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Merced Streets Are Dangerous ‘Speedways.’ What the New Police Chief Wants to Do About It.

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Merced’s police chief outlined his plan to combat residents’ traffic concerns at the city’s first town hall meeting of the year. (CVJC)
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At the city’s first town hall of the year, Merced residents from all parts of town said their neighborhood streets have become “speedways” and asked city leaders to act.

Brianna Vaccari Portrait

Brianna Vaccari

Central Valley Journalism Collaborative

Merced’s new Police Chief Steven Stanfield was on hand during the Jan. 23 event at the Civic Center and updated attendees on how the Merced Police Department is planning to address traffic concerns.

City officials host the town halls annually beginning in January to solicit resident input to help guide the Merced City Council’s policy goals and priorities for the annual budget.

Residents’ traffic-related concerns aired Tuesday included speeding, red light runners, motorcyclists doing wheelies, and drivers doing donuts on suburban streets and large thoroughfares alike.

Dangerous Driving Seen Across the City

One resident who lives on Lehigh Drive called her street “Speedway Lehigh Drive” saying students and residents alike use it as a shortcut between M Street and San Jose Avenue.

City officials heard the same complaints from residents about Buena Vista Drive and El Redondo Drive, as well as McKee Road, Coffee Avenue, and Campus Parkway on the other side of town.

“It’s a hazard. It’s not only a high senior area, but it’s a lot of families with small children as well,” the Lehigh Drive resident said.

Chief: I’m Adding 7 Motorcycle Cops

Stanfield said that since he began the job in October, the No. 1 complaint the department receives is about traffic.

“I have not had one homicide since I’ve been here, but I’ve had six people pass away due to traffic-related incidents. I cannot stand in front of you and tell you that that’s acceptable. I cannot do that.” — Merced Police Chief Steven Stanfield

“I have to be honest, in all my years (working in law enforcement), I was kind of unprepared that speeding and traffic was going to be the biggest community complaint that I hear,” he said.

To that end, Stanfield said he’s beefing up Merced Police Department’s traffic unit, from one supervisor to seven motorcycle cops. That will take time, Stanfield said, since officers must get the proper licenses to operate the motorcycles.

Stanfield also plans to buy red light cameras for major intersections in town. He said statistics show the cameras will help reduce speeding and red light running, but most importantly, it will help reduce traffic collisions.

“If you want to know what I lose sleep over at night, it’s that since I’ve been here, six people have died in auto-related accidents in this town,” he said.

“I have not had one homicide since I’ve been here, but I’ve had six people pass away due to traffic-related incidents. I cannot stand in front of you and tell you that that’s acceptable. I cannot do that.”

Last year, Merced police arrested two drivers suspected of street racing before a crash that killed a 67-year-old woman.

Police also made several arrests last year related to illegal sideshows, where spectators gather and watch drivers race or do burnouts or donuts. Law enforcement agencies in many San Joaquin Valley cities have cracked down on sideshows.

The last town hall will be at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 15 in the multipurpose room at Chenoweth Elementary School, 3200 N. Parsons Ave.

About the Author

Brianna Vaccari is the governmental accountability/watchdog reporter for the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative, a nonprofit newsroom based in Merced.

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