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[whitespace] Council to increase number of Sheriff's traffic officers

Saratoga--Residents better get used to checking their speedometers, since soon there will be more sheriff's deputies patrolling in Saratoga.

The city council on Oct. 18, approved in concept a resolution to increase the number of Santa Clara County Sheriff's deputies on patrol during commute hours, upon the recommendation of the city's public safety commission. The council asked Administrative Services Director Mary Jo Walker to bring back a revised cost analysis to the next council meeting, which will take place on Nov. 1, before signing off on the project formally.

The city is responding to the sharp increase in the number of complaints residents have made about the ever-increasing traffic congestion, particularly around schools, according to City Manager Dave Anderson. The public safety commission asked the sheriff's office to draft a proposal to increase traffic patrols during commute hours, since their statewide data on traffic show that most accidents occur on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

When the sheriff's office presented the proposal at the commission meeting on Aug. 3, the commission approved it unanimously. Today, the city uses the services of two traffic officers, a motorcycle officer and an officer in a patrol car during commute hours. The deputies work for four 10-hour shifts. While one officer covers four of the five weekday morning commutes, the other covers four of the five weekday evening commutes. But under this system, only one deputy is on duty during peak commute and school pick-up and drop-off hours, according to the sheriff's office.

Another problem with this system is that no traffic deputies are on duty on Friday and Saturday evenings, when there are numerous accidents and drivers who are driving under the influence, according to the sheriff's office. Beat deputies, who mainly are responsible for crimes, handle accidents and traffic violations. Responding to traffic violations slows down beat officers' responses to crimes, Anderson said.

The sheriff and the commission had proposed three alternatives for the council to consider Oct. 18. Options one and two call for the addition of a motorcycle deputy, who would increase contract expenditures by $166,651 per year. Under option one, the additional deputy would go on duty during weekdays, and all three officers' shifts would overlap during school pick-up hours. There would still be no traffic officers on Monday evenings, Friday mornings, late evenings and weekends, according to the sheriff.

Under option two, traffic officers would be on duty all seven days of the week, but there would never be a time when all three of their shifts would overlap, and Friday mornings would still not be covered. Although option three is the most expensive--increasing contract expenditures by $233,000 per year--some city officials see it as the most effective. Under this option, the city would add one patrol car officer and one motorcycle officer to cover weekends and all weekday commutes.

The revised cost analysis that staff will present on Nov. 1, should explain each option, according to Anderson.
Rebecca Ray

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