Stephen Vass was driving back to work after lunch through Beaverton on the morning of Feb. 14 when he turned left off of Southwest Cedar Hills Boulevard onto Southwest Canyon Road. Like many of us sometimes do, he swung out too wide and went into the far lane as he made his turn.
Moments later, the lights of a Beaverton Police Department motorcycle filled his rearview mirror, Officer Peter J. Dalton on duty.
Dalton gave Vass a ticket for violation of Oregon Revised Statutes 811.340, an improperly executed left turn. The fine: $260.
“It seems a little severe,” Vass says. “I was wondering how many other poor bastards had gotten this.”
So Vass did a little digging. He asked the Beaverton Police Department for statistics on Dalton’s ticket-writing history.
It turns out the Beaverton police’s nine traffic officers gave out 618 tickets in the past year for improper turns. Dalton, all by his lonesome, wrote 564 of them.
Officer Mike Rowe, who spent seven years as a traffic officer and is now the Beaverton police’s spokesman, says many traffic cops have a pet issue.
“It’s not uncommon for a traffic officer to [write] a large amount of [tickets for] a specific violation,” Rowe says. “You find certain violations you focus on.”
But Beaverton police records show most traffic officers hand out tickets for the “big three” violations: speeding, talking on cellphones, and running a red light or stop sign. They account for most of the tickets Beaverton officers wrote in the past year.
But Dalton’s mission seems to be to eradicate improper left turns, by far the top violation for which he wrote tickets in the 12 months starting February 2011. His No. 2 ticket: improper right turns.
In all, Dalton wrote $146,640 worth of tickets for improper turns in that period—more than 10 times the amount of tickets all other Beaverton traffic officers wrote for the same violations.
The Rogue Desk asked to speak to Dalton. Rowe says Dalton is on leave, but it’s not related to any disciplinary matter.
Rowe says improper turns can be dangerous: If you pull out too wide, you can cut off, or even hit, a car to your side.
The Beaverton Police Department, he says, sees it as serious. “You can cause injury,” he says. “It’s not a minor thing.”
Beaverton Police Chief Geoff Spalding agrees that officers often develop favorite traffic laws they like to enforce. He tells WW he was unaware of Dalton’s enthusiasm for improper-turn tickets, and he promises the department will look into the officer’s high numbers.
“I’m not sure what’s prompted this officer to take interest in this,” he says. “Either someone in the community has brought this to his attention or it might be that he’s seen that it’s causing accidents.”
Indeed. But here at the Rogue Desk, we wonder: If this is so important to the Beaverton police, wouldn’t every officer be out cracking down on illegal turns?
Apparently not—while Dalton was writing his 564 tickets for improper turns, the officer with the next-highest count wrote 16.
It seems to us that the Beaverton police don’t just have an officer with a particular traffic fetish.
They have allowed him to become a cash machine. That earns the entire department Rogue of the Week honors.