Patrols stepping up locally

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Despite an effort to help Alabama state troopers who are stretched beyond their limits, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley’s plan to enlist the help of Alabama sheriffs and police chiefs will not help the Black Belt area because of a state law that prohibits any municipality with a population of 19,000 or less to run radar on the interstate.

“Starting (Aug. 26), we will effectively double the number of those who provide public safety on our interstates,” Riley said during a press conference on the Capitol steps. “The sheriffs of all 67 counties have agreed to begin traffic enforcement to slow down the speeders, stop the reckless drivers and save lives.

“And the police departments in Alabama cities that can legally patrol the interstates are also joining in this effort,” Riley added. Unfortunately for the Black Belt area, most of which is rural, a state law enacted to prevent “speed traps,” excludes most of the local police agencies from participating.

“The governor has contacted all 67 counties and asked their deputies to increase their patrol of interstates,” Livingston Police Chief Ashley Welborn said. Welborn said his agency would not be participating because of the law.

“There is not a municipality between Tuscaloosa and the Alabama state line, near Meridian, that will be participating,” he said.

Riley’s deputy press secretary, John Matson, said the law was part of a package passed several years ago that allowed the speed limit to increase to 70, but prohibited small town police agencies from stopping speeders on the interstates.

“It was an attempt to curb speed traps in small towns,” Matson said.

Welborn called it a problem.

“There are two miles of interstate in my jurisdiction, and I can’t work radar to reduce the amount of speeders,” he said. “But if there is an accident I can work that.”

He said if he was able to enforce the speed limit, he could possibly reduce the number of accidents, and particularly fatal accidents.

And without local municipalities able to help, interstate safety remains at risk with approximately 300 troopers on hand to patrol the entire state.

“Studies have been conducted that show we need anywhere from 600 to 900 troopers to adequately cover the state of Alabama,” Matson said. “But like Gov. Riley said at his press conference, you can’t hire 300 troopers overnight.”

The Governor called the safety initiative “an interim step” until the state can increase its number of troopers.

“But that will obviously take time,” the governor said during the recent press conference. “Time during which we’re seeing more and more of our fellow citizens die on the road. This is not the ultimate solution, but it is one that will work in the meantime to make our interstates safer.”

Col. Mike Coppage, director of the Department of Public Safety, said the extra help on the interstates will act as a “more visible deterrent to those individuals who drive while impaired or who disregard the traffic laws of this state.”

“This is not about writing tickets or raising revenue.

This is about saving lives,” Coppage said. “No longer will Alabama be known as the ‘Hammer State,’ where when you cross the Alabama line you ‘put the hammer down’ and drive as fast as you can.”