Catch-22 in Patrolling US 23/Future 26 - TribPapers

Catch-22 in Patrolling US 23/Future 26

Photo by Clint Parker.

Woodfin – Members of the Woodfin Town Council questioned Woodfin Police Chief Michael Dyke on his enforcement of speeders and the working of accidents on the portion of US 19/Future I-26 that runs through the town (see article page ??). This questioning was done at the February monthly meeting, where Dyke gave a presentation on traffic safety.

Councilman Jim McAllister’s concerns over traffic along Riverside Drive prompted the traffic safety presentation.

This isn’t the first time town officials have questioned the Woodfin Police Department’s activities on the four-lane highway. I remember that former Woodfin Mayor Homer Honeycutt was also critical of the department’s actions on US 19/Future 23, saying at one point, taxpayers of the town were not paying its officers to be state troopers.

Woodfin police officers can regularly be seen on the interstate tending to accidents or traffic stops. Weaverville police officers, who also patrol a portion of US 19/Future 23 running through their town, are almost never seen on the four-lane. The optics of this led many (residents and officials) to believe that Woodfin officers are trying to be one of the “highway gods,” as the state troopers are known in law enforcement circles.

I know when I come through Woodfin, I check my speed as I know there’s a good chance a Woodfin officer might be lurking somewhere just out of sight.

So is the council justified in being critical of the police’s operations on the major traffic artery that runs through the town?

Fact: Over the last five years, four of the five accidents that have ended in a fatality have occurred on US 19/Future 26. Fact: Of the 1,808 motor vehicle crashes from 2017 to 2020, 49.7% occurred on exclusively two roads: US 19/Future I-26 and Weaverville Road, with the former being the most dangerous, which only makes sense as that’s the road where vehicles travel at speeds averaging 70 mph and above. Of 103 citations for speeding issued annually, 71 (or 69%) are done so on US 19/Future I-26.

Nonetheless, after 20 years, some on the council are still concerned with Woodfin’s police activities on US 19/Future 23.

Woodfin Councilman Jim McAllister asked if the police were required to work accidents on April 26. “I’m required to work the crashes up there,” explained Dykes, “and so we work speed enforcement to try and reduce the severity of the crashes.”

Councilwoman Elisabeth Ervin asked about time spent on speed enforcement. Dyke said about 20% of the officers’ time was spent on traffic stops.

She then got more specific. “I’m thinking more about when I see our cars hidden back up in the woods off an exit to catch a speeder. How much time are we spending doing that on an average shift?” Dyke explained he could not answer that as the officers’ time is not tracked if they are not on a call. He did say that in his patrol days, he would park in a conspicuous place and do paperwork, making motorists think he was running radar. Ervin asked if the officers are asked to go sit on the interstate, to which Dykes replied, “They are asked to go patrol,” especially in known problem areas.

With most of the speeding tickets given on US 23/Future I-26 and with Dyke saying, “They are asked to go patrol,” especially in known problem areas, with US 23/Future I-26 being one of those problem areas, It’s a safe bet the officers spend a lot of time patrolling the four-lane.

So with those facts in evidence, are Woodfin officers spending too much of their patrol time on US 19 or Future 23? I’m sure those caught on the interstate for speeding by Woodfin Police would say yes. Some on Woodfin’s council and residents would say yes.

The only people who would probably say no are those whose lives are saved by their enforcement. Unfortunately, they don’t realize it and, therefore, have no idea that the Woodfin officers may have saved their lives. Since these people are ignorant of these officers’ role in preserving their lives, they will never speak out.