The challenge is keeping the number of car crashes down with fewer eyes on the road. The Paducah Police Department is getting rid of its traffic enforcement unit because of staff shortages. The chief brought the unit back from a 15-year hiatus about a year and a half ago. During that time, the city saw crashes in about five target areas go down by double digits.
These are the problem areas according to monthly studies: Lone Oak Road west of I-24, U.S. Highway 45 near Hanan Plaza, Irvin Cobb Drive and Wayne Sullivan on the south side, Hinkleville Road, and Jackson street from Lone Oak to 28th Street.
The unit will be suspended August seventh. That's in less than a month, but Paducah's police chief said that doesn't mean high-traffic areas will become free-for-alls. The entire department will spread the responsibility around and look for speeders and distracted drivers to continue keeping people safe.
"There's always there," said William Haney. People who drive in Paducah know seeing a cruiser is common. "I think it's probably a safety issue where they should probably be here looking out for us," said Haney. He admitted he doesn't always follow the speed limit, "Over the Memorial Day weekend, I got a ticket," but he and other drivers said they know police are there to keep the streets safe. "They're doing a good job. I see them all the time," said James Hertter.
"They've really made some progress in the last year and a half," said Chief Brandon Barnhill. In August, he said that won't change. "You're gonna see traffic enforcement being done still at a high level, but you aren't gonna see as much focused traffic enforcement in some of the key areas like Hinkleville Road." To make up for it, he plans to school other officers on how to teach drivers to be more defensive. "We would rather advocate compliance just through education and see if we can get it that way," he said.
Some drivers said there's nothing like actually seeing a police car to keep everyone on the road in check. "If they're out there, people know that they're out there. People are driving like they're supposed to be," said Hertter.
There are about eight vacancies at the police department right now, so Chief Barnhill said they had to cut the traffic patrol unit so they have enough officers to respond to the 911 calls they get every day. Bringing the unit back is not out of the question once the department gets more officers on staff. They are actively looking for new hires.
Aside from education and enforcement, Paducah police will continue working with community partners to cut down on crashes using stop signs, stop lights, and roadway improvements.