by Nathan Boddy
Hamilton Police Chief Steve Snavely knows that people are concerned about traffic safety within the City of Hamilton. The Chief says that both he and Mayor Dominic Farrenkopf receive calls and comments about it, many of which are specifically about the northern portion of 1st Street (Highway 93) through town. To address these citizen concerns, Chief Snavely has created a new Traffic Enforcement Detail (TED) position within the Hamilton Police Force.
“The Mayor and I decided that this was something we have to do and this was the best way to go about it,” said Snavely.
Snavely says that the TED will be a full-time position for an officer whose primary goal is traffic enforcement. Snavely hopes that having one officer’s primary objective focused on traffic enforcement will allow other officers to focus on calls for service and citizen complaints. In the past, traffic enforcement actions were done as a secondary duty, falling behind those calls for service. Officers would make traffic stops if and when they had available time. This new approach, says Chief Snavely, “lets us be more proactive than reactive.”
Snavely says that the statistics for July alone reveal that there were 18 traffic accidents within Hamilton, and already 14 during the month of August. Several of them were DUI crashes, four of which were during daylight hours. “There’s definitely a need for (the TED), says Snavely.
Some of the traffic issues, especially along the northern portion of Hwy 93 in town, are structural in nature. In 2014, an ‘Access Control Plan’ was developed for the Montana Department of Transportation which addressed some of the existing conditions that make Highway 93 in Hamilton a hot-spot for accidents. That plan, developed by Robert Peccia and Associates and done in conjunction with the City of Hamilton and Ravalli County, showed that the portion of Highway 93 from approximately the Main Street intersection to Bob Ward’s saw 74 crashes between the beginning of 2008 until the end of 2012. In its introduction, the plan states that much of Highway 93 through the City of Hamilton is, “categorized by multiple driveway approaches, numerous driveway turning movements, and vehicle stacking in the center two-way, left-turn lane (TWLTL), resulting in conflicting operations…” The plan goes on to suggest a variety of structural changes, including the closure and combination of many access points, raised medians and dedicated turning lanes at strategic locations.
While Chief Snavely acknowledges that the City’s Planning Department is working with the state on changes that can improve the function of that portion of Highway 93, his officers will be working on the enforcement side in the meantime. Officer Randy Ettinger has been assigned the position of filling the Traffic Enforcement Detail, which will include outreach to the schools and any other entity that would like to learn about how traffic safety can improve community function. Officer Ettinger spent eight years as the School Resource Officer before stepping into the new position.
Dedicated traffic enforcement is something that other police jurisdictions use as well. Chief Snavely points out that larger municipalities use a similar approach, and that his new TED was modeled upon them, but tailored to the City of Hamilton.
“We’re going to try and reduce the number of accidents,” said Snavely. “The more we’re out there, the more we are seen, I think it will slow people down. We can make those stops and get the culture to change, (showing) that we’re not always in a hurry here in our community.”
About citizen concerns on the matter of traffic safety, Chief Snavely says, “We are hearing them. The Mayor hears it, I hear it, and my officers hear it. Not only do we hear it, but when we are off duty we see it as well. This makes us more proactive and gets us out there looking for things ahead of time. Hopefully, we’ll see a reduction in the amount of traffic accidents and DUIs.”