PDT Staff Writer
In January Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware told the Daily Times area residents were going to begin to notice a higher concentration of Portsmouth police officer activity and in a more proactive, rather than reactive, mode. Now, Portsmouth City Solicitor John Haas has assembled the numbers to back up Ware’s promise to the community.
“In a nutshell, traffic citations which resulted in court cases are up from 383 in 2012 to 1,290 for the same period in 2013,” Haas said. “The fines collected rose from $7,759 in 2012 to $20,535.”
Haas said the number of citations (a citation may have more than one offense) written in in 2012 were 4,123 and in 2013 that number is 5,480. Haas said the increase is obviously the City of Portsmouth doing more enforcement.
“That was our goal to get out there and reduce crashes and to be proactive and try to attack the problem as opposed to react to the problem,” Ware said Thursday afternoon.
While Ware doesn’t dwell on the subject, the Portsmouth Police Department is far under the staffing level of 44 mandated by the City Charter, but has a vision how much more could be accomplished with a full contingent of employees in his department.
“Obviously, when you are below staffing levels, you are completely reactive,” Ware said. “The proactive component is not there. With the grant funds, we have been able to be proative. Essentially everything we’re doing on the proactive side is what we could be doing if we had officers in their place.”
Ware said as a part of that Recovery Act his department received a $480,000 grant to hire three officers, the stipulation being that the city had to be at its full table of organization to take advantage of those grants. Three years into that, the department was going to lose the money if they didn’t hire the officers. Ware went back to the federal government and asked them to allow him to complete the other six objectives. He was given the opportunity to apply, showing the other six objectives. He applied, submitted it, and they granted it.
“We put a proposal together, submitted it, and they granted it,” Ware said. “Our funding runs out at the end of August.”
Ware was quick to add that it is not his goal to just hand out citations all day long - quite the contrary.
“If we can change the behavior of the driving public, that reduces crashes,” Ware said. “And if we do that, then we are freeing up our officers, giving them time to go take care of issues, such as the drug dealing and the residual crimes.”
Ware said the ultimate goal is to reduce crash levels enough that it doesn’t have a significant impact when the funding runs out.
“Then, the periodic traffic enforcement during the normal course of our duties, with the change in the behavior of the motoring public, we hope that it will maintain the progress that we’ve made over the course of the first six months of the year,” Ware said. “So obviously that takes a little bit of cooperation from the public in that they need to realize that what we try to address are the causes of crashes. And if they maintain the behavior that they assume when they go around the corner that they are going to see an officer with a laser or radar, or sitting in an intersection watching, we will free up the officers and allow them time for the other things.”
Ware has adapted a Homeland Security phrase for local residents when it comes to spotting any unusual activity. That phrase is, “If you see it, say it.”
“I addressed it again today in a speech I gave at the Elder Abuse program, in the fact that there are so many factors that go into building a case, or completing an investigation, or bringing justice to a victim,” Ware said. “We all see things from different perspectives, different angles, or different levels of exposure. That very little simple detail that the neighbor notices or the coworker notices or the friend notices. That might be the missing omponent to that big picture puzzle that we’re trying to place together to complete an investigation or complete a prosecution or develop a probable cause for a search warrant or prevent a major crime from occurring. So the little things mean a lot. Just because somethings what they’re seeing is not that big a deal, when you put it together with the other pieces to the puzzle, it becomes a big deal.”
Haas sees at least part of the change coming as a result of the culture at the Police Department.
“There seems to have been a change in morale and outlook coming from the Police Department under Chief Ware. I have a great deal of respect for him and the things he is trying to do for the citizens of Portsmouth and for the officers who serve them,” Haas said. “As Solicitor, I am the City’s lead prosecutor and legal counsel. In working with the Police Department on prosecutions, I have found the officers and detectives to be professional. They work hard to improve the community they live in. I only wish the City were in a better financial position to hire additional officers to alleviate the need for overtime and the additional stresses that places on the Department as they try to do their jobs.”
Haas said the increased enforcement has had at least two measurable effects.
“First, people slow down and otherwise observe the traffic laws to avoid getting a ticket,” Haas said. “Second, having officers out enforcing traffic makes them visible to the general public and adds to a general sense of security.”
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.