By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Throughout this spring, West Seattle has been in an unusual spotlight – making a regular appearance on the Seattle Police Department‘s SPD Blotter website, as the Aggressive Drivers Response Team reports citation totals from staking out speeding-rich spots such as the east Admiral Way hill, the West Seattle Bridge, or “I-35.”
Like this (May 27th).
And this (April 21st).
And then there was the 92 mph citation on the West Seattle Bridge.
When this started to become a frequent occurrence, we asked for the chance to ride along. Police ride-alongs are fairly routine news-media fodder, particularly in TV, but since your editor here had spent so many years as an office-dwelling manager/producer, the opportunity had never presented itself.
The SPD media-response unit accepted the request, and after some weeks of phone tag, one gray day last month, we finally got the ridealong.
Not entirely what we expected. But if you’re interested in details about how the ADRT works – plus the one video moment when our assigned officer chased and snagged a(n alleged) speeder – now we know what the Charger sounds like from inside! – read on:
When we spent an hour with Officer Bundy, a 19-year veteran who lives in West Seattle, the 35th SW concerns were big news. He came equipped with a few statistics from the enforcement effort beyond the ADRT: Between January 1st and May 10th of this year, the speed van that is often parked near 35th/Dawson had generated 300 tickets. During that same period, the van’s visits to the Gatewood Elementary vicinity (usually on Fauntleroy Way) generated 196.
We toured a few of the West Seattle hot spots, but it was midday and not too busy. So the backstory generated most of the interest:
The ADRT, he said, doesn’t necessarily go out en masse to some pre-determined area each day. Assignments vary, and individual officers get some leeway to decide where they might go stake out, though they have other duties too – sporting events, parades, protests, traffic flagging.
When they’re out patrolling for aggressive drivers, a key tool is a handheld device sitting inbetween the two front seats (the second of which is taken up by the computer and video equipment), where the officer can grab it quickly:
That’s the LIDAR – which stands for light detection and ranging. It’s not really a “radar gun” since it uses laser, not radar (a beam pulsing 330 trillion times a second, as Officer B explained it).
Whether the user deploys it from inside or outside of the car, it can zero in quickly on a single vehicle, to detect how fast the vehicle is going and at what distance, and report that back to the user instantly.
How fast does that work? Watch how it all unfolds while we were pulled over on the westbound West Seattle Bridge, getting more backstory till Officer Bundy spotted a(n alleged) speeder:
In the end, the driver (whose identity wasn’t revealed to us, no worries) got a warning. But they had no way of knowing that till he finished writing something up and returned to present it to them.
The driver was going 66 – 21 miles over the speed limit, he said – and a 20-mile-plus-over speeder is that’s what they usually look for, “95 percent of the time.”
Of course, it’s not just about the speeders. “People are so distracted,” he mused, saying he’s seen drivers doing just about everything you can imagine while behind the wheel, including eating a bowl of cereal. More routinely, though, the officers are watching for violations such as cell-phone use and expired plates.
When you’re pulled over, incidentally, you’re being recorded on video and audio. Because of state laws regarding the latter, the officer has to inform people they’re being recorded, and he says that tends to cause them to “think about what they’re going to say.” It also helps in the formerly “your word against theirs” world of traffic tickets, as you heard him explain if you watched the video clip above.
During our ride, besides the West Seattle Bridge pullover in the video clip above – for which he had staked out the “gore point” by the Admiral/Avalon exit on the westbound bridge – we also visited the Admiral Way hill, where, he said, the connector road under the bridge is a favorite spot. Nothing happened there except for a sighting of other emergency units roaring by; certainly, he said, ADRT units will break away to back up other officers if needed, but in that particular incident, on his screen as a water rescue, more SPD backup wasn’t necessary. (Turned out to be the Water Taxi’s diver rescue, we discovered later.)
By the way – the challenges in getting to/from West Seattle during this time of multiple construction projects manifested themselves during our ridealong; after checking out the eastbound West Seattle Bridge, we had to go all the way downtown on the Alaskan Way Viaduct to turn around and get to the westbound side.
You might see them anywhere – lately, the SPD Blotter reports have featured a few Highland Park Way roundups, too. But wherever they are, Officer Bundy insisted, they are “not trying to be sneaky” – they want to be seen when they’re staked out, in hopes people will slow down.