SEBRING — When Sebring Police Chief Karl Hogland drives around town, he’s not normally in a vehicle with flashing blue lights. And he wouldn’t normally make a traffic stop and issue a citation.
But that doesn’t mean he fails to take note of how people drive.
He said he frequently sees people speeding, going through red lights and violating another driver’s right-of-way.
When Hoglund became police chief, he decided to increase the focus on traffic enforcement.
“Largely its the result of personal observation,” Hoglund said, referring to the decision to increase focus on traffic enforcement.
Sebring Police Department’s traffic enforcement statistics for the first half of this year when compared to the same period last year reflect that with a sharp increase in citations and warnings.
The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office also has increased its traffic enforcement operations.
But Highlands County Clerk of Court records show that overall the number of traffic citations issued have continued to decrease, as has been the case for the past several years.
From January through June 2016, 2,951 civil and criminal tickets were issued in Highlands County. The number was 2,579 this year, a decline of 372 citations.
A breakdown of those citations from the Clerk of Courts Office was unavailable. Law enforcement agencies typically issuing citations in Highlands County would typically include the Sebring Police Department, the Lake Placid Police Department, the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Highway Patrol.
The decline in traffic citations began after 19,829 were issued in 2007. Some have attributed the decline to cutbacks in personnel over the years. Another possible reason has been reluctance of law enforcement officers to issue citations as fines continued to rise.
Both Hoglund and Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman say that the number of citations don’t show the full story.
Increases in traffic stops and written and verbal warnings are also important tools to get the attention of drivers, even if a citation is not issued.
Sebring Police Department has increased its number of traffic stops from 649 during the first half of 2016 to 1,633 during the first half of 2017.
Citations issued by Sebring Police Department increased from 147 to 455 during a comparison of the same time periods. Warnings increased from 198 to 1,219.
Although the issuance of citations occurred, Hoglund said, there’s no quota.
Blackman said that citations issued by the Sheriff’s Office may be down this year when compared with last because of traffic operations that focused on educating people rather than issuing tickets. He said for much of the first half of the year deputies were primarily issuing warnings during the operations.
Subsequent traffic operations involved more citations, he said.
During the first half of 2016, the Sheriff’s Office issued 1,209 citations and 1,388 warnings. For the first half of this year, the numbers were 1,159 citations and 1,694 warnings.