Agency: Flights to nab speeders, improve safety worth cost
MADISON — Tight state finances haven’t clipped the wings of the Wisconsin State Patrol.
In 2011, as the state wrestled to balance a $3.6 billion deficit, the State Patrol spent about $54,000 flying the planes, Gannett Wisconsin Media found in reviewing the program.
State Patrol officials defend the flights as an important part of making roads safe. In March, the agency announced it was stepping up aerial enforcement in construction zones, which many motorists will contend with this week on Fourth of July getaways.
“It’s one of those things that nobody would ever realize how vital the program is until it’s gone,” said Maj. Brian Rahn, director of the State Patrol’s Bureau of Field Operations.
Last year, the State Patrol flew its three planes for a total of 453 hours at a cost of $120 an hour, not including ground expenses in speeding enforcement stings that can involve up to eight squad cars, Rahn said.
For the past several years, the agency has not closely tracked the number of speeding citations issued during aerial patrols, he said.
But at the height of the flights in 2000, the state had four planes that flew for more than 600 hours. Officers wrote 4,681 tickets, or about seven per hour, according to an unofficial count provided by pilots for the State Patrol’s annual report that year.
Based on the 2011 costs and the 2000 ticket-writing pace, it’s possible the agency caught some 3,200 speeders last year.
John Bowman, communications director for the National Motorists Association, a group that encourages drivers to fight speeding tickets in court, questioned the Wisconsin program’s cost and effectiveness.
“Common sense would tell you … that it has to be incredibly expensive compared to having a couple of patrol cars working the side of the road,” Bowman said. “Fuel costs, the cost to operate the plane, insurance, you have to have a qualified pilot flying, none of that is cheap.”
Read more here: http://www.postcrescent.com