There’s a new traffic cop in town.
Well, the officer isn’t actually new to the force, but his ride is and so is his beat.
The Payson Police Department recently purchased and outfitted a black Ford SUV to prowl streets looking for speeders, drunk drivers and stop-sign runners, thanks to a grant from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
Officer Matt Zimmerman volunteered first to hold the traffic cop title, which will then rotate among officers every three to six months.
It is the first time in years the department has had an officer dedicated solely to traffic enforcement and investigations since officer Alan Dyer left.
Due to budget cuts and officers leaving, the department couldn’t afford to dedicate a single officer to traffic patrol. Police Chief Don Engler, however, recently hired five new officers and the with the grant money, had the equipment and staff needed.
“People had complained that there wasn’t enough traffic enforcement and I couldn’t disagree with them because at the time we were so short-handed we provided very little traffic enforcement,” he said.
Engler has consistently received complaints from residents about speeders. Problem areas include North McLane, West Main Street, Tyler Parkway, West Country Club, West Airport and the south end of town as traffic comes into town off the hill on Highway 87.
Unable to dedicate an officer to traffic enforcement due to staffing issues, the PPD posted a mobile radar detector and police volunteers in these areas. It did little to slow people down, he said.
Just recently, police volunteers tracked the speeds on West Country Club. In one hour, they clocked 27 vehicles traveling well above the 25 mph speed limit, the highest going 43 mph.
While speeding complaints have remained consistent, data does not show an increase in traffic accidents since Dyer left.
But traffic enforcement is crucial and something the community has demanded, said Engler.
In July, the PPD announced the governor’s office had awarded it three grants totaling $41,000.
Two $3,000 grants went toward enhancing DUI and traffic enforcement and the third, worth $35,000, funded a new traffic patrol vehicle.
The department bought a used SUV, in addition to picking up a used black Dodge Charger to replace an aging squad car. The PPD vehicles have traditionally been white, but the department picked up the two new vehicles because “they were the most reasonable vehicles available and we weren’t too particular with the color,” Engler said.
Zimmerman will work both day and evening shifts, patrolling both the highway in town as well as ancillary streets.
After three to six months, a new officer will take over the position.
Engler said residents so far seem to welcome a new traffic cop in town. “This is our opportunity now to provide that service to the community and really it has been pretty positive in nature, but I am sure as folks start getting tickets they might not be,” he said.