By Bonnie Culverhouse
A commission for the Safety Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP) that places Minden Police officers on I-20 on their “off” days, is lifting restrictions while giving police a chance to earn more money.
Lifted restrictions will encompass times and days officers can patrol or be stationed on I-20 within the city limits.
Minden Police Chief Steve Cropper said the program is successful.
“The capability is unbelievable,” he said. “We need more officers involved, then we will continue to see success with the program.”
Cropper said the first STEP ticket was written June 2.
“From June to December 31, the program generated 698 citations,” Cropper said. “That averages 99 per month.”
The program has generated more than $140,000 since inception; however, those funds will be dispersed among the City of Minden, the City Judge’s office, Minden Police Department and the Ward Marshal’s Office, after pay and other expenses are deducted.
Officers make time-and-a-half overtime for working the Interstate and, depending on rank and current income, they may earn differing amounts. The request was made to allow officers to earn the same amount of money across the board.
To do this makes the department more attractive to new officers and more inviting to remain employed with the city.
“You can’t deny the benefit this will have,” City Judge Sherb Sentell said. “This would be a huge retention and recruiting bonus.”
Safety is key, and Det. Shane Griffith said fatalities have dropped since officers have been stationed on the interstate.
“Before we started STEP, we would have six or seven fatalities a year,” Griffith said. “Since we started, we’ve had two.”
But safety is also important for the officers, who must leave their vehicles and stand on the side of the highway to write tickets.
“The interstate is a dangerous place to be,” Cropper said. “People speed; they don’t observe an officer with blue lights on.”
To help with this, the department has ordered three electronic driver’s license readers through the program.
“It takes an officer an average of 15 minutes to write a ticket,” Mayor Terry Gardner said. “These readers will cut that time down. It will increase their safety because they won’t be standing by that car as long.”
Limitations for officers in STEP include concluding the program at dark. Cropper asked for that to be lifted, so more officers can be on the Interstate during a time when blue lights are better seen.
“If an officers works off and wants to go out there and work three hours and write five or six tickets and be done by eight o’clock at night, I think we need to open that up and give those officers the opportunity to do that,” said the chief.
Sentell said he believed the officers should be able to write tickets at night, on weekends and holidays.
“If you’re out there speeding, going 100 miles an hour, you need to get a ticket,” Sentell said.
The commission unanimously agreed to lift the restrictions.
Ward Marshal Dan Weaver, a retired police officer, agreed taking these steps should make it easier for the department to hire and keep officers.
“This program can’t fail,” Weaver said. “Just based on two officers out there writing six tickets in that shift – if they do that – it could generate more than a million dollars for the city. So, we can’t let this program fail. If this helps and will get officers out there, I am 100 percent for it.”
Changes will take effect around mid-February.
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