While the numbers nationally are rising, traffic deaths in the Gila River Indian Community have decreased compared to this time last year.
Sgt. Ronald Blass, Motors/ Traffic Unit, Gila River Police Department (GRPD), said in 2011 the community had 20 deaths in 17 fatal accidents. In all of these community investigated accidents 13 involved alcohol. So far in 2012 there has been one fatal accident. Comparatively, at this point last year there were approximately 8-9 fatal accidents. “At the end of last year [GRPD] decided we were going to make a stand,” and, “our goal is to try to make roads safer,” said Blass.
Blass cites heavier enforcement in speeding and DUI’s as a way to save lives on GRIC roads. “We’re really hitting DUI’s hard,” said Blass, a 13 year GRPD veteran.
Blass estimates that the traffic unit makes an average of 1000 traffic stops a month.
Blass supervises the motors/traffic unit with seven officers. The unit has five motor (motorcycle) positions. Presently two officers are on motors and three officers ride in cars. Once those three officers complete their motor training they will be issued motors.
Blass said that motors are the easiest way to maneuver through traffic. Motors turn and accelerate quicker in order to catch up to violators. A motor officer has greater visibility than an officer in a car. “You see so much more,” said Blass.
One thing that GRPD has noticed is that more drivers are driving while high on drugs. “We’ve seen a large amount driving under the influence of drugs this year,” said Blass.
The motors/traffic unit targets certain high-speeding areas to change driving behavior on the roads. They utilize Doppler radars and Lidar units to detect speeding cars. Lidar, the newest style hand held units, are extremely accurate and can target any single car the officer selects unlike the Doppler radars. Lidar also reads the exact distances of vehicles.
Blass says that drivers do not take in to account the risks of speeding. “You’re wasting gas in your vehicle and all the other expenditures— you don’t come out ahead.”
If a driver goes 10 mph over a 60 mph speed limit they will save ten minutes off of an hour commute, which is about how long an officer takes to write a road-side citation.
The motors/traffic unit is visible during several community events to assist traffic for parades and demonstrations. “We love to get out and meet the public,” Blass said.
The unit often gives demonstrations displaying all the features of their police package Honda 1300 STs for school children. “They always enjoy the bikes,” Blass said.
Blass encourages community members to alert GRPD about unsafe driving behavior. “Contact us,” Blass said.
For instance, Sgt. Blass sent two officers to Sacaton Road on July 17, 2012 after reports of speeding. “They wrote twenty traffic citations that morning alone.”
“If people know of an area that’s really getting bad, let us know,” and, “we will target that area and try to get people to slow down.”