adams County, Marathon County, Oneida County, and Waupaca County—reported a decrease in citations issued.

Lincoln and Langlade Counties refused to provide data. Officials said they didn't have the software capability to generate the information.

"We have increased our enforcement in the last few years," said Wausau Police Chief Jeff Hardel, whose department was very busy in 2011. Wausau officers made 12,637 traffic stops that year—5,000 more than 2010. And they wrote almost 1,400 more tickets.

In fact, Wausau's traffic enforcement has steadily increased every year since 2004.

So, why the higher numbers? Obviously, traffic enforcement keeps people safe. But it's also no secret that cities and counties are trimming their budgets. We wanted to know, is that causing police to write more tickets?

"That has never played a role in any of our decisions," said Chief Hardel. "The budget process is city government, that's their process. We don't play into generating any funds."

In Wood County, Lt. Becker said the same.

"We don't mandate our deputies to go out and enforce traffic laws because of financial reasons at all," said Becker. "It's part of their job."

Becker says the stepped-up enforcement is actually due to more money—grant money—from the state.

For example, 2010 was the busiest year in Wood County in a decade. Deputies made 7,743 traffic stops and wrote 2,740 tickets. Becker says that year, the county had more grant money—enough to fund 400 hours of extra traffic enforcement.

Wausau's police chief also says grant money has helped them ramp up enforcement. But more than anything, he says, complaints from citizens about traffic violations have pushed officers to be more aggressive.

"The officers have heard that from the citizens year after year, and so they've stepped up," said Hardel. "We've been responsive to what the citizens want us to do."

But, he points out, they're not out to pull just anybody over.

"Our officers aren't pulling drivers over for going 3 over, or 4 over, or 5 over," said Hardel. "They're flagrant-type violations, violations that are unsafe."

Experts say stepped-up traffic enforcement has several benefits including financial, whether that's a stated reason or not.

"It doesn't hurt the city, and it makes things safer by slowing down the traffic," said Ed Miller, director of the UWSP Center for the Small City.

But, Miller said, heavier enforcement could have one negative effect—on those who get the tickets.

"They may relate that unhappiness to their community for years," said Miller.

Police we spoke with say they're confident extra attention on the roads will make their communities better.

"We do care about the safety of this community," said Wausau Chief Hardel. "Our purpose is simply to keep the city streets safe."

To view traffic enforcement data by agency, click on the attached spreadsheet.

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