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Dear speeders in Seminole: They're watching

If you're planning on zipping through Seminole this week, be prepared to say hello to Deputy Darren Romero and his friends.

By MAUREEN BYRNE

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 12, 2001


If you're planning on zipping through Seminole this week, be prepared to say hello to Deputy Darren Romero and his friends.

SEMINOLE -- Deputy Darren Romero is on the hunt for speeders in Seminole.

And he's catching them.

Of the 366 tickets he issued in July and August, 259 were for speeding violations. That's good news for the city, which in June established a traffic safety program with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office that includes one full-time traffic patrol deputy, laser and radar units for Romero and existing deputies, and a "smart trailer" with a computer that registers traffic speed and volume. The start-up cost for the program was $123,000, including Romero's $47,000 annual salary.

"The goal isn't to write up a bunch of tickets," Romero said. "Our mission is to reduce the number of serious accidents. It's not a money-making venture. In fact, we hope to see a decline in the number of tickets."

Mayor Dottie Reeder said she was pleased with the program's results so far, especially with the number of speeders nabbed. "We're not wanting to cause (people) financial hardships, but we do intend to make Seminole safer," she said.

The fines for typical speeding violations range from $45 to $270, depending on the speed of the vehicle.

The traffic program will get a boost on Friday when nine other sheriff's deputies, members of the department's traffic unit, spend the day in Seminole looking for traffic violators.

If motorists are obeying the rules, they have nothing to worry about, he said.

"Basically, it's to get the word out that the city of Seminole is serious about enforcing traffic infractions," Romero said. "We're trying to make it as public as possible because knowing is a deterence. We're not trying to be invisible. I'm not hiding in the bushes. I want to be as visible as possible."

The traffic safety program stems from a retreat in March, when Seminole City Council members decided that traffic enforcement would be one of the city's top priorities. Records show that the number of accident reports in the city jumped from 354 in 1999 to 474 in 2000.

When Romero heard about the city's plans to start a traffic program, he volunteered for the job. As a community policing officer for Seminole from 1997 to 2000, Romero said he already was familiar with the city's busier roads, such as Park Boulevard and Seminole Boulevard.

"Seminole is kind of a hub for southwest Pinellas," he said. "Those major boulevards traverse through town and have a lot of volume on them."

The county ranked the intersection of Park Boulevard and Seminole Boulevard as the ninth worst area for crashes in mid and south Pinellas County in 2000. A total of 43 accidents happened there last year.

Recent reports compiled by Romero show that the average speed of the violators in Seminole was 17.8 mph over the speed limit. The largest number of citations issued for speeding infractions were on Park Boulevard, followed by Seminole Boulevard, 113th Street and 102nd Avenue N. The deputy ticketed a motorist driving 78 mph in a 45 mph zone on Park Boulevard and 70 mph in a 35 mph area on 102nd Avenue N.

The highest speed in August was 75 mph in a 45 mph zone on Seminole Boulevard. However, Romero clocked a higher speed of 87 mph, also on Seminole Boulevard.

"I didn't catch him," Romero said. "Those extremely high numbers aren't the usual, but you consistently see people driving 15 miles over the speed limit."

Romero says the pursuit policy for the Sheriff's Office is to avoid a chase unless a serious felony has been committed. "We don't want to endanger the lives of the public," he said.

Romero says he is targeting motorists driving 15 miles over the speed limit. "Once we start seeing a decline there, I'll work my way down," he said.

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