The Lubbock, Texas, Police Department’s chief doesn’t believe in “ghost cars” or hiding behind billboards to catch speeding vehicles. In fact, Chief Gregory Stevens believes in the opposite — announcing to motorists that a traffic enforcement officer is present.
“We have a high number of fatalities in Lubbock, Texas,” Stevens explained. While he doesn’t know exactly why, he believes insufficient traffic enforcement is one of the reasons.
To supplement the motorcycle traffic enforcement during the daytime, he purchased three Ford Mustangs and moved his own Chevrolet Caprice into the newly created nighttime traffic enforcement unit. In purchasing the Mustangs, Stevens’ thinking was he wanted a sports car. He wanted a car that would stand out from the fleet of 400+ assigned Chevrolet Tahoes, Chevrolet Caprices, and older Ford Crown Victorias. He wanted a vehicle that people would equate with a motorcycle traffic enforcement unit.
“If you see a police motorcycle, you know he’s running radar, and if you’re speeding, you’re about to get a ticket,” he explained. “What we’re hoping to create is if you see one of these cars, [you know] that guy is not taking burglary reports, he’s not doing patrol work, he’s not a detective. That guy is a traffic enforcement officer.”
Stock Mustangs, Minimal Equipment
The stock Mustangs came in the cheapest in the bid process. Funding for one vehicle came from replacement funds, while the other two were paid for using asset forfeiture money. The cost, including upfitting, was around $40,000 per vehicle.
The vehicles are painted the standard black and white. They’re not designed to hold prisoners, so they require less equipment than a standard patrol car. There are no prisoner shields nor in-car computers. They do come with radio, lights, and radar, like a motorcycle.
Not only does the police department want to differentiate these vehicles, it also lets people know where the officers will be by tweeting their locations — mostly in high-fatality areas and in areas where there are resident complaints.
“We’re not interested in ticket counts. At ‘fishing holes,’ you can write tickets all day long. But we have no wrecks there, no fatalities,” he said. “Where they need to be is where there are fatalities.”
Still, tickets have increased since the unit made its full debut in October, as well as verbal and written warnings.
"“They’re already making an impact," he said. "They’re the talk of the town."
Expanding the Program
One of the benefits of the Mustangs is that officers don’t need to be trained to drive them. It’s hard to replace a motor officer, because the officer needs to go through and pass the driving school — and the school has a high washout rate, Stevens said. In fact, of the 14 motor officer positions, only 10 are currently assigned.
“I’ve got [one of the officers in a Mustang] that’s about to promote in a couple of months. If he promotes into detective, I can just find a guy and put him in that Mustang. He doesn’t need extra training,” he said. “I can’t do that with motors. It leaves a vacancy for some time.”
If the program continues to be successful, Stevens would like to expand to DWI patrolling. That would require a larger vehicle that can hold detainees. And if all goes well, next year, he plans to create an aggressive driver unit, with vehicles upfitted with 360-degree cameras to identify aggressive drivers.