Tickets Up, but Deaths Down in '87 Traffic Files

Times Staff Writer

Traffic officers came down hard on the San Fernando Valley last year, writing 52% more tickets, but the stern approach paid off by reducing the lives lost in vehicle accidents, police said Friday.

As of Dec. 1, traffic deaths in the Valley were down 16.4% in 1987, traffic supervisors said, dropping from 122 to 102. They credited increased enforcement and growing public sentiment against drunk driving.

On New Year's Eve, when the problem of drinking drivers is traditionally acute, the department's Valley Traffic Division deployed 40 motorcycle officers simultaneously--an unprecedented number, they said.

And, for the second straight year, the New Year's Eve passed without a death on Valley roads, another sign that heavier-handed enforcement is working, police said.

"The philosophy is becoming more aggressive," Sgt. Dennis Zine said.

"It was pretty good year for us," Lt. Al Kerstein said.

Zine and Kerstein were among those who supervised the increased holiday enforcement by the Los Angeles Police Department's Valley Traffic Division.

Motorcycle Deaths Down

Motorcycle fatalities dropped 30%--from 78 deaths in 1986 to 55 last year--after a crackdown on unlicensed motorcycle riders that began last summer.

The number of drunk-driving fatalities in the Valley declined slightly, from 23 to 21.

These percentages cover the first 11 months of 1987 and will probably remain unchanged when the department releases official year-end statistics this month, Zine said.

Zine tied the declines to the 111,000 citations given drivers in the Valley, an increase from 73,120 a year ago. Arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol rose 14.2%--from 4,815 in 1986 to 5,525.

Zine and Kerstein added that, in 1988, officers will vigorously enforce a state Supreme Court ruling requiring motorists to carry proof of auto insurance, and a new city ordinance prohibiting motorists from blocking intersections.

The officers said the New Year's Eve patrols illustrated how the department reallocates resources or emphasizes particular enforcement problems in peak periods.

40 at Once

Instead of dividing 40 motorcycle officers between its afternoon and evening shifts New Year's Eve, the department sent all 40 into the field at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

The tactic had been tried elsewhere in the city but never in the Valley. In the past, Kerstein said, extra officers were assigned holiday duty but in staggered shifts.

The schedule was effective, he said, because it dramatically increased police presence throughout the night. In the past, the afternoon shift would complete work about 11 p.m., before many party-goers hit the roads.

He said the tactic was successful and will be repeated in the holiday period next December and perhaps on other holidays.

Next December, he added, extra patrols will be "even heavier" and will be deployed throughout the month, not merely during Christmas and New Year's.

Holiday time means a shifting of emphasis, not just resources, Zine said.

During their New Year's Eve briefing, officers were told to focus more on erratic driving than on other infractions. That did not mean sober motorists were free to run wild Thursday, Zine said. It meant an officer might give a driver only a stern warning rather than taking 10 minutes to write a ticket. The time could be better spent on the road looking for more dangerous offenders, he said.

Between 7 p.m. New Year's Eve and 6 a.m. Friday, Valley traffic officers arrested 39 drivers on suspicion of drunk driving, more than twice the average number of about 15 such arrests a night. They handed out 222 citations for moving violations, Kerstein said. Drunk-driving arrests made by patrol officers from other Valley divisions might push the total past 50, he said.

It's hard to compare the drunk-driving arrests for this New Year's Eve with last because Valley traffic officers were aided by officers from other divisions. A year ago, about 60 suspected drunk drivers were arrested.

Kerstein said traffic officers are pleased with the improved traffic statistics for 1987, but rather than dwelling on the improved statistics, they "remember the fatal they attended five or six days ago."

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