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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

    Keeping Starkville’s streets safe

     
     

    Many residents think of Starkville as a sleepy little town, like that happy place on the Andy Griffith Show, but this city is no Mayberry. “I leave my door unlocked all the time,” sophomore Luke Cantrell said. “And, nobody ever stole anything.”
    “Is there (any) crime in Starkville?” sophomore Steve Oberhofer asked.
    Last Saturday night, the officers of the Starkville Police Department responded to 911 calls to deal with a woman in her car who was being chased by a male subject, another woman who reported being struck in the face by her drunk boyfriend, a young man destroying property and providing false identification to a deputy sheriff, a loud party and parking complaint involving underage drinking and a drunken driver who crashed his car into an electric pole, not to mention the traffic stops for speeding, running red lights and other traffic offenses. The police officers on duty described it as a “slow night.”
    “If half the citizens in this city could ride along with us and see what we do on a reasonably busy night shift, they would be scared to death,” Bryan Laffoon, a four-year veteran officer with the department, said.
    The Starkville Police Department operates on 12-hour shifts. The morning shift starts at 6 a.m. and finishes at 6 p.m. The night shift takes over in the evening and patrols the city all night. Every day brings the unexpected, but that is part of the appeal of the job.
    “You can be driving along an empty road, the radio quiet one minute, and moments later you are driving 100 mph to back up another officer on a serious call with shots fired,” Officer Arron Bennett said. “That’s what I like about this job-you never can tell what your day is going to be like.”
    When they aren’t responding to calls for help, officers patrol the streets looking for crimes in progress and stopping traffic offenders. One of the important duties the officers perform at night is checking neighborhoods for suspicious activity.
    “We’ve had several auto burglaries in the area recently,” Officer Bert Jimenez, speaking of the south Starkville neighborhoods, said. “People leave their cars unlocked, sometimes with the keys inside, making it easy for someone to come along and steal valuables out of the car-I try to drive through these neighborhoods at night for visibility.”
    Jimenez said that he has caught burglars in the past, just by watching carefully. Of course, it would help to deter burglars if people would lock their vehicles, he added.
    Another important function of the Police Department is helping to keep drunken drivers off the road. Driving under the influence (DUI) is the major cause for many traffic injuries and fatalities.
    According to the Mothers Against Drunk Driving Web site, “In 2000, 16,653 people were killed in crashes involving alcohol, representing 40 percent of the 41,821 people killed in all traffic crashes.”
    Police officers are trained to recognize signs of drunken driving, such as weaving outside the lane divider lines and driving at unusual speeds.
    “We find a lot of DUI’s by stopping speeders,” Bennett said. “Drunk drivers just don’t pay as much attention to their driving.”
    When officers stop a vehicle for speeding or other traffic law violations, they pay close attention to the driver, looking for bloodshot eyes, slurred speech or the smell of alcohol. If an officer suspects a driver of DUI, he can administer a set of field sobriety tests to determine if the driver’s physical abilities are impaired by alcohol or drugs.
    The tests include such simple requirements as standing on one leg, walking in a straight line or reciting the alphabet. Officers are regularly trained in proper testing techniques to make sure their evidence will stand up in court. If the driver fails the tests, he or she will be arrested for DUI and taken to the station for testing on a machine that measures alcohol content on the breath. If the machine certifies that the driver has a breath alcohol content of 0.10 percent or more, they will be charged with DUI and must appear in court.
    Penalties for first offense DUI in Mississippi range from $250 to $1000 in fines, up to 48 hours in jail and up to one year suspension of driver license. Penalties are greater for repeat offenders.
    It was all too clear what caused the one-car collision on East Gillespie Street that officers responded to on Saturday night. A Honda passenger car had driven off the right side of the road and struck an electric power pole, moved the pole about seven inches and knocked a street light to the ground. The driver admitted that he was travelling at about 40 mph at the time of the accident.
    Officer Laffoon, a certified DUI instructor who trains other police officers, administered the field sobriety tests. After determining that the driver of the wrecked Honda was under the influence of alcohol, Laffoon took him to the police station and tested him for breath alcohol content on a calibrated and certified machine.
    After recording the evidence, the driver was charged with DUI. Although the driver and passenger of this collision were not injured, many other DUI accident victims are not so fortunate.
    “The driver and passenger are really lucky,” Laffoon said. “Most collisions with a power pole at that speed would have seriously injured or killed the occupants of the vehicle.”
    Although the officers are intent and serious about preventing crime and making Starkville a safer place to live, they said they all realize that people make mistakes and sometimes deserve a break. All of the officers on duty Saturday night agreed that they don’t usually write speeding tickets unless the driver is over the speed limit by a large amount, and most estimated that they give out more verbal warnings than tickets.
    Chief of Police David Lindley summed it up, “we realize that this is a college town and people make mistakes-We try to focus on rehabilitation more than punishment.

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    Keeping Starkville’s streets safe