Over the past four months, those who often travel the elevated portions of I-10 and I-310 in St. Charles Parish have noticed a lack of state troopers on the interstate.
That’s due to the fact that the Louisiana State Police (LSP) temporarily suspended speeding patrols on all elevated highways after a trooper was hit on an elevated portion of I-10 in St. Charles Parish.
The incident occurred on Dec. 22, 2012 when Lt. Robert Hodges was standing between his open door and his vehicle running a radar gun for speed patrol. Hodges was parked on a narrow shoulder and a driver struck his vehicle.
Trooper Melissa Matey, spokesperson for State Police Troop B, said while Hodges was not seriously injured the incident was enough to make the LSP reexamine their speed patrols on elevated highways.
"The door was taken off, but he only received minor injuries," she said.
On May 1, troopers were reauthorized to again pull over motorists for speeding on the elevated portions of the highway while LSP planned to implement new training for officers working the elevated highways.
According to Matey, the new training should help keep troopers safe.
"They are developing different training for all state police and public safety officers that is going to encompass different safety guidelines and protocol," she said.
Matey said the elevated portions of the highway are more dangerous for officers because there is no way to escape oncoming traffic.
"When you talk about the elevated highways, they are more of a safety concern than the other interstate areas where they have larger shoulders and grassy areas where cars can traverse," she said.
In addition to the incident involving Hodges, Matey said other officers have been involved in similar situations.
"There have been many instances where we have had a trooper or a trooper’s unit hit," she said. "It hasn’t just been on elevated portions, but other places as well."
Although LSP troopers were not issuing tickets on the elevated highways for the past four months, they were still doing speed patrols on the ground level sections of roadway.
In February, the second full month that troopers were pulled from speed patrol, there were 800 tickets written in St. Charles Parish. That is a huge drop compared to the 1,695 speeding tickets issued in February 2012.
Matey said the decline was likely due to other events that took LSP officers out of the area.
"That number may have been down due to the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras," she said.
In March, there were 1,630 speeding tickets written, which was almost 300 more tickets than were written in March 2012.
Many of the speeding tickets written within the parish by state troopers are due to a cooperative agreement called Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE).
Under this program, the District Attorney’s Office contracts State Police to patrol highly trafficked areas of the parish. In exchange, State Police officers receive overtime wages from the D.A.’s office that as of 2008 were in excess of $40 per hour.
Around 80 percent of tickets given in the parish come from the LACE program, which has up to four officers working the parish at any given time throughout the day.
Matey said these troopers focus on interstates and highways.
"Two people are working U.S. 90 at any one time," Matey said. "One person works U.S. 61 and then one other person could be working the north and south bound areas of I-310."
From November 2012 through January 2013, State Police officers worked 3,183 hours in those areas of the parish and handed out 5,359 citations.
Matey said due to the volume of tickets given out, the parish benefits greatly from having the program in place.
"Say the District Attorney’s Office pays $20,000 to our officers per month to write tickets in the parish, they are going to get about $200,000 back," she said.
Although the District Attorney’s Office contracts the LACE program and pays the officers, District Attorney Joel Chaisson is quick to clear up any misconception that his office is taking in all of the fines assessed under LACE violations. He said the LACE fines are split amongst numerous parish entities in the same manner as any other ticket.