Grants help police crack down on speeding, impaired driversRecent grant awards help law enforcement target problem areas
Belfast — Local police are stepping up speeding and impaired driving patrols in coming months in an effort to slow drivers down and prevent crashes.
This year, Belfast Police Department applied for and received $10,000 from the state Bureau of Highway Safety specifically for speed enforcement details, Chief Mike McFadden said. Speed enforcement details will focus on high-traffic areas and roads that are frequently the source of complaints.
About $8,000 from the grant will cover costs associated with the increased patrols and the remainder will pay for new radar equipment for the department.
Speeding has become a particular concern for the city in recent months with residents on Mill Lane requesting that city officials address complaints that drivers were traveling at a high rate of speed on the narrow connector between Route 1 and Swan Lake Avenue.
“Basically, we'll spring into action — pun intended,” McFadden said, noting that with warmer weather arriving, police have noticed an increase in traffic volume and speed.
Lead-footed drivers aren't the only ones subject to increased scrutiny, though. Police applied for and received grant funding, also through the state, to increase patrols to identify impaired drivers. When local police last conducted an impaired driver detail, the chief said enforcement generated so many operating-under-the-influence cases that Belfast was ranked in the top 10 statewide.
Given the size of the city, receiving such a distinction was a sobering moment for McFadden — the numerous OUI cases highlighted a serious problem.
“Those funds (impaired driver grants) are there to get impaired people off the road before they get into an accident,” he said.
In 2016, there were four fatal crashes in the city and each of those crashes involved a person driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the chief said. There were even more crashes involving impaired drivers that year that didn't end with a fatality but did result in injury of some kind.
“Impaired driving is an ongoing, pressing issue,” McFadden said. “We have an extremely high number of OUI arrests given the size of our community.”
The state grants are a welcome boost to the department because they allow McFadden to dedicate officers to speed or impaired driver enforcement as opposed to trying to fit those duties into a regular patrol schedule.
About four years ago the department added two new full-time officers to its roster to help handle higher calls for service volume. However, within a year the department's call volume had risen so dramatically that even with additional manpower, officers were hard-pressed to keep up with all the activity.
For now, police will focus specifically on speeding and impaired driving, but in the future the chief said he would like to apply for grants to address another problem: distracted driving.
“It just seems like in this day and age that a crash, if not caused by alcohol or drugs, is caused by a distracted driver,” he said.
Speeding enforcement details will begin in April and run through June, the chief said, with OUI details also starting in April but continuing through September.
Ben Holbrook is a reporter for The Republican Journal covering general news.
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