Great Falls 'a speed trap,' says Chester County councilman

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By Nancy Parsons

GREAT FALLS - Chester County Councilman Archie Lucas said motorists are afraid to drive through the town of Great Falls.

"I had one person who lives on Wateree say they would not come to Great Falls because the police will pull you over," Lucas said.

"Great Falls is not being considered a speed trap," Lucas said. "It is one."

Lucas said some people mistakenly think he serves on Great Falls Town Council when they complain to him.

"I know the police department has always been the most criticized area of the community, even before the town was incorporated," Lucas said. "I guess it's because they have the responsibility of making arrests. I don't know, but they have been the bulk of complaints."

Lucas said he has received complaints about police officers patrolling U.S. 21 (Chester Avenue) and Francis Avenue, and not patrolling the town's mill villages.

Lucas said officers should use common sense judgment when writing tickets. January is often a financially difficult month because people are dealing with after-Christmas expenses, taxes and annual insurance premiums, Lucas said.

"I'm not saying a man should run 70 mph and not get pulled over," Lucas said. "That would be stupid. Law is a little common sense."

Lucas said he expects officers to write tickets but an overall concept area should be included and not just two areas. More emphasis should be directed to school zones, Lucas said.

Great Falls Town Councilman Kenny Johnson, a member of the police committee, said he has received complaints about police not patrolling the neighborhoods as expected and not doing enough to prevent crime.

Johnson said he has also received many complaints about reserve officers writing more tickets than full-time officers.

"The public wants to know why," Johnson said.

Johnson said he's not always informed of police issues.

"They don't tell me nothing," Johnson said, referring to the police committee. "The committee members don't always let me know what's going on 'til we get in a meeting and they pop something on me or you find out the hard way."

Other officials haven't received complaints

Councilwoman Maxine Wood said she hasn't received any complaints recently regarding the police department.

"No one has come to me with anything," Wood said.

Wood said she received some complaints several months ago regarding drugs and gang issues.

"There's only so much we can do, and there's only so many people and so much money to work with," Wood said.

Mayor H. C. Starnes Jr. said he hasn't received many complaints about the police department.

"I've gotten just a couple of complaints on tickets," Starnes said.

Police Chief Mike Revels said 394 tickets were issued in 2007 for speeding or driving too fast for conditions.

The total number of traffic court tickets issued in 2007 was 1,134. The count included non-moving violations such as improper lights, faulty equipment, driving under suspension, driving under the influence and driver's license violations.

In 2006, there were 1,066 tickets issued and in 2005, there were 1,206 tickets issued.

"We don't write 3 mph over speeding tickets," Revels said. "Officers use discretion in regards to moving violations in excess of limits by state statue. If you're not doing something wrong, there shouldn't be a problem."

Police fines in the 2007-08 budget are projected at $60,000. As of Dec. 31, 2007, $20,745 has been collected, Revels said. The budget year runs from July 1 to June 30.

Revels said his officers patrol all streets in the town limits at least once during the shift.

"The officers are providing the best services possible with the resources available," Revels said. "I have consistently requested further funding from the town and it's falling on deaf ears."