Fewer speeding tickets written in Janesville last year

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Frank Schultz
Sunday, August 17, 2014

JANESVILLE--A police officer with a radar gun can easily catch speeders in Janesville—and probably in any other city of similar size.

That was clear Saturday morning, when Janesville officer Chris Armstrong stopped two speeders on Rockport Road within 23 minutes.

Both drivers were speeding well over the 25 mph limit.

“After a while, you can look at a guy and have a pretty good idea if they're going too fast,” said Armstrong, a 21-year veteran on the police force.

Armstrong had parked on a side street and aimed his radar gun down Rockport Road.

 “This black truck, for example, he's going 31,” Armstrong said. “This green car is doing 27.”

A few minutes later, Armstrong accelerated onto Rockport, lights flashing, behind a PT Cruiser.

The driver stopped quickly. He was going 38 mph, according to Armstrong's radar readout.

Driver Pedro Duran of Janesville was rueful. He was following a man in a truck who was going to fix his brakes, and he was trying to catch up to the truck, which appeared to be speeding, too.

Duran said he hadn't gotten a ticket in a long time. He described seeing Armstrong behind him:

“It's not a good feeling. You feel the rush inside: Oh, man, you're going to get a ticket.”

Armstrong let him off with a warning.

“He has a good driving record. I thought I'd give him a break,” Armstrong remarked later.

Janesville police made fewer speeding arrests last year than in any of the past 13 years, the department's annual reports show.

Are fewer drivers speeding, or are police just spending less time running radar? It appears to be the latter.

Police Chief Dave Moore said one reason for fewer speeding citations was that officers were learning a new reporting system last year. The system requires officers to log reports by computer from their squad cars, and that took away from patrol time.

Officers are becoming accustomed to the new software, so that should be less of a problem now, Moore said.

Staffing also affects numbers of tickets, Moore said. The department had 102 sworn officers in 2013 and again this year. That's down from 106 officers in 2005, 104 in 2009 and 103 in 2012.

Moore rejected the suggestion that it might be easier now to get away with speeding in Janesville.

“If a citizen violates traffic laws, they do so at their own risk and can receive what I think is a citation that's expensive,” Moore warned.

Speeding happens everywhere, Moore said, “perhaps with the exception of Rosendale, Wisconsin.”

Rosendale is notorious for its strict speed enforcement.

Speed increases the chances of an accident, and the number of accidents in Janesville did increase in 2013—to 1,515. The previous five-year average was 1,362.

But accidents involving injury or death last year—321—were right on the five-year average.

Moore said the statistics will fluctuate from year to year, and he does not believe the numbers signal any threat to public safety.

“With the amount of texting that goes on throughout our communities, I would expect that crash rate to go up, but it hasn't,” Moore said.

Moore said the total number of Janesville traffic citations last year—8,550—was down from the two previous years but was close to the five- and 10-year averages.

“If you look at it over the long term, it's fairly consistent,” Moore said.

Moore noted that Janesville seatbelt violations were down in 2013 and have been going down ever since state law changed in 2010.

The law change allows officers to stop a car only for a seatbelt violation. Before, a seatbelt ticket could only be written after a driver was stopped for some other violation.

Fewer seatbelt citations generally leads to fewer citations for other offenses, such as failing to have insurance or driving without a license, for example, Moore said.

“My hope is that there are more citizens wearing seat belts, which in turn results in less citations (overall),” Moore said.

Moore said he hears from people who think the city could solve its budget woes with more speeding tickets. He said the revenue isn't that significant.

A ticket for driving 11 mph over the limit costs $175.30, Moore said, but the city gets a small portion of that—an average $33 per citation.

That means the city received $282,150 from traffic tickets last year. The  city's annual budget is nearly $43 million.

Back on Rockport Road, Armstrong's second speeding stop Saturday resulted in a ticket.

The driver, Steve Kersten of Janesville, was coming home from a bait shop near the river on Washington Street.

Armstrong clocked him at 40 mph.

“I could very well have been going 40 without knowing it,” Kersten told a reporter.

Kersten was remarkably cheerful for a man about to get a ticket.

“There's nothing you can do. It is what it is. You can't change it when it happens,” he said.

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