FAIRBANKS — As of last week, Fairbanks patrol officers have a new job duty: Make at least eight traffic stops per week.
Fairbanks Police Chief Laren Zager announced the new minimum for traffic stops in an internal memo Thursday. He specified the traffic stops do not need to lead to citations or arrests.
The policy is based on the theory that police contact through traffic stops can reduce crime in ways that a mere presence through traditional police patrols cannot.
“Our profession has only recently come to appreciate the irrefutable correlation between collisions and crime, a relationship that is explained easily: Risk-taking behaviors of any sort — gambling, skydiving, careless driving or committing crimes — needs a place and opportunity to happen. Find the place where both are happening frequently (called ‘hot spots’), focus intensive traffic enforcement there, and both collision rates and crime rates will drop,” he said in the memorandum.
Fairbanks residents should not expect a major change in enforcement because of the policy, Zager told the News-Miner Monday.
Among the roughly 30 officers assigned to patrol, some already make multiple traffic stops per day, he said. Other officers will start making many more stops.
In addition to the patrol officers, the city also has a five-member unit dedicated exclusively to traffic enforcement.
The policy comes as the department works to target hot spots for enforcement by using computer software.
“I don’t think the public has to be at all concerned with risking a much, much higher exposure to a traffic citation,” he said. “It will bump up some, but I’ve even told City Hall don’t expect this to be a flood gate of money coming in. This is mostly going to be mostly warnings, checking with the driver, doing warrant checks.”
Zager said officers have been receptive to the new department policy. He said frustration with the policy might develop if officers fail to make the required number of stops and are called into his office to explain themselves.
“That eight traffic stops a week is not a huge shift. It just sets the bar. They (the officers) now know kind of what I mean when I say patrol is really going to have to participate in traffic enforcement,” he said.
The officers will be expected to fit the traffic stops into uncommitted time they would otherwise use to patrol or catch up on reports. It should not affect the department’s ability to respond to calls, Zager said.
The city government supports the new policy.
“He (Zager) brings a constant flow of ideas to us,” said Pat Cole, chief of staff for city mayor Jerry Cleworth. “He’s been on this idea for a while, and he finally decided he’d gotten some other problems solved and decided to get on this issue.”
Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter, @FDNMcrime.