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Friday, April 4, 2003 02:20 pm

Highwayman

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Edinburg police chief Dennis Greenwald
Nick Steinkamp

Writer John Jermaine has long heard about speed traps in the towns of Edinburg and Rochester, located south of Springfield on Route 29. With the route expanding from two to four lanes, the highway will now skirt around Edinburg. Jermaine decided to check in with Officer Dennis Greenwald, chief of the Edinburg Police Department for nearly 15 years. Greenwald has been catching speeders with a radar gun for more than two decades. In his office is a large photo of Barney Fife with Greenwald's picture pasted over the famous deputy's face.

"I don't like the term "speed trap," because it implies I hide out, waiting for someone to make a little mistake, and then I trap them. Well, I don't hide behind trees or billboard signs. In fact, I sit out in the open at usually one of four sites. The speed limit has been posted for many years. So if there is a trap, the drivers spring it with their own stupidity.

"When I first came here from Farmersville, I was writing 200 to 300 tickets a year. Now I'm only writing 2 to 5 tickets a month. What happened? People noticed I was out there, and saw me pulling other drivers over for speeding. So they slowed down while driving through town. In fact, the people who work in Springfield cause me very few problems. It's the salesmen, the vacationers, and strangers that now get most of the citations.

"I hear all kinds of excuses for speeding. Women claim it's their time of the month, they were going to pick up their kids, they were not paying attention, so on and so forth. I've had them cry, cuss me like a sailor, tell me they were sick, and all sorts of stuff. I had one claim her husband, or boyfriend, was having a heart attack. No, I was not going to hold them up another 10 minutes writing a speeding ticket while the man in front of me could die right there in the car. So I told them to go on. Another woman offered me sex to forget a ticket, but I passed on the offer.

"Men seldom have excuses for speeding. But they usually get pissed off fairly quickly. I've been offered a bribe on several occasions. Then I say, 'You're on camera. Do you want to go ahead with this or not? Hand me the money, and we will take a free ride to the county jail.' I had a truck driver pull off on the side of the road--right where we have a 'no parking on the side' sign. Then the driver refused to give me his license. He was just going to jump in his truck and head on out. I told him that was fine. However, by the time he reached the Taylorville Route 104 junction, there would be six troopers, five to six county officers, and 'I will be right there behind you. You will be going off the jail, while local people tow off your truck. One way or another, you are going to get that ticket. So tell me, how you want to do it?' He quickly handed over his driver's license.

"I've written one DUI in 14 1/2 years. He got it because he had an accident. Believe it or not, some old people said they did not see or hear me--when I was behind them a couple of miles. In recent months, I have also written five tickets for loud car stereos. The younger generation bothers me a bit. A lot of the kids have a smart-ass attitude. They also appear to be braver and sneakier than we were as kids. I guess they will have to learn the lessons the hard way, as we sometimes did.

"If you were driving through Edinburg, doing 47 miles per hour in a 45 zone, I would not pick you up. Why? Technically, you would be speeding. But every cop has his limit, or how many miles per hour you can travel before he gives you a ticket. When you are real close to my limit, I may pull the driver over and tell him he's speeding. Sometimes I pull old people over and remind them to pay more attention to the speedometer. About half of the people I pull over actually receive a lecture instead of a ticket. I stopped someone last night for having no taillights. The state says it's illegal and the owner should be fined $75. But I was fair, and gave him a warning. Only about half of the people actually receive a ticket.

"Personally, I don't care a whole lot about the seatbelt law, but little kids can get tossed around. They need to be fastened down within a vehicle. Most cops will try to do the right thing, for the most part. But the Rochester police have a bad reputation. From what I have personally seen and heard, sometimes they deserve it. I used to have a bad reputation for writing speeding tickets in Edinburg too. Maybe I still do today. But the previous mayor told me, 'Do not make a living on Route 29.' That was good advice because I stay visible to the traffic, write fewer tickets, and the speed stays down. When Route 29 goes to four lanes, it will really change my operation, because the road will exist just east of town. None of it will exist within the city limits.

Some people think this recent decision will kill Edinburg. If nothing else, it will slow down my ticket writing significantly." u

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