WESTBROOK — Brandy Saunders recalls how a car bore down on her as she pushed her baby carriage across her residential street, until the driver finally swerved around her.

“He was close enough I could bang on his car and say, ‘Slow down,’” said Saunders, the mother of a 1-year-old child.

As she stood on her porch, cars zipped along Forest Street, most over the 25 mph speed limit. It’s even worse when the high school lets out on Stroudwater, and the street becomes a popular shortcut, she said.

Concerns like hers and many other residents’ have led police to crack down on speeding — even a few miles per hour over the limit.

“What we’ve been seeing pretty consistently is 97 percent of cars on these streets are out of compliance with whatever the speed limit is,” said Police Chief William Baker. “For many people, 25 (mph speed limit) means 35, 35 means 45 and 45 means 55,” he said.

Helping the crackdown is the city’s “Speed Spy,” a nondescript box that can surreptitiously record drivers’ speed over the course of day at a given location.

The device has helped police identify where and when the speeding problems are worst. It also helps police determine whether a resident’s complaints about speed are legitimate.

Officer Tim Morrell has gotten an earful as Westbrook’s dedicated traffic enforcement officer.

When they’re pinched, drivers sometimes ask why he isn’t out catching serious criminals, pleading for a break, arguing that they should be entitled to a few miles per hour over the limit.

Morrell does issue a large number of warnings, but he also has been issuing tickets. His view: If you are driving faster than the posted limit, you are speeding. He tries to be courteous, but straightforward.

Baker says there’s nothing like a ticket to change driving habits, since the bad news travels quickly to other drivers, who slow down to avoid the same fate.

“What we’ve tried to do is direct the traffic officer and whatever uncommitted patrol resources we have to target the most serious problems and try to change the public mindset about what speed limits mean,” he said.

“I don’t set quotas. We’re not trying to be barbarians about this,” Baker said, “but what we do say is the people exceeding the speed limit need to be addressed.”

The city also is using spotters in unmarked cars at signal lights, to alert officers in cruisers when someone runs a light. That ticket costs $131.

Driving 1 to 9 mph over the limit draws a fine of $119. Although the city issues the tickets, it collects none of the revenue, so there is no financial incentive for the local police.

Baker has the support of the city’s elected officials, whose constituents tend to favor strict enforcement, said Mayor Colleen Hilton.

“Nobody likes to get a ticket,” she said Thursday. But, “for every disgruntled person who gets a ticket, there are actually several I hear from who think we don’t do enough and are complaining about speeding in their neighborhood.”

The crackdown could give Westbrook a reputation as one of those communities that don’t tolerate speeding. That’s fine with Hilton.

“We’re trying to send a message that we take safety seriously in the community and we want people to slow down,” she said.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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