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Morrison Residents Say Town Has Turned Into A Speed Trap

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A vehicle pulled over by a Morrison police officer (credit: CBS)

A vehicle pulled over by a Morrison police officer (credit: CBS)

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Investigator Brian Maass

MORRISON, Colo. (CBS4) – Morrison, the tiny town at the foot of Red Rocks, has significantly beefed up its police department in recent years, going from one full-time officer to six full-time officers, leading to a dramatic upswing in the number of tickets written by its police department.

“Why have speed limit signs if you’re not going to enforce them?” said Morrison Police Chief Rudy Sandoval.

Under Sandoval traffic enforcement has nearly doubled the number of tickets handed out each year and more than doubled ticket revenue.

In 2010 when Sandoval arrived, Morrison brought in $414,713.35 in ticket revenue from 3,848 moving violations. Sandoval immediately added five full-time officers to a department that only had one full-time officer. And in 2011 Morrison court records show ticket revenue more than doubled, increasing to $909,076.47 from 7,431 moving violations.

“Your bosses must be very pleased with the revenue you are generating?” Sandoval was asked.

“Who wouldn’t be?” responded the chief. “It shows we are dealing with the traffic situation around Morrison … If we did not there could be a fatal accident, that sort of thing. Our goal is to make people safe.”

But the beefed up enforcement is grating on some Morrison residents like Hondo Padilla, who got a speeding ticket from Morrison police.

“I just don’t think it’s fair that you are giving all those tickets and taking people’s money,” Padilla said.

Jeanette Savage says Morrison police have nicked all five drivers in her family for speeding.

“I think they are trying to raise revenue for sure,” said Savage. “They need to watch for people who are speeding that are being careless and reckless, that’s one thing. But when you are deliberately posting the speed limit in order to trap people to give them tickets, I think that’s wrong.”

Chief Sandoval bristles at the suggestion that he has turned the town into a speed-trap. He says when he arrived in late 2010, “There was a problem in that people were going much too fast and breaking the speed limits in town all day long, 24 hours a day. I came into this department and told them, ‘I’ll keep you safe and reduce accidents.’ “

Sandoval says his officers only ticket speeders who are going at least 15 miles an hour over the limit. And with major highways like C-470, Highway 285, and several other state highways running through the town’s borders, it’s easy for police to pick off speeders all day long.

“I’m proud to say we’re doing our job,” said Sandoval.

He immediately increased the police force from one full-time officer to six full-time officers and increased the department’s overall size from 24 officers to 31. Many of the officers are part time, special officers or reserve officers.

With the upswing in tickets and revenue have come new tools and hardware for the small department. They have purchased a new $48,000 SUV, other new and used cars, new computers for the department, police radios, radar units and new carpeting.

Sandoval even formed a Morrison Police Department SWAT team. The SWAT team has never been called out in its two years of existence. Morrison has a population of 430.

“Big time crime is coming to small town USA. I want to be ready if we have a hostage situation or homicide,” said Sandoval.

But for now Morrison has more cops than crimes. In 2009 there were 19 actual crimes in the town and the department says it typically has between 15 and 20 crimes a year. Sandoval acknowledges his department has nearly twice as many cops than crimes.

Sandoval says the crackdown on speeders and other traffic scofflaws has one purpose: “Reduce accidents and keep people safe,” said Sandoval. “I came into this department and told them I can keep you safe and reduce accidents.”

In 2010 when Sandoval arrived, the town recorded 70 accidents. The following year, after beefing up the department and traffic enforcement, accidents dropped to 51. As of July 2012 there had been 33 accidents.

“That’s our goal, slowing people down,” said Sandoval.

CBS4 reviewed three years worth of Morrison accident reports and found that many accidents were non-injury “fender benders” that occur in private parking lots, many others are single-vehicle accidents involving cars running off the road, hitting barricades or mailboxes, or colliding with wildlife.

Sandoval says he’s convinced his approach, and his much larger police department, is having the desired effect.

“My opinion, that keeps people safe. It’s not about the revenue.”

Figures for 2012 show Morrison will likely record far more tickets and far more revenue from tickets than in any previous year. The department had issued 7,181 moving violations earlier this fall and revenue figures stood at $875,766.87 with several months left in the year.

- Written by Brian Maass for CBSDenver.com

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