CAPE ELIZABETH – Scofflaws beware: Cape Elizabeth police will be watching when you ride into town.

That’s because a change earlier this year from eight-hour to 10-hour shifts in the police department has resulted in more officers on patrol, according to Capt. Brent Sinclair.

He said the change was made to save overtime costs in the department of 13 sworn officers. Sinclair said savings have occurred.

But another result is that now shifts overlap, Sinclair said, meaning there is always someone on patrol at shift change, instead of a gap when all officers come in off the road to report to an incoming shift. Also, he said, he and a detective are spending more time in patrol cars to help make the new schedule arrangement work.

“The consequence of the 10-hour shift,” he said, “is more tires on the street.”

Also, Sinclair said, police have stepped up enforcement to prevent more accidents.

He said last week that so far this year, there have been 14 accidents, compared to 28 during the same time last year.

He said the lack of snow this mild winter may have played a role in reducing the accident rate, but he believes police efforts are a factor as well.

“We’re trying to be proactive,” Sinclair said.

Officers also are issuing more summonses and citations, according to police department logs.

For example, during March 2009 police issued 25 summonses and citations and made five arrests, according to newspaper records.

This year in March, the number of arrests was similar – four – for such charges as operating under the influence and operating after having a license revoked for being a habitual offender. However, police issued 81 summonses and citations, more than three times as many as the previous year.

Although court summonses can carry a hefty fine – failure to produce proof of motor vehicle insurance can cost $171, for example – Sinclair stressed that Cape Elizabeth is not enforcing the laws to make more money. He said the fees all go to the state through the court system.

“We’re not looking for revenue,” Sinclair said. “We don’t get a dime.” In fact, he said, issuing summonses can cost the department more money because it requires officers to spend time in court.

The reasons for the summonses vary, but most deal with infractions of motor vehicle laws.

Not having proof of insurance appears to be the most common. Sinclair said it may be that drivers don’t have their insurance cards with them, or they may actually not have vehicle insurance as required by law.

“Times are tough and they let their policies lapse,” Sinclair said.

Speeding, particularly on Spurwink Avenue, is another common reason for a police summons. Also, a number of drivers are summonsed for operating after their license has been suspended, or for operating without a license or with a suspended license.

Some drivers also were cited for not registering their motor vehicles or not having them inspected. One person was summonsed for possessing a fictitious inspection sticker.

Some people, particularly teenagers, were issued summonses for possession of marijuana or other illegal drugs, and for possession of drug paraphernalia.

Also in March, one person was summonsed on Route 77 for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. The Town Council last year decided not to install another traffic light in the town center on Route 77. Instead, the town has taken steps to improve crosswalk safety, such as by adding buckets of orange flags on either side of the road that pedestrians can carry when they are using a crosswalk.

Two people were cited in March for seat-belt violations and one was summonsed for littering from a vehicle.

Town Manager Michael McGovern said he has not heard any complaints from town residents regarding the stepped-up enforcement.

“It’s good to have coverage on the roads,” he said.

McGovern said the 10-hour shift policy, which Sinclair believes started in January, is experimental for a six-month period to see how it works and how much money it saves.

Neither he nor Sinclair had specific figures on overtime cost savings. McGovern said they vary from month to month so need to be averaged out over time.

Sinclair said he’s hoping that people will realize there are more blue lights on Cape Elizabeth roads and obey the law. If that happens, he said, “we’ll see the citations diminish over time.”


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