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Columbus police conducts study on speeding citations

Following some residents saying that the Columbus Police Department’s traffic enforcement is excessive, the department conducted a study of each of its speeding citations and concluded that the assertion that Columbus is a speed trap is baseless, according to the report. Columbus Town Council met Thursday, July 18 and reviewed the report with police chief Chris Beddingfield where council affirmed its support of the police department.

The study reported 72 speeding citations on city streets (not including I-26 or U.S. 74) between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2013. The study included information on which roads citations were issued, how fast drivers were travelling and if the cited driver resides in the Town of Columbus, Polk County or outside of the county.

The majority of citations issued were to non-Columbus residents. The most notable statistic from the study showed there was only one citation issued in Columbus for a speed less than 15 miles per hour over the speed limit and that speed was 14 mph over the limit.

“As you will see, there have not been any citations issued for slight violations of the speed limit, which has been alleged,” the study states. “The lowest speed for which a citation was issued was 14 mph over the posted speed limit (the sole citation less than 15 mph over the posted limit), and the officer had received a speeding complaint on the vehicle which was stopped and cited. The average speeding citation was issued at a speed of 17.67 mph over the posted speed limit during this time period.”

According to the study, which includes every speeding citation issued during the first six months of this year, there has been excessive speeding through Columbus with some speeds topping 100 mph. There was one citation issued for 100 mph in a 45 mph zone along Hwy. 108 and another issued for 118 mph in a 35 mph zone along Hwy. 108.

The study also compared total citations from previous years. In 2010 there were 51 speeding citations issued in 2011 there were 72 speeding citations and in 2012 there were 56 speeding citations issued during the same time period on city streets.

“Therefore, the Columbus Police Department is not being any more aggressive in the enforcement of the speed limit than in the previous three years,” states the report, “including during the tenure of (former) chief (Butch) Kennedy. Additionally, it must be taken into consideration that the number of officers in the department trained and certified to use RADAR or LIDAR for speed measurement and enforcement has nearly tripled since 2010. Certainly more officers equipped with RADAR will lead to more citations being issued.”

The study continues to say that the Columbus Police Department continuously receives speeding complaints on Walker, Simms, Mills and Peak Streets, where concerned citizens and business owners want more enforcement actions taken.

“Based on the statistical data above, analyzing every speeding citation that was issued in the first six months of 2013, the assertion that Columbus is a ‘speed trap’ is baseless,” states the report. “It seems entirely reasonable that a seven person police department would issue 72 speeding citations in a six month period, or 1.71 speeding citations per full time officer per month.”

There were 43 speeding citations issued by all road officers, excluding the traffic officer, on I-26 and U.S. Hwy. 74 combined during the same time period with the study saying many of those citations were issued during joint operations with the N.C. State Hwy. Patrol and other agencies.

“Only eight speeding citations were issued on I-26 or U.S. Hwy. 74 by regular road officers in the department,” states the report, “or an average of 1.3 per month during the first half of 2013. This data shows that the officers of the Columbus Police Department spend the majority of their time within the Columbus Town Limits and on surface streets within the town.”

Columbus Town Council members gave their support of the department with Mayor Eric McIntyre saying he agrees with Beddingfield 110 percent. He said typically people who complain are going to find someone other than themselves to blame. Councilwoman Margaret Metcalf said she knows the police department’s job is not easy by any means.

“If we didn’t have them we’d be in a lot of trouble,” Metcalf said. “It’s unfortunate that things are said and things happen. One person says something and it ends up being the gospel when actually there’s no truth to it. I think the ones who have complaints and are doing the talking should come to council meetings and bring us proof, not hearsay. As far as I’m concerned I’m behind you and appreciate you very much.”

Beddingfield said there’s a reason they do their job and that is safety. “It’s not popular but there’s a reason we do it,” said Beddingfield. “Accidents were cut almost in half last year in the city limits.”

Beddingfield also said Columbus had two residential break-ins in the city last year, which is almost unheard of. The study showed between 2000 and 2012 larcenies and breaking and entering offenses have declined dramatically. There were almost 50 larcenies in 2000 compared to less than 20 larcenies in 2012, according to the report.