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ASSET Traffic unit's sabbatical should be short-lived

Traffic scofflaws in Paducah aren't exactly off the hook, although they may be at reduced risk of being cited for awhile due to a temporary suspension of the city's Traffic Enforcement Unit.

Police Chief Brandon Barnhill says the three-officer unit is being put on the shelf temporarily due to a manpower shortage. He says the department had two retirements this spring, with four more and a resignation taking effect in the next couple of weeks.

But Barnhill gave assurance that the unit's demise will not be permanent. "The traffic unit will only be suspended temporarily, and as soon as staffing allows, it will be a top priority," he says.

Barnhill added that the department's most recent applicant pool of more than 70 people is the largest and most-diverse the city has ever had, so the hope is that the personnel shortage will be short-lived.

That is encouraging, because while unpopular in some circles, the Traffic Enforcement Unit has demonstrated success in its primary mission of reducing collisions and resulting injuries.

The unit was created in October of 2012. It has focused its efforts on areas of the city identified as having the highest auto accident rates - specifically, Hinkleville Road in the vicinity of Kentucky Oaks Mall, Lone Oak Road, Jackson Street and North 3rd Street.

The effort in 2013 saw a 19 percent reduction in collisions involving injuries and a 10 percent reduction in the number of people injured. The city notes on its website that in addition to fewer injuries, the reduced collision numbers free up officers' time for other police work. The average traffic collision, says the city, can occupy anywhere from 42 minutes to 2.5 hours of an officer's time depending on the severity of the accident.

The city says its officers wrote 9,781 traffic citations in 2013 covering 13,267 violations. That includes 3,875 citations for seatbelt violations and 2,168 for speeding.

What that shows of course is that the need for enforcement remains significant. Some have criticized the efforts of the enforcement unit, saying that handing out tickets in the mall area drives away business, particularly from out-of-town shoppers who have other options.

But from our perspective violations are violations and officers have and do exercise discretion with out-of-towners when a violation may be the result of unfamiliarity with the area.

The areas where the traffic unit focuses its enforcement are not the old-fashioned southern speed traps where one tops a hill at 60 mph to find a squad car waiting behind a sign that drops the speed limit to 25. They are high-traffic areas where people ought to be exercising a heightened degree of caution, including, on Hinkleville Road, a very busy elementary school zone.

We think the Traffic Enforcement Unit makes an important contribution to the overall safety of the community and we hope the city is able to reinstate it by the time the busy days of school events and holiday shopping are upon us.

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