Seeking Zero Fatalities in the Richmond

This article was originally printed in the Richmond Review and was written by Capt. Simon Silverman, SFPD’s commanding officer at the Richmond Station. Photo (left to right): Captain Silverman, Reyne and Officer Anna Alexander.

The city of San Francisco has adopted Vision Zero, which means that we are committed to reducing traffic collision fatalities to zero by 2024. As part of that commitment, the officers of Richmond Station write more than 1,000 traffic citations in an average month. The majority of those citations are for the vehicle code violations that are most often to blame for collisions in the Richmond Police District. These violations are: speeding, failing to yield to pedestrians, stop signs, red lights and unsafe turns.

Officers choose locations for intensive enforcement based on previous collisions, on where their experience tells them a future collision is likely, and on complaints from the public. The idea behind intensive enforcement is to try to change behavior at that location. The drivers who get a citation are certainly likely to change their behavior and they will probably tell their friends and family about the citation, which may cause their friends and family to be more careful as well. In addition, dozens of drivers will pass by the officer writing a citation and drive more carefully.

Occasionally, someone complains about an intensive traffic enforcement operation. Usually, the complainer is someone who is angry because they received a citation. Here are the two most common things that people say when they are upset about traffic enforcement (along with my responses):

“Don’t the police have anything better to do?”

We don’t neglect any of our other duties when writing traffic citations. Traffic enforcement provides a very visible police presence in a neighborhood and that acts as a deterrent to criminal activity. Many criminals drive to and from their crimes and we regularly catch people with arrest warrants when they are pulled over for traffic violations. (Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was caught for speeding.) We also catch stolen vehicles, drunk drivers and unlicensed drivers during traffic enforcement stops.

There are more injury traffic collisions than robberies and assaults in the Richmond. Since public safety is our priority, it makes sense to focus attention where it has the biggest impact.

Still, some people say: “This is just a speed trap to make money for the SF Police Department (SFPD).”

We do not trap anybody into violating the vehicle code and the SFPD doesn’t make money from citations.

As an example, we have done intensive speed enforcement at Fulton Street and 37th Avenue because we are particularly concerned about the safety of pedestrians near the Richmond Senior Center. Some people have called these enforcement efforts a “speed trap” because the speed limit is reduced from 30 miles-per-hour (mph) to 25 mph in that block.

The following statistics from the first week of May 2015 are a good example of a typical week. The data indicates that even the slowest offender (who was cited for 41 mph) in the so-called “speed trap” 25 mph zone was significantly exceeding the speed limit even if he thought he was still in the 30 mph zone. Citing someone who is exceeding the posted limit by 16 mph doesn’t seem like a “trap” to me.

Of the citations for speeding on Fulton Street from May 1 to May 8, there were 42 citations issued for vehicles traveling an average speed of 42 mph in a 25 mph zone (68 percent faster than the limit); and 45 citations for vehicles traveling an average speed of 45 mph in a 30 mph zone (50 percent faster than the limit).

We understand that nobody likes to get a traffic citation, and it’s no fun for us to give them either. But we believe it’s an important step toward making the Richmond safer by eliminating traffic injuries and deaths. So, we will be out there and we hope to see you driving safely by.

Learn more about Vision Zero. Thank you to Captain Silverman and the rest of the Richmond Police Station for focusing your efforts on our roadways to make sure everyone is safe.

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