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Traffic officer: Toughest job in Manteca?

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POSTED May 24, 2013 12:58 a.m.

The toughest job in Manteca might just be the men who are part of the Manteca Police Department’s traffic enforcement unit.

They have the daunting task of trying to keep us from killing and maiming ourselves and others. We want them to enforce the law to the hilt on others that we believe are endangering public safety but the second they ticket us we stew about it and – more often than not – make excuses.

To put what they do in perspective, you are significantly more likely to get injured not by an attacker using their fists, guns or other weapons but by someone steering 2,000 plus pounds of metal down the road whether they are breaking the sound barrier or simply not paying attention.

And while we may be the victim of petty theft or burglaries, our pocketbooks take the biggest hit from traffic accidents. A simple rear-end crash at slow speeds can pile up repair bills in excess of $4,000. By the time you factor in everything that can go into a accident – collision damage, medical treatment, in increased insurance premiums, and even time off from a job due to an injury it is more than plausible that a typical Manteca vehicle accident has a $6,000 plus price tag.

If that’s the case, then the biggest drain from lawless behavior on our collective pocketbooks isn’t burglaries and such but vehicle accidents. In 2012, $4,591,718 worth of property was reported stolen in Manteca with police recovering items worth $1,526,709 and returning them to their owners.

There were 674 vehicle accidents in Manteca in 2012. At $6,000 a pop, that’s $4,044,000 or $1 million more than the net property loss to criminals.  And given the fact a major accident can easily send hospital bills sparing past the $40,000 mark it is more likely than not that $4,044,000 is on the low side.

The entire idea behind ticket writing is to modify drivers’ behavior to reduce accidents. The revenue the city receives from all of the tickets it issues would barely cover the salary and benefits of one police officer. The bulk of the money goes to the state and the court system.

None of us are perfect drivers. We all do bonehead things behind the wheel from time-to-time.

That’s why a strong police presence on our streets in traffic enforcement is critical.

Manteca Police do the best they can with a limited budget. They made the right call to concentrate more of their reduced resources on felony calls so their primary function – responding to potentially life threatening emergencies committed by criminals – wasn’t reduced. Everything else, as a result, had to go to the wayside.

Barring an increase in the Measure M public safety tax at the request of voters that could have part of increased funding dedicated exclusively to traffic enforcement, it is going to be a long time before revenues rebound adequately to significantly increase traffic enforcement.

Even so, the department is doing a Herculean job at keeping as much pressure on the motoring public as possible to drive smart. Tickets for moving violations are up 1.3 percent through April compared to the first four months of 2012 going from 540 to 547.

The most cost effective way to reduce accidents and make or streets safe for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists is for everyone to do their part. Just like with preventing crime, preventing traffic accidents and heart-stopping near misses is the responsibility of us and not the police.

We don’t hesitate to complain about the other guy but what about ourselves? The California rolling stop is so ingrained that when people become distracted or there are pedestrians at an intersection drivers tend to do things that make the streets dangerous.

There is always going to be a criminal element. But that doesn’t mean all of us should take it upon ourselves to steal and commit assault as well.

The same is true for hot headed drivers who act as if they are heading to a hospital with someone who will die in minutes if they don’t ride your bumper, cut you off and speed, or roll through stop signs. Just because there are motorists who are beyond comprehending the concept of responsible driving doesn’t give everyone else who is more sensible carte blanche to do the same thing.

Do something shocking. Make our streets safer. Go the posted speed limit and not one mile per hour faster. Actually stop at stop signs. Don’t roll through driveways without looking for pedestrians. Try not to see how close you can get go the vehicle in front of you. Don’t make others pay the price for you being late. And – perhaps – most important of all – don’t take your attention away from the road.

There were 674 times last year when our failure to follow those simple rules inflicted pain and suffering on ourselves and our neighbors.

The carnage needs to stop.

Drive like your life – or someone else’s – depends on it.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.

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