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Challenges of enforcing speed on Mission Street from retired SCPD officer
Editor's note: Today's Street Smarts column comes from Ken Black, a retired Santa Cruz Police officer. Now a teacher in the Ukraine, Black still reads Street Smarts. Consequently, he mailed seeking to weigh in on the recent conversation about the challenges of enforcing the 25 mph speed limit on Mission Street. Here's the first installment. More will come Thursday. Let me start by introducing myself to those who don’t know me. I was a police officer with the Santa Cruz Police Department for over 25 years; more than 18 years of them riding a motorcycle. I enjoyed the reputation of writing a lot of traffic tickets; a significant portion of them were for speeding. I attended several training sessions over the years, and provided training for officers throughout the county on RADAR. RADAR has been an effective speed enforcement tool for many years. Over time, the laws have changed, which has made its use more restrictive. One of the changes came about in 1992 when a judge in Ventura decided that a county deputy had improperly issued Judith Goulet a speeding ticket after observing her driving at a high rate of speed on a county road. The judge stated that it was his opinion that most motorists drove at a reasonable, safe speed, regardless of the posted speed limit. Therefore, the prevailing speeds, as established by an Engineering and Traffic Survey, must be taken into account when establishing a speed limit. This was the basis for the infamous “85th Percentile Rule,” the STARTING POINT for all California speed limit enforcement involving RADAR. Formerly, cities and counties could drop the speed at the 85th percentile down to the next 5 mph increment. That would be the base “safe speed” for any highway – including streets and roadways – and establish the speed limit for that section of street. The speed limit could then be reduced by 5 mph for “conditions not readily apparent” to drivers. Generally, that has been the result of a higher-than-expected speed-related collision rate. The most recent change has been that the 85th percentile is no longer rounded down, it’s rounded off, meaning that the base “safe speed” starts at a faster speed than the Ventura judge ruled. Any 5 mph reduction that can be justified now places the speed limit where it would have been at the base “safe speed” under the old rules. If the posted speed limit is more than 5 mph below the 85th percentile speed, RADAR may not be used to enforce that speed limit. The use of RADAR under those circumstances will result in any citation that is issued to be automatically dismissed in court. Editor's note: On Thursday, Black will explain how the 85th percentile law applies to Mission Street and the specific challenges the police face in enforcing speed law there.