By Margie Wuebker
The Mercer County Sheriff's Office has resumed directed patrol activities in three districts in hopes of stemming the number of traffic accidents, particularly those that result in death and/or injury.
Sheriff Jeff Grey initially proposed the district plan, which divides the county into three distinct sections, after taking office in 2001.
The plan was scaled down to two districts in September 2004, after county department heads agreed to cut costs in the wake of budget constraints. Additionally, four vacancies in the department went unfilled.
Although expenditures re-main under close scrutiny, the sheriff maintains the cost of putting a third cruiser on the road each shift is money well spent when it comes to the safety and well-being of area residents.
"We basically eliminated the central district," Grey said about the 2004 plan. "And five of the nine fatal accidents recorded (this year) occurred in that district. Is it a coincidence? I don't know, but it is definitely a cause for concern." The five deaths recorded this year in the central district, which includes Jefferson, Butler, Washington and Liberty townships, represent a 67 percent increase from the three deaths that occurred in that district between years 2001 and 2004.
During elimination of central district activities, there were four traffic fatalities in the north district, which covers Center, Union, Hopewell, Blackcreek and Dublin townships as well as part of Jefferson Township. The south district, which encompasses Franklin, Marion, Granville, Recovery and Gibson townships, recorded no fatalities. This represents decreases of 33 percent and 100 percent respectively.
There were a total of 697 accidents from Nov. 1, 2004, through October of this year. This compares with 692 accidents during the previous 12-month period. While non-injury accidents dipped by 3 percent, fatalities increased 50 percent, injury accidents climbed 13 percent and total accidents inched up 1 percent.
The countywide breakdown for November 2004 to this October compared to the same time frame last year (November 2003 to October 2004, in parenthesis), are: fatalities, 9 (6); injury accidents, 148 (129); and non-injury accidents, 542 (557).
"Motorists tend to slow down, come to complete stops at stop signs and drive more carefully when they see a cruiser," Grey said. "Call it human nature."
With one less car on patrol, deputies assigned to the north and south districts covered a total of 472 miles. Resumption of three districts means each deputy will cover an area of roughly 250 miles with considerably less response time.
Grey will be tracking accident statistics to see whether the resumption affects totals, adding the numbers could be very revealing.
He also believes increased presence is vital during the holiday season when people tend to drink more freely. Grey said he believes the sight of a cruiser may be enough to encourage drivers to hand their keys to a more responsible person.
"It has nothing to do with the number of arrests," Grey added. "It is more about getting through the holiday season on a safe note."
A heightened law enforcement presence also deters other crimes, although Grey admits it is difficult to equate that in specific numbers. Thefts and burglaries tend to rise during the weeks leading up to Christmas. The sight of a cruiser may be the incentive to make a would-be thief think twice, he said.