Officers from the and other local departments recently joined forces to scout out popular San Marino intersections and enforce traffic laws.
The April 20 "saturation patrol" in San Marino involved six officers from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Temple City station, Monterey Park and South Pasadena, said Danny Gutierrez, an SMPD motor officer and patrol participant. The operation focused on school zones and cell phone usage while driving.
Police wrote 32 citations, and three vehicles were impounded leading to corresponding arrests—two for driving with a suspended license and another for driving without one.
Given the operation's focus, all but two citations involved speeding or cell phone violations. Officers don't tally specific numbers but only report the most predominant citations by category, Gutierrez said.
Huntington Drive was the central locale, with officers posted at various intersections between Los Robles Avenue and San Gabriel Boulevard. was another key location for enforcing school zone traffic laws.
"The most surprising thing is that the public is getting an understanding of compliance with the California Vehicle Code and complying with the law by reducing their speed," Gutierrez said. "There were a lot less citations issued in reference to cell phone violations—people understand the message that they can't talk on a cell phone and drive at the same time."
In April 2010, 101 tickets went out to motorists for speeding and cell phone use in a similarly themed San Marino saturation patrol that involved 15 officers.
"The purpose of saturation patrols is primarily to educate the public about the California Vehicle Code and promote safety in our community," said Gutierrez.
George Banks, a local commuter and proprietor of , appreciated the ethos behind saturation patrols.
"I think it's a great thing that they run these traffic stings because San Marino is a major thoroughfare for El Monte and other neighboring cities," said Banks. "Huntington Drive is a major thoroughfare from L.A. to Glendora."
Banks also observed that "there is a major problem in every city with cell phone use while driving. Something needs to be done about [it]."
A new state law cracking down on dialing a phone while driving takes effect July 1, Gutierrez said. The law will also cover using a cell phone or PDA for text messaging while operating a vehicle. Currently the vehicle code only prohibits drivers from holding a phone to their ear.
"It's very hard to prove texting for the simple fact that it could easily be [compared to] dialing a phone number," said Gutierrez. The new law mitigates this apparent legal loophole.
"You can argue with the intent of the law that attention has to be diverted," said San Marino attorney Jack Conway. "Some people can handle that well, they can handle three separate calls, conference calls, back and forth, look at a document. But for the average person, if they're talking on the phone, texting, looking down to dial, attention is diverted."
Conway said the July 1 update on texting while driving is "a very good law" seeing that a cell phone citation "is the type of ticket a motorist is likely to defeat at a traffic court trial ... because the law is so full of gray areas."
Banks suggested the law should enable police to check a driver's device.
"If they can grab the cell phone and see if [a driver has] been using the phone for the last two minutes, I approve of that," he said.
Saturation patrols happen about every three months, said Gutierrez. So the next San Marino traffic operation will take place in August or September and cater to sections of the vehicle code that apply to pedestrians.