Police are seeing an uptick in distracted driving in Rohnert Park, but the department's 27 patrol officers are spread thin. One result of months of heated labor negotiations is a 12-hour work day instead of 10. , and just two assigned specifically to traffic.
Sgt. Jason Krauss, the city's traffic supervisor, said although the department doesn't have the resources right now to conduct focused stings ticketing drivers for texting or talking on the phone while driving, enforcing distracted driving laws and educating the public on the dangers of cell phone use behind the wheel is a priority for the city's force.
On regular patrol, police regularly scan motorists in search of drivers who might be looking down at their lap, apparently texting, or who are blantantly talking on the phone.
"Our day revolves around public community service — keeping the city safe, responding to emergency calls, domestic violence situations, crimes in progress, connecting with local businesses, that kind of thing," said Sgt. Jason Krauss, Rohnert Park's traffic supervisor. "Recently we have noticed more cell phone use on the road."
Krauss sees it as a cultural shift.
Technology is such a big part of people's lives now, and in a lot of ways, we are using enforcement to educate people to stay off their phones when they're on the road, he said.
"It's very much like the shift in the late '60s and '70s that taught people about how dangerous it is to drink and drive, Krauss added.
In 2010, Rohnert Park police wrote less tickets for traffic violations than the previous year, according a June article published in the Press Democrat, something the department attributed to staffing shortages. Data was unavailable to track cell phone violations historically, but statistics released this summer show the department wrote 143 tickets between January and June 2011.
A conducted in late September tallied 32 people texting or talking on the phone while driving in a one-hour period, between two busy intersections.
Krauss said the department is currently seeking grant funding to conduct specific distracted driving stings, but in the interim, police are ramping up traffic enforcement in school zones — especially between Rancho Cotate High School and Lawrence E. Jones Elementary — and in area crosswalks.
He pointed to one effort currently underway at Rohnert Park Expressway and Commerce Boulevard, where the department has received a rash of complaints about drivers not yeilding to pedestrians crossing the street.
"We regularly respond to citizen complaints," Krauss said.
Locally, residents are hyper-aware of the dangers of texting and driving.
The on Dec. 1, 2010 by Sonoma State student , hit this community hard.
Citizens showed up in droves at City Council meetings following the tragedy to protest unsafe pedestrian crossings, local moms put together an ad hoc traffic enforcement team and at the intersection of before and after school, where Ling and Calli Murray were crossing when they were struck, and the city subsequently on Snyder Lane, and dozens of other intersections citywide.
Stay tuned to Patch this week, we'll be looking into how the Sunrise Park crossing is doing nearly a year after the fatal Murray accident. Don't miss the video to the right taken during a recent ride-along with Krauss.