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Dave Roepke, Published October 20 2010

Fargo police chief pledges to ramp up ticketing in wake of fatal crashes

In response to five deaths in traffic accidents in October in Fargo, police plan to “redouble” enforcement – especially in high-traffic spots at peak driving times.

Chief Keith Ternes said police brass met Tuesday to discuss the deadly spate of crashes and decided the focus on ticketing was the top tactic available to target traffic concerns.

“We’re going to have to be a little more strategic,” Ternes said. “We’re going to redouble our efforts.”

That means more officers along Fargo’s busiest corridors at rush hour, Ternes said, including 13th Avenue South, 45th Street, 25th Street and South University Drive.

Traffic data will be studied to select areas for more enforcement, he said.

Ternes said officers will also pay more attention to violations that often cause accidents, like tailgating.

“We don’t write a lot of tickets for following too close,” he said.

In addition to the extra enforcement, police plan to devise a new educational program with other area agencies, have school resource officers emphasize safe driving and reach out to the liquor industry on ways to curb impaired driving, the chief said.

The tragic string of traffic fatalities comes after a long stretch in which Fargo had none. The city reported no traffic deaths this year through the end of September and none at all in 2009.

Sgt. Mike Bernier, head of the traffic safety unit, said the fatal crashes don’t appear to share much of a common cause, other than driver error.

Ternes said a report on traffic crashes is reviewed monthly, and at the end of September, the total number of accidents was down 10 percent from last year: 3,251 through September in 2009 compared to 2,938 in the same period this year.

However, the number of crashes reportable to the North Dakota Department of Transportation – crashes with damage of more than $1,000 – appears to be up from last year’s figures.

Through Monday, Fargo had 2,684 accidents considered reportable to NDDOT, Bernier said. According to the state’s crash data, that is nearly 250 more crashes than the 2,441 Fargo had in all of 2009.

Prorating the 2009 figure to account for the days yet remaining in 2010, NDDOT-reportable crashes in Fargo would be heading to a 38 percent increase.

Ternes said he was surprised by the discrepancy and that he couldn’t speak to the state’s statistics.

“I’ve been very comfortable with the (traffic accident) data,” he said.

The state report doesn’t indicate whether its city-specific data includes the crashes handled by other jurisdictions in the cities.

Lynn Heinert, program manager for crash reporting and traffic records for the NDDOT, didn’t return phone messages Tuesday.

In West Fargo, accidents are also up in comparison to the state crash statistics from last year. There were 321 accidents last year, as compared to 434 so far this year, said Assistant Chief Mike Reitan.

Reitan said the increase in West Fargo can be easily explained. Officers have been told to report every accident as having $1,000 in damage, unless it is obvious damage will be slight.

“With the newer cars, there are not many accidents that are less than $1,000,” Reitan said.


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