‘Stalker Sams’ heading to town soon

OKEECHOBEE — Two “Stalker SAMs” will be taking up residence in the City of Okeechobee in the near future. In a unanimous vote, the city council at its Oct. 2 meeting agreed to purchase two speed awareness monitors (SAM), known as Stalker SAMs.

This is the Stalker SAM.

Police Chief Bob Peterson explained that one of the biggest complaints people have right now in Okeechobee is traffic, and speeding is a big part of that. Because of this problem, his department has officially dedicated a full-time traffic unit. This unit will, for the most part, be patrolling during business hours, on the main roads because that is where the highest volume of traffic occurs. The unit will not be limited to these hours or locations, but they will be the main priority.

In looking for solutions to the speeding in the other areas of Okeechobee, back streets, neighborhoods, etc., the chief determined that the SAMs would be the most cost-effective way to handle the problem. The SAMs tell you the speed limit, tell you your speed and capture data of all traffic in that area. The department can collect the data and determine which roads they need to send units to monitor and what hours they need to send them. The chief explained that if he had two of these, he could set them up on streets for a week, collect the data and move them to a new location every week, covering the entire town in three to four months. The two SAMs will cost $25,000.

Community member J.D. Mixon commended the board and the police department. He said the Okeechobee police department does a wonderful job. He went on to say that he thought the signs would help a lot but did express some concern about the data collection because he works with data for a living, and he believes the data will be skewed because when people see the big sign, they will slow down, which will, in turn, slow down the cars behind them, thus slowing down multiple cars and giving a false number of regular speeders.

Bob Jarriel said he had been out knocking on doors all day, and the top complaint was speeding. He said he thinks this would be a very good investment.

Chief Peterson agreed that it would not be perfect but explained that many people are speeding because they are not paying attention and the sign is a reminder, drawing their attention back to what they are doing. When they realize they are speeding, they immediately slow down.

“That small percentage that are doing it on purpose, we’re going to catch them!” he added.

Mr. Peterson went on to explain that the radar in the sign would catch the speeders long before they had a chance to slow down, so although it would not catch the cars behind the first speeder, it would catch individual cars and the first in the series.

The chief explained that earlier in the year, his department applied for a grant in order to purchase the signs. Three months ago, they received word that the grant was approved, but then last week they were told that funds can no longer be used to buy equipment, so they need money to buy them. The council voted unanimously to purchase them. A decision on where the money will come from will be determined at the next meeting.

In other business:

In other business, the council continued discussion on abolishing the code enforcement board and establishing a magistrate system. Michelle Sanders, a local third-grade teacher and member of the code enforcement board, spoke eloquently on the subject.

She said that every year, she tells her students that the definition of community is a group of people who live, work and have fun together, and the key word in that definition is “people.” She said they are a board made up of multiple people with multiple opinions, working together to make this community a better place.

Ms. Sanders compared the code board and a magistrate with civil court and criminal court, saying: “We don’t want to just penalize people. We want them to learn from it.” She fears that a magistrate would not take each individual circumstance into account. She believes the code board is a good system that just needs to be tweaked, she said, and worries that with a magistrate system, it will become council vs. citizens.

Councilman Gary Ritter thanked Mrs. Sanders and explained his thoughts. He said he believes that having a magistrate would take a burden off the shoulders of the code board members, who actually live here and have to face their neighbors every day. He said it is difficult to pass judgment on your friends and neighbors.

Councilwoman Monica Clark agreed. Councilman Ritter went on to explain that this year there have been 27 cases before the code board, and only one of them was resolved. He said he feels this is not acceptable.

Ms. Sanders stated that many of those cases involved homesteads or out-of-state homeowners who could not be reached.

A vote was taken, and the motion was carried. The code board will remain in effect until the end of January, and the magistrate system will begin at that time.
The next city council meeting will be Tuesday, Oct. 16, at 6 p.m.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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