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Auburn police department rolls out warning citation system

Locals have mixed reaction to new traffic enforcement system
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Traffic law violators in Auburn may have something to smile about — a warning citation instead of a costly ticket. Auburn Police Chief John Ruffcorn said his law enforcement officers now have the freedom to offer a documented warning, rather than a ticket. Other area law enforcement agencies said similar campaigns have coincided with a reduction in certain types of traffic collisions, while Auburn residents have mixed reactions to the change. Officers aim to educate drivers, prevent accidents Ruffcorn said the warning system is designed to educate drivers, while giving them an opportunity to correct a behavior before they have to pay big. “In these tough economic times everyone deserves an educational opportunity instead of an enforced action against them,” Ruffcorn said. “Traffic enforcement has never been about increasing revenue, despite what people think. It’s really about reducing traffic collisions.” Ruffcorn said the written warnings create accountability in the system and serve as a reminder to drivers. Records of warning citations are kept in a spreadsheet where law enforcement officers can access them, that way officers have the ability to see if someone is a repeat offender. “This is more of a documented stop. We can track them and see if we have given people a warning before,” Ruffcorn said. “We have gotten some positive feedback in response to this.” Less tickets, less accidents? Auburn isn’t the first city to implement a system of issuing less traffic citations, according to Auburn Police Chief John Ruffcorn. In Roseville, Police Chief Daniel Hahn wanted the department to take a more strategic approach to traffic enforcement when he took over the post in early 2011, according to Dee Dee Gunther, public information officer for the Roseville Police Department. Hahn reminded his officers that they had the discretion to give someone a warning or a citation, she said. He also asked the city engineers to partner with law enforcement to establish areas with a high amount of accidents. Last year the number of traffic citations issued was greatly reduced, while reported minor traffic collisions went down by 4 percent, Gunther said. Fatal injury accidents went up by 3 percent, which Gunther said was a minor change for that type of accident. She said because minor traffic collisions happen more often, statistics show an overall reduction in traffic collisions. “It’s hard to say one caused the other. Officers always had the discretion to give someone a warning or give someone a ticket. What Chief Hahn wanted to do was remind them they had that discretion,” Gunther said. “Our total collisions reported went down by 4 percent between 2010 and 2011. So far our slowing down traffic citations hasn’t resulted in a wave of accidents. We haven’t heard anybody complain that they want more tickets.” Gunther said while there are less traffic tickets issued in Roseville that does not mean law enforcement is not citing unsafe drivers. Auburn residents react to warning system John Dutto, of Auburn, said he is familiar with the concept in traffic enforcement because his son is a police officer in Roseville. Overall Dutto said the shift should be positive. “I think it’s a good idea. Most people once you get pulled over and get a warning are going to take that to heart,” Dutto said. “Someone who is going to repeatedly do the same violations probably won’t stop anyway.” Dutto said he perceives the warning system as a way for law enforcement to work with the community, rather than against them. “It goes along with working with the community instead of just being cold-heart in your all black car,” Dutto said. Dave Robertson, 70, of Auburn, said he can’t fully make up his mind on the issue yet. “I’m pretty much a hard-nosed law and order type person. You do the crime, you pay the time,” Robertson said. “Hopefully it will be something worthwhile. I’m fixed in-between. We have a very liberal society and we pay for it dearly.” Joshua Daniels, 33, of Auburn, said he grew up in Auburn and has never heard of a similar idea from law enforcement. “My honest opinion is that it is actually a kind gesture to the city, so we are all neighbors,” Daniels said. “I’ve never seen it happen before. I think it’s a wait-and-see to determine the effect it’s going to have.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com.