Eastborough police say longtime 20 mph limit isn’t meant as speed trap

Eastborough police are well known for their enforcement of the city’s 20 mph speed limit. (May 27, 2015)
Eastborough police are well known for their enforcement of the city’s 20 mph speed limit. (May 27, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

Even when he was growing up in south Wichita about 30 years ago, Michael Erwin knew how people viewed Eastborough.

It’s a speed trap, and police officers will pull over anyone who drives 5 miles over the posted 20 mph speed limit.

Now he is one of those Eastborough police officers, and he says the stigma attached to the Eastborough Police Department is not merited.

“We don’t want to write the tickets, but it takes tickets for people to get the realization to slow down,” Erwin said. “I’d rather you get to work in one piece late than get there not at all because you’re in a car wreck somewhere down the road.”

Eastborough police say the 20 mph speed limit is not intended to snag drivers speeding through the tiny city that is enveloped by east Wichita. Rather, Chief Matthew Cox said, it is for the safety of pedestrians.

“A lot of people question our 20 mph speed limit, and the main reason is because we have no sidewalks,” Cox said. “We have a lot of people that go for walks and jog through there.”

20 mph limit’s origin

Cox said the speed limit originated when Towne East Mall was constructed in the 1970s. Because a lot of mall traffic was coming through Eastborough on Douglas, Cox said the city had a study done that recommended the 20 mph limit.

“Honestly, it is a pretty scenic area,” Erwin said. “They (residents) want to come walking through here, and we want to make sure, especially with the kids, they’re not getting snagged and whacked by a car here because they’re not paying attention.”

Eastborough’s department is staffed by six officers, including Cox. Its call load is fairly light, Erwin said, so officers simply have more time to devote to traffic enforcement.

“We don’t have a lot of crime rate in Eastborough,” he said of the city, which has less than 1,000 residents. “You may have two- to three-hour gaps between calls where you can focus on traffic enforcement. There’s nothing else for you to do – it takes you 15 minutes to patrol the city.”

Eastborough officers often aid Wichita officers with the Patrol East bureau and constantly listen to east-side police scanner traffic. If an incident comes up and the Wichita Police Department doesn’t have enough on-duty officers to take it, an Eastborough officer can take the call.

“Over the years we’ve just assisted each other as needed without a written agreement in place,” Cox said. “The administration of Wichita PD has never had a problem with their officers assisting us or our officers assisting them.”

Mayor: Not about revenue

Speeding fines do not play a significant role in the city’s budget, Eastborough mayor David Anderson said. In 2015, Eastborough’s budget was approximately $2.5 million, Anderson said. Of that, court fines accounted for less than $125,000, he said.

“We give out more warning tickets than we do actual speeding tickets, and most of the tickets we give have nothing to do with speeding,” Anderson said. “Speeding maybe becomes a reason people get stopped, and then we find out they don’t have insurance or they have a suspended license or a warrant out for their arrest. A lot of people don’t get tickets just for speeding.”

Cox said the department’s focus on traffic enforcement has led to a low overall crime rate.

“It has been proven in jurisdictions all over the United States that when departments concentrate on traffic enforcement, the overall crime rate is down, as far as other crimes as well,” Cox said. “That’s mainly because the criminal element that’s out there moving around … know they had better not violate a traffic law in that jurisdiction or they will get stopped, and that leads to further arrests.”

Reach Matt Riedl at 316-268-6660 or mriedl@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RiedlMatt.