Patrols focus on safety near schools

"Kim Daniels has watched drivers fly over the hill that crests in front of Wildwood Elementary School.Daniels, whose two youngest children attend the school, says she was thrilled by a Federal Way police program that put additional officers in school zones for the first two weeks of classes.People need to have that the first two weeks, they need to be reminded, Daniels said. They tend to speed up in the summer. They tend to forget there's a school.The results of the program - including 145 tickets for school zone violations - show why a reminder is so needed, said Lt. John Stray, who supervises the Federal Way Department of Public Safety's traffic division. But the September program also shows how valuable grants can be at a time when governments are tightening their belts as a result of Initiative 695. Government agencies, including Federal Way police, must find innovative ways to fund programs.Federal Way police received a Washington State Traffic Safety Commission grant that reimbursed the department for overtime incurred during the increased school zone traffic enforcement. Twenty-three officers participated in the program, including two detectives, Stray said. That's many more than the six traffic cops the department employs. All six are motorcycle cops. During the first two weeks of school, officers used 182 hours of overtime for the enforcement. They ticketed or warned people for a variety of traffic violations, including parents who didn't properly buckle up their children and kids who jaywalked or didn't wear bicycle helmets, Stray said.But the focus of the officers' efforts was on people who drove through the school zones faster than the 20 mph speed limit, unlawfully passed school buses or failed to yield to walkers or other cars, Stray said. Unlike other speeding tickets, penalties for school zones are stiffer and cannot be reduced by a judge.Many of the tickets, Stray concedes, result from people forgetting about students' return to school and the need for caution when driving near schools.A lot of tickets were people aren't realizing that there's kids out and about, he said.Those people include parents, who face increasingly harried mornings getting the kids up and out of the house. They may remember to slow down in front of their children's school, but drive through an unfamiliar neighborhood and speed by another school, Stray said.On Monday afternoon, Wildwood traffic enforcement volunteer Frank Fisher kept an eye out for the 80 or so kids who walk. With the mean hill on South 300th Street and pedal to the metal drivers, Fisher considers it lucky that no kids have been hit by carsBetter knock on plastic, Fisher said, banging on his yellow construction hat.Stray, too, considers that fortunate.While the statistics (of citations) are impressive, the most impressive statistic is what didn't happen, he said. No kids were hurt and no accidents occurred near the enforcement locations. This is ever parent's prayer, to start school with safety. Police officers regularly enforce the 20 mph speed limit around school zones. In fact, traffic officers are assigned to enforce the speed limit near a different elementary school each day when kids are arriving in the morning and leaving in the afternoon. Today, for example, the assigned school is Olympic View Elementary.However, those officers also must respond to accidents that occur during their shifts, which sometimes pull them away from the schools, Stray said. The department's six traffic cops work shifts from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.With days off, I'm down to three or four, Stray said. Mix in hit-and-run investigations and it's tough. That's why the grant was so important. It made us focus, get out in the street. You're not doing any good if you're sitting behind a desk doing a hit-and-run investigation. "

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