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January 4, 2010

Is HEAT team cooling down on speeders?

An interesting document found its way to me recently. It comes from within the Maryland Transportation Authority Police and it lays out the enforcement activity undertaken by the force's Special Operations Division HEAT TEAM -- a unit that patrols certain sections of Interstate 95, state toll facilities and other roads in unmarked vehicles.

The statistics, as of Dec. 5, show some interesting trends. Members of the team have been far more likely this year to give warnings than traffic tickets. Last year, the number of warnings (2820)  and the number of citations (2622) were running about even. This year, the number of warnings (3160) was almost double the number of citations. Does this indicate the MdTA Police are getting soft on speeders? Or are they trying to cut down on court overtime hours, which are running at about half last year's level?

Also interesting is that the number of traffic stops during which  the team conducts searches is up sharply  from  year to year -- from 176 in  2008 to 319 in 2009. That has resulted in more felony drug arrests this year (26) compared with six last year and an increase in misdemeanor drug arrests. But arrests on outstanding  warrants and on serious traffic charges are down significantly.

Members of the transportation authority police have been reluctant to speak out since former Chief Gary McLhinney drummed Officer George Tarburton out of law enforcement because Tarburton blew  the whistle on lax port security. But it certainly would be interesting to hear the story behind these numbers.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:06 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads


The numbers look as though there has been a change in philosophy. Perhaps one commander used the HEAT team to aggressively target speeders and other traffic infractions. But the numbers you cite for last year lead me to believe they are stopping people for drug interdiction. I actually think this may be more worthwhile because they can let the patrol officers (marked cars) handle the calls for service and stop traffic violators.

There is no way that the numbers of warnings vs. citations indicates an overtime shortage. They still made the traffic stops, right? It may only take an additional two minutes to fill out the state citation than a warning. That's why I think there has been a shift in what they are looking for.

Sure, you just stopped a speeder. But many times, you let the little fish go to get the big ones (i.e.- people that have drugs on them).

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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