Peering through a police cruiser’s windshield, Mesa officer Ryan Douglass eyed the heavy flow of rush-hour traffic buzzing along a sea of black asphalt at Broadway Road and Mesa Drive.
A citywide push to reduce the number of traffic injuries and fatalities has officers such as Douglass making daily surveys of motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians, making sure all traffic laws are being obeyed.
“Basically, I’m always looking to see what’s going on,” Douglass said on Tuesday as he eyed a bicyclist. “I’m going to stop this guy at the traffic light. He was riding on the wrong side of the road back here, and then he was going against the red light.”
The 40-year-old bicyclist received a citation and a warning for the violations. Douglass said many collisions are caused when bicyclists ride on the wrong side of the road.
Police here are stressing their traffic safety message to prevent a repeat of 2005's fatality count.
Last year, 67 people died in some combination of vehicle, pedestrian or bicycle collisions, according to the Mesa Police Department. The number surged from the 28 fatalities in 2004.
So far this year, Mesa police have reported 37 traffic deaths.
The latest campaign — Operation Drive and Arrive — was launched in early September when the department asked that all 816 sworn officers in all divisions make traffic enforcement a priority and look for traffic violations.
The program, expected to enhance and support efforts that police already have in place, has a goal of reducing serious injury and fatal collisions by 25 percent, said Mesa police spokesman Sgt. Chuck Trapani. Police street presence combined with an increased number of redlight cameras are tools to prevent bad driving, authorities have said.
On Monday, the operation was stepped up when police posted a request for help on the city’s Intranet site. On the Web site, city employees can find forms to list such information as a violator’s license plate number. That information will be passed on to police who would then issue the driver a warning.
“We’re really trying to emphasize this program for all city employees, so it’s not just a police program,” police spokeswoman Holly Hosac said. “We all need to work together.”
City employees, who aren’t officers, won’t be taking enforcement action, but can act as an extra set of eyes on the road, Trapani said.
Mesa fire spokesman deputy chief Mike Dunn said looking for traffic violations is a new concept for firefighters but he added that fire crews can offer a good tool for police since they are often out on the city’s streets.
Mesa Unified School District spokeswoman Kathy Bareiss said educators are hoping the safe-driving message will filter down to the 11,000 school district employees and parents of its 74,000 students.
In the past, bus drivers have been notifying police about bad drivers, Bareiss said. Now, crossing guards also will report violators.
As the operation evolves, police will examine the number of citations handed out as well as the number of injuries and fatalities, Trapani said.
Since the operation started Sept. 5, the city’s officers have issued 580 citations and 185 warnings.
Douglass, a patrol officer for eight years, handles the southeast corner of the Central District. He said through Operation Drive and Arrive, the department will have more focus as officers are updated on which intersections are experiencing the most collisions.
As day transitioned into night on Tuesday and the sun slowly set, the traffic flow was heavy.
Douglass parked his squad car in a lot facing Mesa Drive near Broadway Road and kept an eye on the two-way left-turn lane, which he said motorists often abuse.
He pulled over a white Dodge Stratus on Mesa Drive and issued a citation to a 44-year-old woman for driving along the length of the twoway left-turn lane instead of using it to turn before she reached the intersection.
On Alma School Road near Broadway, he stopped a white Nissan Sentra. The driver didn’t stop at a red light before turning right onto Alma School.
The 43-year-old man got a citation for failing to stop for a red light and having no proof of insurance.
“And he thanked me and said he wouldn’t ever do it again,” Douglass said.
Being visible as a police officer can be a preventive measure, Douglas said. And sometimes, he said, drivers just need an explanation of what they were doing wrong.
“Hopefully, they’ll slow down and be a little more cautious in their driving just to prevent and avoid the traffic accidents,” Douglass said. “Because, in reality, that’s what’s going to stop them, is how people are driving.”