Law enforcement to increase presence as local schools open

Becky Campbell • Aug 1, 2013 at 8:40 PM

Parents and schoolchildren won’t be the only additions to the morning and afternoon traffic flow next week, because there will also be plenty of law enforcement on hand to make sure everyone is safe.

Johnson City schools open Monday with a half-day of classes and Washington County students return to school for a half day Tuesday. Officers in both locations are mindful of the increased traffic in the morning and afternoons, and said there will be extra officers keeping watch.

“We are going to pay extra attention to the school zones for the next few weeks to get people to remember school’s back in session,” said Johnson City Police Sgt. Jim Tallmadge.

During the 2012-13 school year, Johnson City police officers wrote 509 citations to motorists for speeding in an active school zone. In Washington County, there were 60 motorists cited for speeding in a school zone during the academic year.

“In the mornings and afternoons, when kids are being picked up and dropped off, we’d ask people to be mindful of that,” Tallmadge said. “We’ll have a little extra help as the school year gets started.”

In addition to dedicated traffic officers conducting school zone enforcement, regular patrol officers will also be working those areas in the next few weeks while motorists become reaccustomed to school traffic.

Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal and Director of Schools Ron Dykes said their partnership is also geared toward keeping schoolkids safe.

“Nothing is more important in the business of education than safety. That even trumps academics. It’s the only thing that does,” Dykes said.

Graybeal said grant money from the Governor’s Highway Safety Office will pay for overtime to put extra officers on the road as the school year gets started.

“We just want everybody to slow down and take their time,” Graybeal said. “We have had a safe summer on the roadways throughout Washington County. Our serious injury crashes and fatalities are down from this time last year,” he said.

“Schools will open Tuesday and we will step up our enforcement efforts, especially in school zones. We will be monitoring traffic flow, watching for those that speed and drive recklessly in school zones, as well as occupant protection safety issues,” Graybeal said.

He also said officers would do “ride alongs” on school buses as well, and Dykes said school bus drivers are always on alert to report reckless drivers to law enforcement.

In addition to slowing down in school zones, officials said motorists should also be cautious in areas where buses stop to drop off or pick up children. Motorists are also reminded to stop for a stopped school bus, Tallmadge said.

“Traffic in either direction has to stop when the bus is stopped, has the red light flashing and the arm out if it is on a regular two-lane road. If it is on a road with a median that a car would not normally drive across, oncoming traffic does not have to stop, but traffic behind the bus does,” Tallmadge said.

In the city, a citation for speeding in a school zone is a minimum $50 fine plus court costs and an additional $5 for each mile over the speed limit, not to exceed $100. The citation for passing a stopped school bus is $100 plus court costs.

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