Carson City Sheriff’s Office concerned with rising number of wrecks
The Sheriff’s Office has responded to 296 accidents this year, a 19 percent increase from last year.
Eighty-seven accidents have been injury accidents, with one fatality. This doesn’t include accidents on the highways.
In the past three years, the number of accidents has increased by 30 percent.
The most common times for accidents in 2017 are between 4 and 5 p.m. with 28 accidents; 2 and 3 p.m. with 27 accidents; and 5 and 6 p.m. with 25 accidents. Last year, as of October 2016, the most common accident times were 5-6 p.m., 4-5 p.m., and 2-3 p.m.
The most common day for accidents is Thursday and Friday for 2017, and for 2016, they were Friday and Wednesday.
The most common locations for accidents are on Carson Street between William Street and Eagle Station and Highway 50 from I-580 to Saliman Road.
From Sept. 1, 2017 to Oct. 6, 2017, the Sheriff’s Office received 85 traffic complaints.
In 2017, deputies have written 4,027 citations and given 3,890 warnings on traffic stops.
Traffic is a problem for Carson City.
The number of crashes is on the rise, traffic complaints are coming into the Sheriff’s Office daily and the deputies don’t have the resources to try to wrap their arms around the issue.
“I’m concerned about it,” said Sheriff Ken Furlong. “The trend started increasing about a year and a half ago and is causing me concern because more accidents mean more injuries and more injuries mean more deaths and our goal is to not have any fatalities on Carson City roads.”
So far in 2017, the Carson City Sheriff’s Office has responded to about 45 accidents a month, including about 10 injury accidents a month. Just the first week of October, first responders had two pedestrian versus vehicle crashes.
“The last few years, our accident totals have been climbing at a dramatic pace,” Furlong said.
To focus on traffic enforcement, the department has its Motor Unit — which is supposed to handle just traffic related issues such as crashes, speed, and distracted driving. However, a manpower shortage doesn’t allow the unit to focus strictly on traffic.
“It is more traffic management than enforcement because we just don’t have the manning or resources for that,” Furlong said. “We used to have about 300-400 hours of overtime to meet our minimum manning requirements and this year we’re at 1,100 overtime hours currently to meet the community’s needs.”
With more than 2,000 calls for service a month and usually only about five deputies to cover the city per shift, the Motor Units often are assigned to a specific section of the city instead of being able to just rove for traffic-related issues.
“It’s frustrating not to be able to dedicate the time to enforce city traffic laws like speed, pedestrian laws, or bike laws,” said Motor Deputy Gary Denham. “A traffic unit is important in any agency because that’s the arm of enforcement for those laws.”
Studies have shown speed is the No. 1 factor in traffic accidents and having a police presence in areas where speed is a problem is an effective response to mitigate the behavior.
“Us not being there, the result is that accidents continue and the behavior continues until it’s modified,” Denham said.
With deputies in problem areas providing citations, warnings or just a presence, traffic problems often subside.
“Citations aren’t fun to get or to write, but they aren’t meant to be disciplinary,” Denham said. “They are meant to educate and modify the danger, so if we aren’t there, the behavior isn’t getting modified or even detected by law enforcement.”
For these traffic deputies, being able to actually oversee traffic is a near impossible task.
These deputies work primarily during the weekdays from 1:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., where traffic enforcement is meant to be most beneficial. Their purpose is to be able to oversee traffic during half of day shift and half of swing shift while the other deputies are on regular patrol.
During a ride along on two days last week, on two shifts with two deputies, they were able to oversee traffic about two and a half hours out of 20 hours on duty.
Here is the traffic enforcement broken down:
Tuesday from 12:30 to 2 p.m.: Speed enforcement on Spooner Summit. Four citations and a warning.
Tuesday from 4:15 to 4:45 p.m.: Stop sign enforcement at Woodside and Siskyou. Two warnings.
Tuesday from 8:25 to 8:35 p.m.: Traffic stop at 5th and Saliman. One citation.
Wednesday from 12 to 12:15 p.m.: Traffic stop at Carson High School. One citation.
The rest of the time was spent responding to every other call imaginable: suicidal juveniles, grand larceny reports, burglaries, incorrigible juveniles, domestic battery, cover unit, you name it.
“People want us out there to stop things, but we just don’t have the time because we are responding to other calls for service while trying to write tickets,” Denham said. “I love my job and will do anything that I am dispatched to, but what’s frustrating is when you hear of these accidents, these serious accidents, and think was there something I could have done if I was enforcing in that area?”
Denham said they sometimes can get in some time between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., before swing shift starts, however once swing starts that’s usually the time when most accidents occur.
“Everyone on this unit wants to make this a safer place, that’s why we were put on motors because you enjoy enforcing traffic laws, but the manning constraints don’t allow us to do what we need,” Denham said.
The objective of the ride along was to work on as much traffic enforcement as they could, but most of the two shifts were spent running call to call to call within their beat. There just wasn’t time to try to sit at a stop sign or along the major thoroughfares to address problem areas.
“Your desire to do what you are out there to do is always interrupted by patrol duties,” said Motor Deputy Joey Trotter. “You have found an area to enforce but before you even can get there you are sent somewhere else.”
But, there may be a solution.
Furlong is planning on presenting to the Board of Supervisors a proposal to include a traffic management unit for the next three years in the upcoming budget. This would allow the department to hire more patrol deputies for the streets to achieve the minimum manpower, which would free motor deputies to focus strictly on traffic instead of responding to calls for service.
“This would allow them to full time target areas and zones in the city where we have had problems,” Furlong said.
If approved, the proposal likely wouldn’t take effect until later next year.
“Having a traffic unit would mean we could have that focus on problem areas to hopefully have zero fatalities with traffic crashes,” Trotter said. “Hopefully if we got that unit we could meet that goal, we will never have zero crashes, but we could really focus in on those problem areas to hit.”