The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office wanted to make a big statement about traffic-related issues in 2013.
With a 27 percent increase in the number of speeding tickets issued this year compared to 2012, it did just that.
When Sheriff Richard Roundtree took office in January, he made it a priority to restructure the department’s traffic division, increasing the number of officers on patrol from two per shift to 10 or more at any given time.
With more officers on the streets, the department cracked down on drunk drivers and speeders, and as of Dec. 12, the sheriff’s office has issued more than 12,034 speeding citations, up from 9,446 a year ago.
Sheriff’s Lt. Ramone Lamkin said the traffic division pores over statistics to determine which areas of the county are most prone to traffic violations. When a problem area is identified, the department will “flood” the streets.
“If there is a problem area, you’re going to see a barrage of police,” Lamkin said in October. “We’re going to flood the area and try to stop the behavior.”
The focus on traffic enforcement has helped in more ways than one, Lamkin said.
Through Dec. 15, the department has worked 23 roadway fatalities, which is down from 37 fatalities in the same span last year.
The county was coming off one of its worst years for traffic fatalities in 2012, with 42 total.
The sheriff’s office attributes the drop to Operation Thunder, a 90-day initiative created by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety with the explicit purpose of cracking down on traffic violations to decrease fatalities.
During the three-month Operation Thunder initiative, and throughout follow-up weekends, there were no fatal accidents in Richmond County, according to a statement from the sheriff’s office.
“Additionally, many other arrests of wanted felons, weapons seizures and drug seizures helped to reduce crime throughout the area,” the statement continued.
During the three-month period, officers made 307 DUI arrests, apprehended 39 fugitives and issued more than 1,100 warnings. In the same three-month span, officers issued 330 seatbelt and 488 child seat violation citations.
“This is something that we really need to tackle,” said Lt. Ramone Lamkin on the high number of child seat violations. “We’re going to hold more events to educate drivers and make sure people know how to properly buckle their children.”
Roundtree said the concentrated effort yielded favorable results.
“Anytime you can lower traffic fatalities by that much, that’s huge,” Roundtree said. “That’s one more person who will make it home for Christmas. That’s one more person who is going to make it to Thanksgiving dinner because we cracked down on traffic enforcement.”
Roundtree insisted that the increase in traffic citations goes a long way toward correcting bad driver behavior.
“We’re working toward voluntary compliance,” Roundtree said. “It’s not about the ticket for us. My officers don’t have a quota or anything like that. If they wrote warnings all day long that would be fine by me. I just want people to start obeying traffic laws and get home safely.”
Despite the success of the traffic division this year, Lamkin said he is far from satisfied.
“Are we done? No,” he said. “We still have our work cut out for us. I’m glad we almost cut traffic fatalities in half, but I want to get that lower.”