By Anya Bochman
Photo: WCPD Traffic Unit members Cpl. Foster and Sgt. Cooper accepted West Caldwell’s award on behalf of the department.
The Traffic Officers Association of Essex County (TOAEC) is an organization dedicated to enhancing traffic safety in the state, while serving as a resource for its members to exchange ideas and build working relationships. On Feb. 21, TOAEC, along with event sponsor AAA Northeast, recognized several Essex County police departments and individual police officers for their efforts in promoting traffic safety in their respective communities, including the West Caldwell police department.
The purpose of TOAEC is to organize traffic safety officers in order to keep them apprised of the latest technology, training and legislation in the areas of road safety. Additionally, the association aims to provide guidance and educational techniques as well as communicating with New Jersey citizens via statewide safety committees.
To the end of promoting safer driving, the annual TOAEC traffic safety award is presented to individuals or organizations which “go above and beyond to serve their community and promote traffic safety,” according to WCPD. The department’s Traffic Unit members, Corporal Raymond Foster and Sergeant Patrick Cooper, attended the award ceremony and accepted West Caldwell’s award on behalf of the department.
The WCPD maintains a Traffic Unit of several officers who are assigned to patrol squads. Responsibilities of the Traffic Unit include investigating motor vehicle crashes with serious injuries or fatalities, collecting and analyzing traffic data, identifying problematic areas on roadways and making recommendations to alleviate the issues. In addition, the officers of this unit must ensure that all radar units and equipment are calibrated, while training all department members in the operation of radar.
Chief of West Caldwell Police Gerard Paris attributes the department’s successes with traffic safety and reducing fatalities from vehicular accidents to a comprehensive public awareness program that includes a number of initiatives. Along with a bicycle safety program and a drunk driving educational endeavor, Paris cites the department’s participation in “Click It or Ticket.” “Click It or Ticket” is a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration campaign aimed at increasing the use of seat belts among young people in the United States. The initiative relies heavily on targeted advertising aimed at teens and young adults.
“The strategy is in part about enforcement, and educating the public about safer driving,” Paris said.
Seat belt use and impaired driving are the primary traffic-related issues that WCPD officers enforce, with a result of no reported fatalities from motor vehicle accidents in the past year, something that Paris regards as “very fortunate.”
The police chief’s primary concern for the West Caldwell community, in terms of traffic safety, is the amount of drive-thru vehicular traffic from other towns, which makes cell phone use and distracted driving harder to regulate. To that end, Paris emphasizes awareness of surroundings and wearing a seat belt while driving.
The primary way that WCPD works to improve traffic safety is through training programs, public events and social media; the department has its own message board to facilitate community outreach.
“The public has been receptive and there has been a reduction in traffic accidents,” Paris said of WCPD’s strategies. “We’re all in the same boat here; we want people to be safe.”