Fairfax County motor patrol officer Jim Pollack was at the intersection of Popes Head Road and Fairfax County Parkway when a silver car turned left in front of another car going at least 50 mph on the Parkway. As he put on the flashing blue lights and pursued the silver car, he rubbed his head in relief at the close call.
"I'm just glad we're not standing at the accident watching one of those guys being flown out," he said.
On the Parkway, where speeds exceed the posted 50 mph on a regular basis, Pollack spends days patrolling the road. When he approached the silver car, full of Robinson Secondary students, the teens were shaking from the near miss. Driver Brett Buchan tries to avoid the road when possible.
"You can't see talking left turns. People go way too fast on that road. There was too much traffic on Braddock," he said. Braddock Road is the other way Buchan uses to get home.
Pollack was patrolling in one of the unmarked Chevrolet Camaros that provide an element of undercover surveillance to the job. The students were surprised to see a police officer in the car as well. Buchan was hesitant at first when he saw the flashing blue lights on a strip on the windshield. Someone other than a police officer tried pulling him over before like that.
"We thought it was someone screwing around," he said.
Shane Bryan was in the passenger’s seat. "I told him to keep going," he said.
In the end, Buchan got a ticket for failing to yield the right of way, but it beat the alternative. Pollack looked at that intersection as one of the problems on the Parkway.
"There's one of the intersections at-grade," he said, referring to intersections that directly cross the road. Some of them have traffic lights, while others require drivers' judgment.
Speeding, failure to yield and tailgating are just a few of the infractions Pollack sees on a daily basis as the county increases police presence on the Parkway. This operation was originally going to start in October, but the police were concentrating their efforts on the sniper shootings at that time, so it was delayed until early November.
"For 45 days, we're flooding the parkway with different techniques. These campaigns are to affect the way people decide to drive," he said.
One of the techniques, besides the unmarked Camaro, is the use of Lidar Pro Laser III. This is a laser-gun tool that's more efficient then radar by targeting individual cars. Since it's new, and there are no regulations for use in the manual, there are legal loopholes in the documentation. Even so, Pollack is convinced of the tool's reliability. There are eight laser guns in the motor patrol office on Woodburn Road, as well as at least one in each district station around the county.
"We've only been using them for about the last year in Fairfax County. It's vehicle-specific, where radar is not. I haven't run into any cases that have been a problem with Lidar," he said.
Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) has a large portion of the Parkway that goes through her district. She knows the danger and planned to redesign some of the at-grade intersections if the tax referendum had gone through.
"I've had a number of deaths in my district," she said. McConnell's also aware of the pros and cons of the Lidar.
AT THE AT-GRADE intersection of the Parkway and Heather Way in Reston, Pollack set up again, pointing the Lidar at the cars coming over the hill. In the viewfinder, there is a red square to zero in on the vehicle, and its speed comes up a few seconds later. The speed is recorded in the viewfinder as well as the digital screen on the outside, so the motorists can see how long they were tracked and at what speed. A white Jaguar was clocked at 63 mph for 417.2 feet, instigating a stop.
"A lot of times, they don't deny doing it. They're just angry they're getting a ticket and not a warning. Very seldom it's 'I was speeding, officer, you're right,'" Pollack said.
Once again, Pollack was on the move, heading south when a white truck came up from behind. The truck was using a tactic Pollack's seen before when drivers want slower traffic to move over.
"This guy was riding my tail. He went right by me, and now he's up to 70 mph," he said, before pulling him over and writing a ticket.
He's heard the "I was just keeping up with the traffic" excuse as well. Eastbound near Greenspring Village, a BMW convertible cruised past, exceeding the posted speed limit. Pollack pulled his Camaro right in behind it and put on the lights. He issued a warning, since he really didn't have a chance to pace the BMW. The driver did plead that she was only keeping up with the traffic.
"She was kind of baffled I was even stopping her," Pollack said.
At Wendy Ann Court, Pollack used the Lidar to track an influx of cars. Traffic was heavy, so there wasn't much open road for speeding.
"Everybody's right there in the 50s, which is good. That's the goal," he said.
At the end of the shift, after issuing a few tickets and warnings, Pollack's day was over. Tickets and warnings are treated the same as far as work performed, but there are no quotas, despite what some people may think.
"We don't have a quota," Pollack said, but he did admit that tickets are one way to measure an officer's job performance.