Mesa County sheriff looking to expand traffic unit

Commission agrees to let department apply for $470K grant for salaries

The Mesa County Sheriff’s Department is hoping to beef up its traffic enforcement unit, despite one county commissioner’s questions about the up-front capital cost and need for the additional deputies.

Commissioners voted 2-1 Monday — Commissioner Craig Meis dissented — to allow the Sheriff’s Department to apply for a $470,000 federal grant that will pay the salary and benefits of three deputies for three years. The county would be responsible for paying their salaries and benefits after that.

The three deputies would join the current two-deputy unit to enforce traffic laws in unincorporated areas of the county.

“The whole goal is to try to be responsive to traffic safety needs,” Sheriff Stan Hilkey said

Since the unit formed in July 2009, the Sheriff’s Department as a whole has generated nearly $250,000 in revenue from traffic citations. The unit wrote 55 percent of the 2,728 citations that generated that revenue.

Sheriff Stan Hilkey said the unit has spent 52 percent of its time in citizen-complaint areas and 48 percent of its time in what the Sheriff’s Department calls Strategic Traffic Enforcement Program areas such as schools and crash areas.

Traffic accidents in seven targeted areas decreased by 30 percent from 2008 to 2009, a fact the sheriff attributes in part to the formation of the traffic enforcement unit.

Hilkey insisted the unit isn’t intended to be a money-maker for the county but rather a program that enhances the safety of county roads while paying for itself.

“The culture of the traffic unit is to do traffic enforcement for the sake of traffic enforcement, and that’s the way it will always be,” he said.

Meis said while he appreciated the unit’s emphasis not being on meeting a quota or shoring up the county’s budget, he’s not convinced additional deputies are needed specifically to enforce traffic laws. He also noted that the grant wouldn’t cover the roughly $150,000 in capital expenditures for additional patrol cars and radar guns.

“I think the sheriff has done a fine job with the (deputies) he has out there ... I’m not getting my phone ringing off the hook with complaints,” Meis said.

Commissioner Janet Rowland, however, supported the grant application and said she doesn’t think Hilkey is applying for funding just because it’s available.

Hilkey said he won’t know whether the county will be awarded the grant until August or September.


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