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Dave Roepke, Published May 06 2010

Traffic enforcement gets creative

Spotting a police cruiser can make even the worst drivers diligent abiders of traffic laws.

This is a prime benefit of having cops on the road in well-marked cars outfitted with rooftop light bars.

“There is something to be said for visibility. It’s a strategy in and of itself,” said Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes.

It’s not the only strategy, though. The care taken by motorists in the presence of a cop car can be fleeting.

That’s part of the reason why local police agencies employ a wide variety of traffic enforcement tactics beyond standard patrols by car-bound officers – from signs meant to discourage speeding to unmarked cars.

In Fargo, Ternes said, there has been an emphasis on nontraditional enforcement in recent years. He’s taken the initiative serious enough to offer up his own departmental vehicle – a black Toyota hybrid – for use in a traffic operation.

“I’m waiting for a creative, ingenious officer to approach me about using my car,” the chief said.

Ternes said Fargo police have used an unmarked maroon Dodge Intrepid to troll for traffic violations for about a year.

“It keeps people honest,” he said.

In Moorhead, an officer is assigned to a cruiser that, like the Fargo unmarked car, has emergency lights hidden behind headlights, said Lt. Tory Jacobson.

It’s not specifically meant for traffic enforcement and is a Ford Crown Victoria, the same make and model as the department’s other squad vehicles, but it does offer lower-profile traffic patrolling, Jacobson said.

Police in Moorhead and Fargo have had officers on foot run radar on passing cars, calling speeders in to cops in squad cars.

“Our intent is to throw something else at him,” Jacobson said of traffic violators.

Ternes said Fargo police have discussed taking that a step further by having an officer pose as a construction worker to enforce traffic laws in a work zone.

Other strategies Fargo has used include parking unoccupied squad cars in key locations to act as a deterrent, and both Fargo and Moorhead use radar trailers that show drivers how fast they’re going.

West Fargo expanded on the speed trailer concept earlier this year by putting driver feedback boards on Ninth Street East at 19th Avenue East and 17th Avenue East near Cheney Middle School, said Mike Reitan, assistant police chief.

The feedback boards are poll-mounted radar signs that show a car’s speed in red if it’s over the limit, with the figure flashing in red if it’s more than 5 mph over the limit, Reitan said.

West Fargo hopes to buy more of the $5,700 signs, but no money is budgeted for them, Reitan said. The idea is to correct bad driving by raising awareness.

“We’re not interested, necessarily, in writing the citations,” Reitan said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535