SWAMPSCOTT — With speeding and pedestrian safety arising as frequent complaints in the Police Department’s citizen surveys, Lt. Tom Hennessey said education, enforcement, and road-safety infrastructure will be key to keeping motorists and pedestrians safe.
While in the past, enforcement took center stage in the Swampscott police’s roadway-safety strategy, Hennessey said the department is actively searching for and practicing more effective ways to keep residents safe — from handing out ice cream coupons to children wearing bicycle helmets, to cracking down on motorists operating under the influence of drugs.
“Swampscott is a highly-congested community. Speed and pedestrian safety are consistently among the largest concerns,” Hennessey said. “Education and road infrastructure are now becoming even more and more significant aspects of how we do things.”
This year, the Executive Office of Public Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded the department roughly $30,000 in Municipal Road Safety Grant funding. The funding, Hennessey said, will be split three ways, with $12,000 for traffic enforcement, $10,000 for pedestrian safety, and roughly $7,000 for public outreach.
The Police Department is currently undergoing a number of community outreach and educational programs centered around roadway safety. Officers are distributing bicycle helmets to children and working with Swampscott High School Resource Officer Brian Wilson to create public service announcements on the dangers of reckless, intoxicated, or distracted driving.
Additionally, Hennessey said the department will soon ramp up its social-media public-safety announcements, and will host a number of community meetings on road safety. He added that the department would like to bring back the drunk-driving crash simulation that used to be held annually at the high school.
“We used to do a mock drunk-driving accident right around prom time,” Hennessey said. “That kind of went by the wayside during COVID, but I’m sure it’s going to be coming back.”
Education will not just be for the public. Hennessey said nine Swampscott officers will attend training classes to learn how to detect, and prosecute, drugged driving. Historically, Hennessey said driving under the influence of drugs has been difficult to enforce, since officers are mainly trained to detect alcohol intoxication.
“There’s a breathalyzer for alcohol intoxication. There’s nothing for drugs and it’s not just marijuana. It’s also heroin, methamphetamine, and prescription medications,” Hennessey said. The class “helps an officer recognize physical symptoms of drug intoxication, and it gives them a different battery of tests to determine whether that person is under the influence of drugs.”
In recent months, Swampscott police acquired nine portable, electronic speed signs used to slow drivers down and collect data on common speeding hot spots to better focus enforcement strategies on dangerous cut-through roads.
“We’re trying to do as much enforcement as we can, and we’re trying to tailor that enforcement to not only major roadways like Paradise Road, but you know, some of the places we’re getting complaints that are cut-through roads like Stetson Avenue, Pine Street, and Franklin Avenue,” Hennessey added.
Since speeders on major roadways will often slow down at the sight of a police cruiser, Hennessey said infrastructure will play a significant role in safety. In addition to the Office of Community and Economic Development securing a $200,000 grant for safety improvements such as raised crosswalks, curbs, and intersections, the “speed pillows” or elongated speed bumps installed this spring along Stetson Avenue, Franklin Avenue, Puritan Road, and Pine Street force drivers to slow down without the need for extra enforcement resources.
Installation of the Stetson Avenue speed pillows preceded some public backlash through the “honk on Stetson” social-media campaign, in which frustrated drivers honk their horns while driving through Stetson Avenue to protest the area’s increased traffic congestion.
Hennessey reminded the public that unnecessary use of a car horn can be disruptive and illegal.
“I’ve directed my officers — if someone is blowing the horn for no reason to irritate somebody, that is actually an offense that you can cite somebody for,” Hennessey said. “If my officers witness someone leaning on a horn as they drive down Stetson Avenue, they have every ability to pull them over and cite them.”