While the recent findings of Damascus being in violation of the state’s speed trap statute keeps police there from writing speeding tickets, it has not cut down on the need for speeding tickets to be written.
At contention is the just-over 2 mile strip of Highway 65 running through the city’s center and its 45 mph speed limit. The city was found in violation of the statutes terms for the amount of revenue generated by speeding tickets, in result of which the city was forbade from writing any traffic tickets. The sanction was announced in May, after a 11 month investigation by per the statute’s terms by 20th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland.
The city initially filed for an emergency injunction to end the sanction as a matter of public safety. This was denied as other agencies, it was felt, would be able to patrol the highway through town. Since then state police and county deputies are seen parked by the Highway in Damascus, patrolling for speeders. (Damascus straddles Faulkner and Van Buren counties, hence deputies from both departments are seen there.)
The problem, however, begins here. Other departments have a large area to patrol, or which Damascus is only a small portion. While, for example, Van Buren County officers have written speeding tickets in the city, as a sheriff’s department spokesperson put it, “Traffic is not our primary task.” The spokesperson spoke to the various tasks assigned to the sheriff’s department regarding public health and safety.
Plus there is public perception. In at least one case, the Van Buren County spokesperson said, people pulled over in Damascus told the officer “You can’t write me a ticket, this is in Damascus,” reflecting a failed understanding of the sanction of Damascus police, as opposed to a sanction of all speeding in the city.
One Damascus officer told a story of clocking a car doing over 90 mph on the highway, and the driver waved as he passed the officer, knowing the officer couldn’t write a ticket. The problem here, he said, was even if he radioed for officers from other departments to respond to the obvious traffic violation, due to the nature of other agencies often being far away, the radio call would be to little effect as the driver would be long gone before an officer from another department could investigate.
(A video from a Damascus police car showing the radar return from two cars racing through the city will be online this week.)
On a recent Saturday afternoon a Damascus officer was seen by the side of the road on traffic patrol, radar on, making an entry on a report each time and car passed going over the speed limit. Entries on the form were being made regularly.