After receiving first place honors for traffic safety in the state of Virginia, the City of Fairfax Police Department has reason to be proud. The award, presented by the Virginia Association of Police Chiefs (VACP), recognized the department with the 2004 Chiefs Challenge Award for departments of its size.
VACP gives the award to the best police programs for encouraging traffic safety, said Fairfax police chief Col. Richard Rappoport, and this is not the first year the City of Fairfax Police Department has won the award. Fairfax’s traffic safety program also won first place in the Chiefs Challenge award from 1999 to 2001, and second place from 2002 to 2003, he said in an e-mail interview.
Once the City of Fairfax Police Department won first place in the state, it was automatically entered into a national program, where it won second place nationwide, said Officer Laura Kenyon.
"I’m very proud to say that we have been fairly successful in having our program recognized as among the best in the state," said Rappoport. "I take that as a compliment, because I know the departments we are in competition with, and they have outstanding programs."
The City of Fairfax Police Department, which has 64 officers, was entered in the category for departments of 51 to 150 officers, wrote Rappoport.
TO APPLY to the Chiefs Challenge competition, said Kenyon, members of the City of Fairfax Police Department first made up a report outlining the department’s policies and programs regarding traffic safety.
The program includes a mix of traffic safety education and awareness efforts, said Kenyon.
Education is a major part of traffic safety enforcement, said Rappoport.
"Part of the officer’s job is to educate people in a positive sense as well as in a punitive sense in traffic laws," he said. "It’s not just about issuing people summons and taking punitive kinds of actions, but looking for a higher level of compliance."
"I think we have one of the finest police departments and chiefs in the area, to my knowledge," said Mayor Rob Lederer. "That is one area we never had to spend a lot of time and energy on, because it was so well run."
"I think the award, placing first in the category for the state, speaks for itself in the fact that there are so many different campaigns that we participate in," said Kenyon. Some of these include the anti-aggressive driving program Smooth Operator, Click It or Ticket, which encourages seatbelt use, and None for the Road, which combats drinking and driving.
According to the City of Fairfax Police Department's 2004 report, the total number of traffic accidents decreased from 1,856 in 2003 to 1,816 in 2004. Non-reportable accidents, those with a combined property damage of under $1,000 and no personal injuries, declined by 42 to 692, but the number of reportable accidents increased slightly, from 1,122 in 2003 to 1,124 in 2004. There were 196 injury-causing accidents and 928 property-damage accidents. There were no fatal accidents in 2004, said the report.
Eighteen alcohol-related crashes were reported by the City of Fairfax Fire Department, a decrease in eight from the year before. There were 201 hit-and-run accidents in 2004, 16 less than in 2003.
The most frequent causes of traffic accidents in 2004 were driver inattention, failure to yield right-of-way, and following too closely, said the report.
Although red-light cameras stopped being used as of July 1, 2005, in 2004 they led to 12,910 total red-light citations, said the report.
The number of traffic arrests has risen from 8,737 in 2002 to 10,040 in 2003 to 12,297 in 2004, according to the report.
To educate people about traffic safety, said Kenyon, the City of Fairfax Police Department hands out pamphlets to businesses and pedestrians in the city, puts up banners downtown, and conducts child safety seat checks. Police conduct sobriety checks a few times a year, she said.
A daily traffic safety program for residential neighborhoods came out last July, said Kenyon, where the department posts motor officers and officers in patrol cars at designated residential areas in the city. Officers in this program focus especially on the rush hours during the morning and afternoon, she said, to "deter violation and encourage drivers to pay attention to stop signs."
"(Traffic safety) is something we continually emphasize in all of our work in the community in the programs we do, the encounters that we have," said Rappoport. "This is really a department-wide philosophy and commitment."
Red-light running, alcohol and speed are what Rappoport refers to as "the big three" issues in traffic safety.
"A lot of our enforcement effort is to reduce those crashes and risks," he said. Raising awareness to do this can be as simple as reminding citizens about safe driving practices during a routine traffic stop, he said.
Teenage driving is also an area in which to educate people, said Kenyon.
"A lot of the drivers in high school are new and need to be aware of some of the dangers out there with excessive speed, drinking and driving, things of that nature," she said.
To Lederer, bottlenecks are a main traffic issue. "This [City Council] placed a high priority on eliminating bottlenecks where they exist," said Lederer. "We have to have the finest technology available for those kind of things."