Small town police cashing in on speeders on VA interstates

HOPEWELL, VA (WWBT) - Police in Virginia towns and cities are running radar on interstates, a practice advocates claim is little more than a money grab.

According to a state audit released last year, there are nine small cities and counties in the state now running radar on interstates or highways, going "beyond their normal enforcement activities." Seven of them are in central Virginia, including: Brunswick County, Dinwiddie, Emporia, Greensville County, Sussex County, Charlotte County and Hopewell.

Hopewell's controversial million dollar mile generated $1.6 million last year. It's the only program in the state to hire a dozen part-time workers to perform round-the-clock patrols on the interstate.

"That's a huge concern for us," said Martha Meade with AAA Mid-Atlantic, which has been leading the charge against the practice. "Is it really necessary for 14 officers in a small locality like Hopewell to be patrolling a two-mile stretch of roadway all week long? Is that roadway that dangerous? Our research says no."

Meade points to data uncovered through an open-records request. One deputy alone last year issued 234 tickets in just 11 days. "That's over 21 tickets a day on a two-mile stretch of roadway," said Meade.

But deputies like Travis Stanley, who work the road four days a week, can't understand all the attention. "We're not pulling you over out here until you are at 81 miles an hour or more," said Stanley. "If it was just about money, we'd be pulling people over at 75 miles an hour out here."

"This is 70 miles an hour for 34 miles. It's not a speed trap. You know the speed when you are on there, and it doesn't change," said Hopewell's new sheriff Luther Sodat.

Sodat inherited the program and plans to keep it going.

"Everybody says, 'I slow down every time I go through Hopewell.' That's telling you something there. It tells you that at least works in this area, and if people hear about it through the state, they'll slow down maybe all down 295," said Sodat.

He's even trying to make more of the positions full-time. To his critics, he's very matter of fact about his speed enforcement program.

"It gives people jobs, it slows people down, it helps the community," said Sodat.

He has data of his own. He says over the last two years, his officers arrested 34 drivers going over 100 miles an hour. 805 were ticketed for speeds between 90 and 99. Another 23,471 were caught going 84 or higher. His deputies have also made 67 criminal arrests, half of them were felonies or for drugs.

"It's not all about the money, it really isn't. I think it does promote safety. The money comes with it, I'm sure that's how we keep the program running," said Sodat.

The sheriff is adamant, safety is the key and the money is just bonus. And he points to an example. One of his deputies caught someone going 127 miles an hour on I-295 in a Nissan with bald tires.

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