Say “speed trap,” and people instantly know you’re talking about a spot where police officers sit with radar guns, hoping to catch speeders, write tickets and generate revenue for their city.
Keller, Texas, police say they write a lot of tickets, but it’s not intended to stuff city coffers.
“People call it a speed trap, which is goofy, because the speed limit is posted,” said officer Stephen Grossman, assigned to traffic patrol in Keller.
“Our main objective is to slow people down.”
In Keller, police officials don’t mind motorists flashing their headlights to warn others that a cop armed with radar is up ahead; it tends to make people slow down.
And March 10, they started using social media sites to post the locations of police with radar guns. They tell people where Keller traffic officers will be on patrol Monday through Friday. They also post locations in Westlake, which contracts with Keller for police protection.
Reading a post on Facebook or Twitter is like spotting a patrol car up ahead: Drivers immediately check their speedometers, officials said.
“Some folks wonder if we have ulterior motives,” said Capt. Tommy Simmons, Keller’s patrol commander. “But there’s no catch. We’re not trying to trap people into anything.
“Just slow down, drive safe, and let’s all have a good day.”
Simmons said it’s too early to tell if the posts are getting motorists to slow down.
But officials are pleased with the public feedback.
Two weeks after starting the routine, Keller police added 1,113 followers on Twitter and 2,187 new friends on Facebook, said Rachel Reynolds, a city spokeswoman who helps police use social media.
“Good morning, Keller!” announced a Police Department Facebook post on Wednesday. “Traffic officers in Keller today will be on Keller-Smithfield Road and Rufe Snow Drive. In Westlake, they’ll focus on Hwy. 170, Hwy. 114 and the Hwy. 114 and Trophy Club intersection.”
That post, by midafternoon, had 31 “likes,” and three people commented.
One woman simply wrote, “Thank you.” Another quipped that she couldn’t leave the house until she had the information. “I was waiting all morning to leave,” she wrote. “Lol. J/k.”
Keller police were looking for ways to reduce wrecks.
The city is 20 square miles with a population of about 40,000.
There were 253 wrecks in the city in 2012, including one May 2 in which a 22-year-old man died when his sport utility vehicle crashed into a tree in the 500 block of Keller-Smithfield Road. The driver had been speeding, according to a news report.
Then in 2013, there were 321 wrecks, a 27 percent increase, Simmons said.
Wrecks in Westlake decreased in the same period. But with a population of only 900 over 6 square miles, 343 wrecks in 2012 and 322 in 2013 seemed high.
Back in Keller, Simmons said, 9,209 traffic citations brought $741,708 to Keller’s general fund in 2012. A year later, police wrote 10,732 citations, which generated $764,569 in revenue, Simmons said.
But, he said: “By simply writing more tickets, we’re not changing the driving behaviors, and we’re having more accidents. We have to figure out ways to get the drivers’ attention so we can try to lower our accident rate.”
If fewer tickets meant fewer revenues, Simmons said, “We would not cave. And if the accident rate goes down with that, we’d be in a good way.”
The challenge to reduce the number of wrecks flashed in Simmons’ mind during a meeting early this year with Police Chief Mark Hafner, who challenged police commanders to consider new ways to use social media.
Simmons instantly thought of tweeting traffic enforcement locations, but then paused.
“I’m sitting there thinking to myself, ‘That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard,’ ” he said. “But then I started thinking, ‘What’s the downside?’ And there is none.”
A driver who slows down when he sees a patrol car or officer on a motorcycle “is a mindset.”
But, Simmons said, “This way you get it before you leave the house.”
Simmons turned to Reynolds, who assured him that the routine could be swiftly implemented.
Reynolds noted that since the postings started, the department is also getting more tips from residents about suspected drug deals and the sale of phony ID cards.
“Our citizens like it,” Reynolds said. “It’s easy for our officers, and the benefits we’re getting have been really positive so for.”
The Keller Police Department has 50 officers, with four assigned to traffic. On any given weekday, two will be on patrol in Keller while the other pair handles Westlake, Simmons said.
Grossman said many of the tickets he writes are to drivers from other cities who may not follow Keller police on social media.
“Keller is used as a cut-through for a lot of people headed to [DFW] airport,” Grossman said. “I could write a ton of tickets and not put six miles on the bike.”
A lot of people speed through the south side of Keller on U.S. 377.
“I don’t know if it feels wide open out there, or what, but people fly through there,” Grossman said. “It’s 45 mph and I mostly stop people going 60-65. But I also get people going through there in the 90s. It happens at least once a month.
“It could be a kid just messing around, but it could be a soccer mom with a van full of kids.”
Grossman said he wasn’t sure about the social media routine at first, but he soon realized it would be no burden on traffic officers.
“Right now, I just send a two-sentence email to Rachel and we’re done,” he said.
Posting the traffic enforcement locations on social media does not appear to be popular elsewhere. Try a Google search on the topic, and Keller police dominate the results.
Simmons said he did that, too, and found only Dallas.
The idea was fast-tracked after the department announced a comprehensive social media push in February, said Dallas police Lt. Max Geron, a police spokesman.
“One person commented that, ‘If DPD started tweeting where they were running radar, I’d follow them,’ ” Geron said. “I thought, ‘That’s a great idea.’ And ‘Why wouldn’t we?’
“We’re not out there to generate revenue. It’s to influence driving behavior. If we can get you to do that voluntarily, it’s a win-win.”
Geron said Keller started doing it a couple of days before Dallas.
“I thought, ‘Aw, man, Keller beat us to the punch,’ ” Geron said. “Of course you want to be the first to do something. But kudos to them for getting on it because it’s a great idea.”
©2014 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram