By Danielle Ozbat
In an effort to foster better community relations and create a positive impression of police, the Chesterfield County Police Department executed a policy change that allows police officers to issue written warnings for minor traffic offenses. The policy began Jan. 1, and Chesterfield County became the first in the region to implement this change.
“Written warnings was something we started back in January,” Major Kevin Smith said, “[and] we were just looking at a way to address more minor violations, traffic violations, while having more positive encounters with people instead of everybody having to go to court or everybody having to pay fines.”
The county had the policy in the late ’70s for juveniles only, but it was removed in the ’80s. Chief of Police, Colonel Thierry G. Dupuis, brought the policy back.
“I wanted to try a different approach to traffic safety that allows our officers another option to deal with minor traffic violations in a more positive manner without the necessity of a fine or court appearance,” Dupuis said.
Smith reiterated Dupuis’ comments and said the policy also helps to lighten court dockets and to track officer performance and the most common violations.
“Our numbers show that our officers give out plenty of warnings and we thought here’s a better way to encourage that and to document it so we can find out what they’re giving warnings on and it determined that it is what we always thought: it was the minor equipment violation – lights, inspection stickers, tags running out,” Smith said. “In some cases it’s not necessary for everybody to pay a fine for something that even when they do go to the court, the judge is probably just going to make sure they complied with it and … it clogs the courts up quite a bit.”
Traffic safety receives the most complaints in Chesterfield County – there have been 1,297 warnings for speeding in the first nine months and Smith said it is up to police officers to decide on writing a ticket or issuing a verbal or written warning. However, immediate safety issues, like drunk driving and reckless driving, are too serious to result in a warning.
Since the year is not over yet, Smith said the police have not been able to gauge the policy’s success, but he has heard from citizens – who contacted the department via website and phone – who appreciated getting a written warning instead of a ticket. “They like it because they were giving plenty of warnings to begin with … but this is a way they can show that they’re actually doing something to enforce the law,” Smith said. “We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from the officers and they’ve said it has promoted a better relationship with some drivers in that they had that opportunity to [get] an alternative to a summons.”
Senior officer, J. R. Labello, echoed Smith’s sentiments and said he likes the policy change.
“It creates … transparency between the officer and the public; [people] want to know why [they received] warnings,” Labello said. “It also documents cases where we go out and we stop vehicles where we wouldn’t really write a ticket, and I think it’s a better, more positive experience with somebody we may pull over in a time that may not be so positive but if we give a written warning, it’s better than a ticket sometimes in retrospect.”