While Flagstaff’s population continues to grow, heavy traffic congestion is becoming the new normal throughout much of the city. The hope of the Flagstaff Police Department (FPD) is to prevent the loss of life and property that can come with traffic accidents through a new campaign.
“This campaign, like other campaigns that our traffic unit has carried out, is designed for prevention and education in order to reduce road accidents,” FPD Public Information Officer Sgt. Charles Hernandez II said. “It’s no different from our campaigns that we recently conducted related to bicycle safety, pedestrian safety or click-it-or-ticket campaigns.”
To combat the recent marginal increase in traffic accidents, FPD announced Feb. 13 that officers had been instructed to crack down on traffic violations in the city through the month of April. This comes after police officials noticed an increase in documented traffic accidents when traffic stops decreased.
Data provided by FPD, which is available on its Facebook page, showed that as staffing levels decreased, so did the number of traffic stops. Last year, the department saw a 7% drop in traffic stops, but its push to recruit more officers helped the department reach its staffing goals.
“We are near capacity with our staffing levels for patrol,” Hernandez II said. “We’re definitely looking to get back to meeting our goals and objectives with reducing the crashes and increasing our service to the community.”
According to data available on Facebook recorded over 2019, injury accidents increased by 1% and non-injury accidents by 2%. In addition, the number of deaths caused by car accidents had decreased from four in 2018 to two in 2019.
The most recent publicly available data illustrates the difficulty of predicting accidents. For instance, there were no accidents in 2018 at the intersection of South Milton Road and South Plaza Way, but there were 21 accidents at the same location in both 2017 and 2016. In addition, 2018 saw a decrease of traffic collisions with injuries by 9% from 2017, but 2019 saw injuries increase by 1%.
Although predicting the amount of accidents is difficult, there are still a plethora of intersections that see roughly the same amount of accidents recorded per year, according to FPD data. The intersections of East Ponderosa Parkway and East Butler Avenue, and North Highway 89 and East Marketplace Drive were the largest contributors to the rise of traffic accidents throughout the city.
Hernandez II said officers will be primarily watching these areas, and their main focus will be looking for factors that play a part in traffic accidents, such as running red lights, tailgating, speeding and distracted driving.
“We think any opportunity to contact the driver will enable us to provide that education to the operator so they’re safe,” Hernandez II said.
Flagstaff resident Stephen Smith said he supports the new traffic safety campaign but would like the campaign to run throughout the summer.
“The majority of intersections on Butler Avenue and Fourth Street have become increasingly dangerous due to excessive speed and blocking intersections with the flow of traffic stopping,” Smith said. “I’m honestly thankful that they are doing this.”
Smith said the high influx of tourists that visit Flagstaff every year during the summer months causes unsafe traffic congestion throughout the city. He said the presence of FPD on the roads could help alleviate traffic congestion and unsafe drivers on the road.
However, many residents have expressed concerns over the traffic safety campaign on the FPD Facebook page, calling the campaign a “cash grab” that is masked as a traffic safety campaign to boost city revenue.
Flagstaff resident John Dozier is one of many residents who have voiced concern regarding the traffic safety campaign. Dozier said the city should focus on fixing the roads.
“This campaign is actually designed to increase city revenue,” Dozier said. “They should fix all of the bad roads with giant potholes that have been around for years that cause unsafe driving, instead of policing for profit.”
However, Hernandez II said the department does not receive income directly from citations issued by officers during traffic stops.
“Officers take advantage of this opportunity to provide education on road safety, which will include a verbal warning, a written warning or a summons,” Hernandez II said.
Although the department does not receive income directly from citations that are issued, the state receives income to fund state programs such as police training, victim rights fund, a court restitution fund and for the county’s probation department, according to an article from The Arizona Republic.
At the end of the campaign in April, officials will look at the numbers to determine if the traffic campaign induces an improvement to Flagstaff road safety.