Police add electronic signs to arsenal

DOWNTOWN — As part of a growing road safety campaign, police bought two electronic message signs that warn motorists to slow down, put down their cell phones and pay attention to the road.

Police are planning to display messages such as "No texting" and "Slow down" on the electronic signs, which were funded by state grant money.

On Wednesday, traffic officers and public works employees got a crash course on operating the massive billboard devices, which could also display public appeals for leads on crime cases.

"You can see it a mile away," Bill Brewer, western regional sales manager for sign manufacturer, Wanco.

Any message on the signs will appear brighter from as far away as 1,000 feet to ensure the motorist can see it, he said.

The signs also come equipped with radar to determine a motorist's speed.

The department has never owned electronic message boards, which police officials plan to use to divert traffic and as part of public safety campaigns, Traffic Bureau Lt. Gary Montecuollo said.

"Our goal is to put these out and to deploy them, and not to just leave them stored here," he said.

The messages will likely reach more motorists and pedestrians than handing out fliers with safety tips, Montecuollo said.

"The real lesson is that technology becomes a force multiplier to enhance what we are doing," he said. "You can't stop handing out the fliers. You can't stop talking to people, but this just really adds to what we do."

The signs were bought through a $254,800 grant awarded by the California Office of Traffic Safety to boost pedestrian safety measures and reduce the number of distracted drivers.

The department was the first law enforcement agency in California to earn the grant.

Police officials said the additional money has helped fund ramped-up enforcement efforts against distracted drivers who text or fail to use a hands-free device. The grant has also paid for more enforcement to crack down on speeders.

"We can reduce the number of collisions," Montecuollo said. "We can reduce the number of pedestrian-involved collisions. We can get people to drive a little slower and stop having people drive when they are distracted. That's our goal — making people safe."

In requesting the grant, Sgt. Dennis Smith offered to buy two electronic billboard signs with some of the funding to relay the department's traffic safety message to motorists.

The signs will likely be used later this month during a public safety campaign, Smith said.

"I think it's a valuable tool because if I wanted to gather some leads on a case, I can deploy this out there, and hopefully somebody will see them, call and give us clues," Smith said.

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