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Getting blitzed on the streets of Santa Fe

Get ready to be “blitzed.”

“Starting immediately,” the Santa Fe Police Department announced last week, no fewer than 10 police officers will be working, at least some of them on overtime pay, to crack down on speeding and other traffic violations.

The many Santa Feans who dislike “speed vans” are embodied by this man, caught on camera in a nightshirt firing a gun at a speed van on Bishop’s Lodge Road at 1:20 a.m. on April 11, 2012. (Courtesy of The City Of Santa Fe)

“There are a series of DWI saturation patrols and DWI Checkpoints planned too!” said the SFPD’s news release, which had a decidedly cheery tone for a dispatch about traffic enforcement. The SFPD is calling this endeavor “Operation Spring Blitz.”

The blitz announcement started out, “We’ve been hearing from people all over Santa Fe about the dangerous driving habits taking place on our streets. In the words of Police Chief Andrew Padilla, ‘We hear you. And we care about you.’ ”

Unsaid in the announcement – but understood by everyone who read it or heard about it – was that the police department and the City Council also have been hearing from “people all over Santa Fe” who hate “speed vans.”

In recent weeks, the City Council appeared to be moving toward a vote on bringing back the unmanned vehicles armed with radars and cameras that take pictures of speeding cars and then generate a citation for the owner. The program had been put out for bids and a contractor had been selected.

In its final iteration, before “Operation Spring Blitz” was announced as a temporary replacement, the fine per photographed speeding violation would have been $50, with higher charges for offenses in school or construction zones.

A lot of people really hate speed vans as robotic, creeping Big Brother surveillance and unfair, aggravating weaponry in the cat-and-mouse game between cops and drivers. And you can’t argue with or cajole a machine.

Santa Fe’s old speed van program ended in 2014. In what was a good move considering the circumstances, the euphemistically named Santa Fe Traffic Operations Program (STOP) was dropped amid bribery charges prosecuted against executives at Redflex, the Phoenix-based company that held the STOP contract.

Another company would get the new contract, if any push for a speed van redux continues after “Operation Spring Blitz.”

“We’ll be evaluating Operation Spring Blitz first, before we look at using technology,” the SFPD release said.

(Actually, the City Council voted in 2017 to direct the city manager to reinstitute a speed van program and that vote hasn’t been overturned. But for the moment at least, the City Hall consensus appears to be that the 2017 vote can continue to be ignored.)

The Journal North remains in favor of speed vans. Those 10 officers, not to mention the overtime pay, could be used for something more productive than writing tickets.

We get it that, thanks to former Gov. Bill Richardson’s anti-camera-traffic-enforcement stance, speed vans can’t be used on most of Santa Fe’s busiest streets, which also happen to be state highways and which have the most serious traffic accidents. But the cameras are perfect for monitoring residential streets and school areas.

The last time speed vans were under consideration, this paper’s editorial page said: “Here’s the deal. There would be no speed van fines unless a driver is going at least 11 miles per hour over the speed limit. That’s a huge amount of leeway for heavy-footed motorists, aggravated or otherwise.”

Judging from on-the-street evidence, there’s a substantial segment of the community that doesn’t like traffic laws in general, for example the law that says that when the red light for left turns comes on, you can’t make a left turn. It may not be illegal, but another common practice is tailgating people who actually do follow the speed limit.

The North’s previous editorial concluded that “speed vans might at least provide a deterrent to speeding well over the limit. Santa Fe’s tendency toward individuality and alternative ways of doing things can withstand this small curb on freedom behind the wheel to promote safety and peace of mind on the streets.”

Let the debate continue.

Meanwhile, for those speed van opponents who get pulled over during “Operation Spring Blitz,” left to sit in a car on the side of the road while an officer checks out documents, writes a ticket and tries to decide if there’s evidence of drinking … well, someone might ask, “How do you like them apples?”

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