Originally created 09/27/03

Speed trap investigated

ARCADE, Ga. - The Georgia State Patrol is investigating a complaint that the Arcade Police Department has been operating a financially lucrative speed trap in the small Jackson County town north of Athens.

Arcade Police Chief Dennis Bell confirmed that the patrol has been reviewing his department's 2002-03 speeding tickets and budget information since early September.

The investigation could strip the department of its speed-timing device permit if the patrol finds that a speed trap is in operation, said Gordy Wright, the patrol's public information officer. The investigation focuses on the revenue generated from tickets issued to motorists driving 17 mph or less over the speed limit.

According to state law, funds generated from speeding fines cannot equal or exceed 40 percent of an agency's budget, Mr. Wright said. The patrol will study this percentage, the area's road signs and the police department's speed-detecting equipment, he said.

Chief Bell said this week that he was unsure what percentage of his agency's budget came from speeding fines.

Arcade, population 1,700, does not collect property taxes from its residents and pumps only $40,000 of local government money into its 10-officer department. But public safety, not financial concerns, motivates his department's speeding citations, Chief Bell said.

Officers cannot stop drivers traveling 10 mph or less over the speed limit, according to a 1968 Georgia state law enacted to stem speed traps, Mr. Wright said.

Arcade officers concentrate on issuing tickets to drivers going 18 mph or more over the speed limit.

Arcade's speeding problems intensified with the 2002 completion of a U.S. Highway 129 bypass, which cut the town in half. The four-lane bypass skirts the slow-moving historic districts of downtown Jefferson and Pendergrass.

In a recent survey, 87 percent of the police department's April and May citations stemmed from stops on U.S. 129.

Mr. Wright said he expects the Arcade investigation to be wrapped up by the beginning of next week. Chief Bell said he remains confident that his department will be cleared of the charges and said that investigation will not deter him from clamping down on speeders.

In 1999, a 9-year-old girl was struck by at least three cars and killed as she tried to cross U.S. 129.

"That's something that you don't forget," Chief Bell said. "We will continue to provide public safety for our citizens."


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