published Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Federal lawsuit targets 'overzealous' speed trap

ARCADE, Ga. — Ten police officers used to roam the busy stretch of highway that slices through this tiny northwest Georgia town, writing traffic tickets that helped pay for a spacious city complex but also infuriated local businesses and repulsed drivers.

Arcade's residents hoped they had put the reputation behind them after the Georgia State Patrol cleared the city of speed trap allegations and a new police chief downsized the department. But the issue re-emerged, this time in the form of a federal lawsuit filed by a frustrated driver.

"Someone had to finally take a stand for all those who have been targeted by the city of Arcade police," said Joe Moses, a retired dentist who filed the complaint in December. It contends officers used "overzealous and improper tactics in creating a speed trap" along U.S. Highway 129.

Residents have grown used to the allegations. The National Speed Trap Exchange warns drivers to take caution when rolling through the city of 1,900 about 13 miles northwest of Athens. And the Georgia State Patrol investigated the city three times between 1997 and 2005, each time concluding the police department was not running a speed trap.

"It's made people scared to death to go through Arcade," said Darlene Craven, the owner of Darlene's Family Hair Care and Tanning Salon, which sits along Arcade's main road.

Police Chief Randy Williams, who took the department's reins in 2008, said he's cut the department down to a lean staff of four officers that's dedicated to community policing and crime prevention.

"Traffic is part of policing, and I like officers to be seen," he said. "But we just tell them to enforce the law."

City attorney Jody Campbell declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, and the city has yet to respond to the complaint in court. The city's mayor did not return several messages seeking comment.

While the state investigation could have stripped the right of local police officers to use radar detectors, the federal lawsuit could carry other penalties. It seeks punitive damages, a jury trial and Moses' attorneys hope to broaden the complaint to include others who feel they were unjustly pulled over in Arcade.

"We intend to explore this apparent speed trap, and find others who have been unjustly caught in its net," said Craig Goodmark, an attorney who joined civil rights attorney Gerry Weber in representing Moses.

Moses was driving home from visiting his daughter in Athens on a foggy December 2008 night when he noticed a police car trailing him, he said in the complaint.

He pulled to the side of the road after driving a few hundred yards to let the squad car drive by him, only to watch the officer pull behind him, he said. First, he said he was cited for driving too slowly. And when he objected, Moses said the officer tagged him with another citation: Failing to have working tag lights.

Moses claims both citations were erroneous. And he said that he asked two police officers in a nearby town to check his tag lights 30 minutes later, and both confirmed in writing that his lights complied with state requirements.

Even with a downsized police force, Arcade still earns a hefty chunk of its revenue from traffic fines.

Some $192,000 of the city's $675,000 total revenues in 2009 came from fines and forfeitures, according to a Georgia Department of Audits review. In 2008, the city reaped more than $380,000 in revenues from fines and forfeitures, about 40 percent of the total revenue collected that year, according to the audit.

Connie Whitey, who has lived in town since 1991, said she hopes the lawsuit doesn't stoke new fears about her town. She said during the police force's heyday, revenue at her liquor store Bulldog Package dropped 40 percent as drivers steered clear of Arcade.

"What did we need 10 police officers for? They ruined the name of Arcade, and it's taken us years to rebuild," she said. "Arcade definitely was a speed trap. It still can be, but it's not as bad as before."

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rolando said...

Going 51mph in a 35mph zone sounds more like a $599 fine with a loss of driving privileges to me. Most residential districts are 25 and congested city streets are 35mph. No one has any business racing through those areas 16mph OVER the limit.

Kudos to Arcade Police Dept for enforcing the law; even if only ONE mph over the limit. Their town made the law, after all.

You don't like the fine, don't do the crime. It is that simple.

The out-of-state sorehead and his ambulance-chasing lawyer, evidently inured to piled up bodies on the streets of their hometowns -- and looking for a quick buck -- can stay out of Arcade. Liquor store and tanning salon owners may not care who is maimed in their town, but some of us DO care about the law. We don't even need to live there.

January 1, 2011 at 9:14 a.m.
dave said...

Perhaps Red Bank and the fee grabbing traffic cams should take warning from this. There are repercussions when the people have had enough and that day is coming quickly. Folks are fed up with all that BS.

January 1, 2011 at 11:02 a.m.
rolando said...

So you were running 81mph or more, wildman? And the rest of the drivers were running...??? In other words, at what rate were you passing them? How was the weather? Many things contribute to an officer's decision to stop you. Most, if not all, of the time they are acting correctly.

In any case, you WERE breaking the law... Right? I'll bet you view all officers as "Barney Fife". May you never really need one.

Don't like it, change the law or stop complaining about those who enforce it. Or just stay out of Dodge...er-r-r...Georgia.

January 1, 2011 at 12:34 p.m.
rolando said...

It was a Redbank city government decision to install the redlight cameras; as the residents' spokesmen, they have spoken. It IS their city, after all.

January 1, 2011 at 12:37 p.m.
sunnydelight said...

Rolando has now removed all doubt.

January 1, 2011 at 1:18 p.m.
rolando said...

Hey, it is your choice, wildman. It isn't the speed, per se but the relative speed that is dangerous. The cops know that. Perhaps your speed relative to the rest of the folks is what attracted the cop's attention. Either that or it was your Bugatti Veyron...

I drive the speed of traffic plus just enough to get me through the wolfpacks, moving over [then back] for the higher speed runners. I disregard the speed limit, actually. Safer that way. Eighty mph is not unusual in crowded Los Angeles freeway traffic...everyone is running it. All a cop around there would do is thoroughly screw up the smooth flow of traffic...and they know it...and avoid it.

But if I got a ticket -- and I have -- I write it off and pay it. I don't attack the cops for doing their job of protecting us.

January 1, 2011 at 2:42 p.m.
acerigger said...

wildman, you're in for a shock the next time you're checked-out by ANY l-e-o! the state of GA. HAS YOU MARKED.

January 1, 2011 at 3:20 p.m.
rolando said...

Thanks for the chuckle, wildman.

January 1, 2011 at 5:43 p.m.
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