Stepped-up traffic enforcement is just one of the AAPD's priorities this year.
With serious crime near an all-time low (see Up Front, p. 9), city council voted to add $125,000 to the police department's budget in December. The money is buying about 70 hours a week of police overtime for traffic enforcement.
Chief John Seto says they're out to curb dangerous driving. "We get all kinds of complaints from citizens and from researching crash data," he says. "They vary from speeding to running stop signs to cut-throughs in neighborhoods to trucks not obeying 'no trucks' signs to distracted driving and aggressive driving." The police stepped up patrols starting in January, and "we'll do something every week for the rest of the [fiscal] year" in June. "The manner of deployment depends on the time of day--for example before or after school, or at rush hour."
All councilmembers voted for the overtime except mayor John Hieftje--"It was a good idea, but I thought we could've waited until we had a solid plan," he says. Ward Two's Sally Hart Petersen, however, believes the time was right for more traffic enforcement.
"We have aggressive driving, and people are not getting called out on it," says the candidate for mayor. "The pedestrian safety ordinance had a feel-good component to it, but it didn't work. Data showed pedestrian crashes skyrocketed. It's distracted driving, it's social media, that's doing it."
Seto says education is crucial to making the ordinance work. "The officers have the discretion to take in the totality of the situation and take appropriate action. Sometimes that's a ticket; sometimes that's a warning. It's an education so [drivers] know what they're doing wrong.
"There was an increase in pedestrian crossing violations last year, so there's more focus on it this year with more visibility and more contact with drivers and more warning and more citations. It's a difficult problem, so we'll probably make it our focus again next year."
Even before council approved the overtime, Seto assigned another officer to focus on traffic enforcement. As part of a new
"emphasis on proactive policing and community engagement," he also added a position to "the crime strategy unit so it's now staffed by a detective sergeant and three detectives." And he appointed sergeant Tom Hickey the department's "community engagement officer."
"My main job is reaching out to people," Hickey says. "For example, I was at Concordia [University] yesterday, training the staff on what to do in the event of a shooter in the building." He's been on the job since last May, and his highest-profile project so far is the Juvenile Graffiti Removal Initiative, a twelve-week program where juvenile offenders completed 218 hours of community service removing graffiti.
"We had quite a bit of graffiti in town and I was looking for a way to combat it," Hickey explains. "I had to get the courts and the probation officers involved, and we identified four young folks who were arrested for graffiti. The DDA gave me $1,000 for paint and supplies, and the city let me use an old canoe delivery van, and every Sunday last summer for eight hours we removed or repainted graffiti.
"Some adult graffiti artists have been arrested, but I wanted to focus on youngsters. One of the kids had done the SAES tags. He's looked up to by other graffiti artists, and he was one of the hardest workers. They were all pretty good kids, and they worked hard when they were with me. They cleaned more than twenty different locations, plus I don't know how many utility boxes.
"There's no other program in Michigan like this, though the Lansing DDA is interested," concludes Hickey. "It a great way to get the message out that cleaning up will be part of the punishment if you're caught."
Seto did all this with just the three new cops council approved in 2013. "When everybody was up to speed in training, we were able to relocate personnel," the chief explains. "Now that we're up to strength, we have more officers available."
The AAPD currently has 116 officers and three open positions. Seto expects to fill those in the next couple of months.
[Originally published in March, 2014.]