The arrival of the new year promises to restore sanity to traffic enforcement in Cuyahoga Falls.
Both the current mayor and his chief of police will be gone, taking with them their philosophy of ticketing everything that moves.
Mayor-elect Don Walters plans to rein in some of the excesses, particularly the ticket-writing frenzy that routinely takes place on state Route 8 during the peak of morning and evening rush hours.
Police Chief Tom Pozza, with the full support of current Mayor Don Robart, announced in May that he intended to dust off the city’s earlier reputation as “Ticket City.”
He has succeeded, in part by providing lucrative overtime shifts to officers who are willing to fill a quota of three tickets per hour.
Never mind that ticket quotas — illegal in many states — are unfair to both the public and the officers, who must rack up their numbers even when they don’t see any particularly egregious violations.
Robart went all-in, saying a massive police presence on the streets discourages crime in general.
What it also does is foster an “Us Against Them” mentality among the general public. Regular folks who in every other aspect of their lives are fully supportive of law enforcement begin to view squad cars as the enemy.
The men and women in the cruisers begin to resemble special operatives out to collect a hidden tax — usually in three-figure amounts.
Overzealous traffic enforcement also scares off folks who would otherwise frequent a city’s restaurants and entertainment venues.
The good news for Falls residents, I suppose, is that their city now has its very own ATM, also known as Route 8.
When was the last time you drove through there without seeing someone pulled over, particularly during rush hour?
The new mayor, a self-proclaimed non-speeder, believes the department needs to lighten up.
Noting that Pozza vowed to limit speeding tickets to 15 mph over a posted limit, Walters says, “I don’t know that 15 over is nit-picky. However, I do question sometimes the timing.
“At 8 a.m., people are going to work, trying to do the right thing. They’re running late, and now they’re basically going to work that day for no money because they have to pay the ticket.
“So I think the timing and all of that needs to be revamped.”
Among his other revamps: “I would encourage a lot more warnings when they’re warranted.
“Certainly, if someone has no driver’s license, they’re not getting a warning. But I question the timing of it — and rush hour is not the time.”
The hours between midnight and 8 a.m. are much more fertile ground for catching the people who have something significant to hide, he says.
But even at night, judgment should come into play.
When I opined that the 25 mph signs on parts of State Road are absurd, Walters responds, “You’re right, and at 2 in the morning, a guy getting off work after 20 hours, coming down Portage Trail, 25 mph is almost like a school zone.
“So sometimes it just doesn’t seem to apply, and sometimes that’s why warnings are warranted.”
On the other hand, the new mayor thinks a 15-mph cushion is too much in certain areas. That gives a green light to 50 mph on the heavily residential streets of Bailey Road and Hudson Drive.
Until the housing bubble burst and the No. 1 citizen complaint became abandoned houses, speeding through residential neighborhoods topped the list. The biggest beef — by far — was drivers speeding through neighborhoods, particularly during the summer, when kids are out of school.
Robart’s departure after 28 years in office was the result of Walters’ slim victory at the polls, the biggest surprise in the November election.
Chief Pozza is leaving because of retirement. He will be replaced on an interim basis by Capt. Jack Davis.
Although the major-elect hasn’t conducted any formal interviews, he says the new chief definitely will come from within the force.
Candidates for the post would be wise to note that Walters is not a fan of traffic cameras.
“We need an officer there,” he says. “It would be a shame if we took a picture of someone who was wanted for rape or murder and they just got away with the ticket.
“I don’t believe in that. That’s a total trap.”
Sure is. And we already face enough traps in life without the people we hire to “serve and protect” laying out more.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.