First published in the Oct. 23 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Though local outrage over reckless driving has flared in recent months, a Burbank police sergeant said this week that vehicle crashes have become less frequent over the past few years.
The Burbank Police Department recorded 1,473 traffic collisions in 2016, Sgt. Fletcher Stone told the city’s Police Commission on Wednesday, and just 946 in 2019. So far this year, he added, the BPD has counted fewer than 600 crashes in Burbank.
Stone, a supervisor with the BPD’s traffic bureau, did not provide a count for 2020, explaining that the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on traffic made the statistic for that year an outlier. He also did not mention how many traffic collisions occurred between January and October in prior years, making a precise comparison to 2021’s number difficult, though Stone said the data indicates a downward trend.
A spokesman for the BPD said he would forward the Leader’s request for additional statistics to the traffic bureau, but a response did not arrive by the Leader’s deadline.
Many Burbank residents living near Glenoaks Boulevard and other major thoroughfares have reported regularly witnessing speeding and reckless driving for years. But after what police called a street race on Glenoaks resulted in the deaths of three uninvolved people in August, community members in and around Burbank have renewed pressure on the city to address the issue.
Calls to the department regarding street racing, reckless driving, possible instances of DUI and excessive vehicle noise decreased between 2017 and 2019, Stone said. The number of calls then rose from 546 in 2019 to 616 in 2020, likely because the lack of traffic during the pandemic allowed vehicles to drive faster, he added.
So far this year, the department has received more than 450 reports of those issues. Police have also issued more than 1,800 traffic citations for speeding this year, a drastic increase from last year’s total of 440.
Stone said the BPD has “dramatically increased” its enforcement of traffic safety laws, largely in response to local and national calls for action. After the Glenoaks crash, he explained, the department moved its traffic officers’ hours to later in the evening, when more incidents occur, according to Stone. The officers now work as late as 10 p.m. on weekdays, and from 6 p.m. until the end of the day on Friday and Saturdays they focus their efforts on enforcement.
“They are not conducting accident investigation [or] taking reports [during that time],” Stone said. “Their sole purpose is to address traffic concerns within the city — namely the speed, the reckless driving and the excessive noise.”
The Police Department has 10 motorcycle officers on staff plus a sergeant and a lieutenant, Stone added; about eight of those officers are deployed at any one time.
From January 2020 through August 2021, the BPD has arrested seven people for reckless driving or street racing, Stone said. That count doesn’t include the two drivers accused of causing the deadly crash on Glenoaks, he noted, as they were charged with murder.
Fielding questions from Police Commission members, Stone explained that an officer must witness a vehicle speeding — which is generally considered an infraction — in order to cite the driver. Reckless driving, a misdemeanor, can result in an arrest if an officer observes it or a witness attests to seeing the incident.
Repeat offenders are common, Stone also said, noting that his officers once stopped a man for speeding on Glenoaks — and then stopped the same man for speeding less than 20 minutes later. The two drivers whom police said were speeding and caused the August crash both had prior speeding citations, Stone added. Education, he argued, is needed along with enforcement to address reckless driving.
The BPD is pursuing a partnership with the Burbank Unified School District, Stone said, to allow officers to speak with traffic students about the hazards of speeding. But, he added, parents also need to warn their children about the dangers.
“We’re not going to be able to ticket our way out of this situation,” he said.