DPS: fewer patrol cars along I-19 a "safety concern"

DPS: fewer patrol cars along I-19 a "safety concern"

CREATED Apr 4, 2012

Reporter: Stephani Ruiz

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - It's as tragic problem that just keeps happening. DPS says there have two fatal accidents along I-19 in the past two weeks alone.

The Department of Public Safety tried to address this problem with Operation Guardian Angel, which tried to change the driving habits that lead to deadly accidents along I-19.

"Our main issue right now is trying to get a lot more officers out there on the road. We're limited staff, but we still have officers out there but again it makes it harder. One officer is having to do twice the work to recover from the loss of manpower," Officer Raul Molina said.

A little more than half the manpower DPS had in 2008, when a hiring freeze went into effect. DPS can't replace workers who retire or quit. Plus, officers aren't allowed overtime.

That's why DPS canceled Operation Guardian Angel last year.

While the operation was in effect between July and December of last year, DPS says it made 3,300 traffic stops. The department issued 900 speed violations, 230 seatbelt violations and numerous misdemeanor and felony arrests.

Fatalities decreased by 200 percent, down to 3 compared to 11 during the six months before the operation began.

9 On Your Side Reporter Stephani Ruiz asked Molina if ending the operation has led to deadly crashes along I-19 popping back up.

"Yea of course manpower or visibility out there does help promote somebody's driving behavior but that's not the full cause of it," Molina said.

Ruiz asked, "Do you think this is a safety concern though that you guys are so short staffed?"

"I would say it is a concern overall but we're doing the best that we can with the manpower that we have," Molina said.

Molina admits the presence of officers on the road does help prevent deadly crashes, but their limited resources need to be spread evenly throughout the county.

There is some hope in the near future. DPS received a DUI grant from the Governors Office of Highway Safety to allow overtime for officers. The department hopes for new hires soon.