Three years of traffic data included in Danville PD grant

Published 7:09 pm Thursday, January 17, 2019

Danville hopes to land $17,600 in grant funding for traffic enforcement from the state Transportation Cabinet. The Danville Police Department is applying for the funding based on statistics from last year, but Police Chief Tony Gray says those stats only tell part of the story.

During Monday’s Danville City Commission meeting, Gray presented data included in the annual highway safety grant the department applies for. The numbers were required for the federal grant monies, which are administered by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Office of Highway Safety. The possible $17,600 in funding is really a drop in the bucket of the police department’s nearly $5 million budget, but Gray said it at least helps to pay for some dedicated road safety time.

“It’s a traffic enforcement grant. The focus has been on seat belt enforcement the last couple of years, for example,” he said. “Like the ‘click it or ticket’ or ‘drive sober or get pulled over,’ those types of campaigns through the state is what it’s encouraged to fund. We apply for our portion, based on what we did last year.”

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But the numbers from previous years, which included 2016 through 2018 on the grant, don’t paint a full picture, he says.

For instance, tickets for not wearing seatbelts numbered 400 last year, coming up from 364 in 2017, and 201 from 2016. This is partly due, Gray said, to Capt. Chris Matano, who regularly works anywhere from two to four hours on traffic enforcement before his regular shift starts.

“When they work only traffic enforcement, they don’t take any calls; they can focus on that. It’s what this grant pays for,” Gray said.

The department must specify exactly what overtime hours were worked on traffic detail and each officer must fill out a special form indicating it, so a monthly report can be sent to the state indicating exactly how the money is being used.

On the flip side of that, DUI arrests were down last year, going from 117 in 2017 to 95 in 2018.

“Alcohol and drugs — it’s so unpredictable. But those numbers are about enforcement,” Gray said.

The number of DUIs dipped in 2016 to 74, not because there were fewer drunk drivers but because that was a particularly lean year where staffing was an issue, he explained.

Catching drivers under the influence is a self-initiated activity; but the Danville Police Department is an incredibly call-driven agency, Gray said.

That seems to show in the number of wrecks worked. Last year, there were a whopping 954 crashes worked inside the city limits. This has stayed pretty steady over the years, with ‘17 and ‘16 at 944 and 939, respectively.

“So, if we’re not fully staffed, we don’t have the personnel to go out there and sit. They don’t have the opportunity to go out and be proactive with enforcement,” he says.

The data provided only shows traffic enforcement, Gray points out — it doesn’t show arrests made from the myriad of other calls they get, like drugs, domestic issues or shoplifting, just to name a few.

“Let’s say I’ve got 20 officers who are working patrol. What that means is day shift will have seven, second shift will have seven, but third will only have six. So if I’ve only got six people, that means three nights out of the week, there will only be three officers working,” Gray said. That doesn’t count for vacation, sick days, court appearances, required trainings …

There are ongoing cases being handled and additional detail the department is responsible for staffing, such as sporting and other local events.

“So they don’t have the opportunity to work these highway safety issues at night, and we don’t have as many people out doing the DUI patrol,” Gray said. Historically, from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. is prime DUI time, he said.

“DUI numbers are definitely a staffing-related issue. If anyone wants us to be more aggressive, it’s all about staffing, because it’s all about the scheduling,” Gray says.

The police department is considered fully staffed when it’s at 35 officers. Right now, Gray has 37 officers “on paper,” which includes two still in the police academy.

“Officer Sally Bustle will be retiring — her last day is Saturday. Capt. Todd Davis aims to retire in June. We’ll have another officer who will also be eligible for retirement in June,” he said.

Gray said a department serving a city with more than 17,000 people really needs to be closer to 45 or even 50 officers.

“But we’re expensive. My budget is almost $5 million. For 35 officers, it costs about $115,000 (each)” he says. That amount includes salaries, benefits, vehicles, equipment and training.

“A cruiser costs more than anyone’s base pay, after it’s fitted with all the equipment.”

Other traffic enforcement data included in the grant application:

• Injury crashes have gone down each of the last three years: 110 in 2016; 92 in 2017; and 89 in 2018.

• Crashes causing a fatality crashes have increased from one in ‘16, to two in both ‘17 and ‘18.

• In 2016, 466 people involved in wrecks were not wearing seat belts. It was 485 in ‘17; and 422 in ‘18.

• Alcohol-related crashes increased from 16 in 2016 to 25 in ‘17. They went back down to 15 last year.

• Injury crashes related to alcohol went from two in 2016 to seven in ‘17. It went back down to two last year.

• There were no fatal crashes related to alcohol in 2016 or last year; there was one in ‘17.

• Speed-related crashes were down from five and four in 2016 and ‘17, respectively, to three last year.

• Three speed-related crashes in 2016 resulted in injuries. There was one speed-related injury crash each in ‘17 and last year.

• There were no speed-related fatalities reported in all three years.

• There were 40 speeding tickets given out in ‘16; 111 in ‘17; and 60 in ‘18.

• Tickets written for children not being in proper restraints: four in ‘16; three in ‘17; and five last year.

Gray said he estimates the total “current local seat belt usage rate” is at 84 percent inside the city.