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Officers have recorded 1,346 warnings since April 3, when the practice officially began.
Friday, July 26, 2013
A warning isn’t just a warning anymore for Roanoke County drivers.
While a motorist escaping a traffic stop without a ticket may still breathe a sigh of relief, the violation doesn’t simply vanish in Roanoke County. Since April, Roanoke County police have been issuing and documenting written warnings.
Chief Howard Hall said the recorded warnings add a layer of knowledge for officers and give them a better chance of enforcing laws effectively. While Hall said he has worked in departments where warnings were documented, the practice is not common among Roanoke-area agencies. Roanoke police do not keep track of warnings, Capt. Monti Lee said. A Virginia State Police spokesman said the statewide agency does not record warnings, either.
“They have been issuing warnings essentially forever,” Hall said. “But they were all verbal. No information was collected.”
Now, Hall said, drivers get a written copy — which he called a visual reminder — and officers file the warning for future use, such as a second traffic stop involving that driver.
“Our officer would be able to see that a warning had been issued in the past,” Hall said. “And that could certainly factor into their enforcement decision during that stop.”
According to the department’s statistics, 1,346 warnings have been issued and recorded since the practice began on April 3.
Officers still have discretion on when to issue a warning and when to issue a ticket, Hall said, and a warning does not guarantee a ticket for the next violation.
“We ask them to look at things like the severity of the violation,” he said. “Was the violation considered hazardous?”
He said officers are also less likely to be lenient on points of emphasis, like following too closely, which Hall said is the leading cause of crashes in the county.
Mostly, Hall said, the warnings let officers inform drivers of their mistakes and allow them the chance to correct them.
Less serious issues that are likely to result in warnings include minor speeding violations or an inspection that is a few days overdue, Hall said.
“The reality is, in many cases, people aren’t intentionally breaking the law,” he said. “What we hope is people will respond to the warning and pay a little more attention.”
The newly recorded data will also play a role in the county’s data-driven approach to police work. Hall said any log of police activity could prove useful for investigating crimes or identifying trends.