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Chief: Traffic enforcement deters crime in Morrow

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

It's not just tickets. Increasing traffic patrols and stops has decreased crime rates in the city of Morrow, according to Police Chief Jeff Baker.

In one year, burglaries dropped from 51 to 28; robberies dropped from 33 to 25; motor vehicle thefts dropped from 98 to 85, and larcenies fell from 762 to 485, according to department statistics. There were about 100 fewer accidents in the city, and there were 26 fewer accidents with injuries.

"It's more than just a chance that that happens," said Baker, who has been the chief for three years. "It's a strategy."

Baker said the number of traffic stops and time spent on traffic patrols is directly related to the drop in other crimes.

During the month of October, department statistics show, police wrote 144 seat-belt tickets, 23 child-seat tickets, 123 speeding tickets and 37 reckless-driving tickets. As of the most recent totals, taken two weeks ago, the department had written 1,231 seat-belt tickets, 233 child-seat tickets, 1,491 speeding tickets, and 178 reckless-driving tickets.

A police force that is known for making traffic stops, Baker said, is known for always being present. And a force that's known for being present is one that will scare away would-be criminals.

"People think that they're just writing tickets," the chief said, "but that's just not the case. When you see the guys out there, that's a natural deterrent."

For the last two years, the Morrow Department has received a Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety traffic enforcement grant. It recently received more than $30,000 from the office's Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic (HEAT) project.

The city has used the money to pay for officers' equipment and emphasize traffic enforcement in the city and on Interstate 75 where it passes through Morrow. The HEAT project is dedicated to reducing crashes caused by impaired drivers, reducing speeding, increasing seat-belt usage, and educating the public on traffic safety.

With the HEAT grant, the five-officer HEAT unit is making Morrow safer, on and off the road, Baker said.

After receiving the grant, Baker outfitted the unit with Dodge Chargers and special uniforms, and turned the department's attention on traffic. The move seemed especially needed, because the city's daytime, shopping population crowds the roads.

The Morrow officers increased the number of drunk drivers apprehended, for example, by 100 percent, that first year. It looks, Baker said, like this year's final numbers will show a second, 100 percent increase.

But the department soon saw an added, off-the-road benefit: As the traffic stops increased, other crime rates dropped, too.

The department does not have ticket quotas, Baker said. Productivity calculations count a traffic warning as equal to a ticket, so the officer has no incentive to write a ticket. The department's productivity calculations do push officers to be visible throughout their shift, however, and to be attentive to traffic violations.

"The main thing we want to do is continue these reductions in crime numbers," Baker said. "That's what's important to me. That's what I focus on."