United States Highway 275: Valley Police Department, 1985 through 1993
All of this was coming off of United States Highway 275 and running through our community!

From the early 1960’s to nearly the end of the Twentieth Century, United States Highway 275 between Waterloo and Fremont, Nebraska was considered as one of the most dangerous stretches of highway in the State of Nebraska. For the most part, it was a mostly two-lane highway which enters the state from Iowa over the South Omaha Bridge. It spans west across Omaha, along the Union Pacific Main Line, which includes much of the industrial and distribution districts of that city. Still running parallel to the Union Pacific Railroad Main Line, US-275 turns northwest in Western Douglas County through Waterloo and Valley, past the industrial complex of Valmont Industries, a major metal fabrication company, and on to Fremont, a fairly large city, and the County Seat of neighboring Dodge County, then ultimately to Norfolk, Nebraska. This highway was not traveled heavily only due to its path through some major industrial areas, it was also a major thoroughfare for commuters who worked in Omaha, and resided in Dodge, and Northwest and Western Douglas Counties.

The Nebraska Department of Roads began work in several phases starting the late 1970’s and early 1980’s to rebuild, re-engineer, and in many cases re-route US-275. The first two major projects included the Fremont Bypass, which started in Douglas County north of Valley near the Junction of State Route 36, and re-routed US-275 along the east side of Fremont, creating a new Junction at US-30 between Fremont and Arlington. The other project during this time was a complete rebuild of the Junction of Nebraska Route 64 near Waterloo. This was done in conjunction with a total rebuild of NE-64, (Maple Street,) another highway coming out of Omaha, badly in need of work.

Today, in combination to improvements made to Maple Street (NE-64,) Dodge Street (US-6,) US-275 is now a newly constructed freeway, safely bypassing the business districts and intersections of the various towns and cities. During the 1980’s and 1990’s however, my work as a police officer, at Arlington, and more predominantly at Valley was greatly affected by US-275. For the Valley Police Department, the majority of traffic injuries and fatalities within the city occurred on US-275. With certain state laws and mutual aid agreements that existed between Valley PD, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the Nebraska State Patrol, and the other neighboring jurisdictions, Valley Officers were frequently dispatched to traffic related incidents outside of the city along US-275, and in most cases were the first to arrive on the scene. One needed to be prepared to deal with victims with massive injuries and remarkable devastation, to be certain!

The road marked as US Highway 275 is the new freeway as it exists today. The road marked
as West Reichmuth Road, is the Old US-275 which ran through the City of Valley.

Clearly, we did not simply sit around and wait to respond to motor-vehicle collisions on US-275. A third of our overall time was spent on an aggressive traffic enforcement program with the aim of reducing accidents primarily in the city, but within western Douglas County as a whole. This is often misunderstood by the public, who often views such programs to mean “Speed Trap” or as a revenue generator for the city. Many translate this to maintaining a quota or as a means of simply “jerking around” the motoring public.

Contrary to these opinions, it is simply not the case. Under State Law in Nebraska, all fines collected for criminal and traffic offenses are not retained by the local jurisdiction. They are submitted directly to the Public School District where the offense was committed. From a revenue perspective, the city has no skin in the game, and as a side benefit, this could have an off set on personal property taxes, which the majority typically goes to the school districts. The other point to consider was the statistical evidence. There was a clear coloration between the number of traffic contacts, and motor vehicle accidents. When a high number of traffic contacts, (written warnings, citations, and arrests,) were issued during a given year, the number of motor-vehicle collisions would go down appreciably the following year. If we backed off our enforcement activity for whatever reason during a given year, the number of motor-vehicle collisions would rise the following year. Interestingly, while the majority of our traffic enforcement activity occurred on US-275, it would have this affect across the entire district!

As part of my duties, I was charged with collecting and maintaining such statistics for the Valley Police Department. We maintained these statistics not only to justify our traffic enforcement activity, these statistics were also required by various State and Federal Agencies who provided funding, equipment, and training to our agency. Early on, all this data was collected and analyzed on hand written spreadsheets, but after the advent of PC Computing, the job became somewhat easier, and somewhat more accurate. (Inadvertently, this activity was the first step of several which led me to the career that followed my Law Enforcement career, which was has been Information Technology.)

As far as quotas go; there are none. Our typical smart-aleck response would be, “We don’t have quotas, they let us write as many as we want!” But while there were no quotas, you were expected to maintain your level of activity. If your activity level declined from what you would typically produce, you would probably be called into the Chief’s office to explain why. At one period during my career, I consistently ranked at number 2 or 3 in the county for the number of contacts*, mostly speeding contacts produced. After I nearly got killed chasing down a speed violator, I felt that the need to chase speeders was not worth the risk. My activity dropped, and I was called on the carpet.

(*This level of activity was measured among all law enforcement officers in Douglas County including the Sheriff’s Office and all cities, including Omaha. It did NOT include activity from the Nebraska State Patrol. I was writing a lot of tickets!)

The question of ‘Tolerance’ often comes up. Tolerance is that wiggle room between the speed limit and the violator’s speed before an officer will take the time to pull someone over. There’s a broad range of variables for how the figure for tolerance is set. For instance, the Supreme Court established the general level for tolerance regarding the use of Doppler Radar to be plus or minus two miles per hour. In general terms, the tolerance is usually set at ten miles per hour over the speed limit in most places. This was a matter of economics. The time and resources expended on the stop, the contact, and the related paperwork exceeded the rate of return. It’s a cost benefit trade off.

During my time working with the Valley Police Department, the speed limit on US-275 through Valley was very clearly posted at 40 Miles per Hour. Our tolerance was 20 Miles per Hour over the speed limit. Yes. That was 20 MPH! That meant you had to be doing 60 miles per hour or faster on US-275 through town before we would even bother with you, and that was when the 55 MPH National Speed limit was still in effect! Why was the tolerance that high? Volume. Even with such a high tolerance level, we were more than extremely busy pulling over the 60 MPH plus offenders. Our strategy was to concentrate on the worst of the worst offenders, and it was a target rich environment. To give you an idea as to the amount of activity generated, years after I left law enforcement, references to my specific speed enforcement activity was still brought up on several internet speed-trap websites. waring motorists to watch out for me running radar at Valley.

Here’s an interesting observation. The speed limit was well posted and well marked. We were known to be running an aggressive traffic / speed enforcement program, (i.e. we had a reputation,) and we had a high level of tolerance. And while most people would think of the typical speed trap consisting of a cop hiding in the bushes, or behind a bill board with a radar gun, we had a policy of very high visibility to the public! We would park alongside the highway, clearly visible, and in the open. More often than not, we would have our headlights on, even during the day but especially at night. Still, we would make numerous contacts for speeding, and issue citations!

There is another side benefit to an aggressive Traffic Enforcement Program. There is also a direct coloration to the amount of Criminal Arrests made, and the deterrent on crime itself based on traffic enforcement activity. First of all, when you’re out there making traffic contacts, you’re being seen, and you’re being seen as actively working. The bad guy does not know you’re concentrating on traffic offenses… He just thinks “The Man is putting people up tight” and wants to avoid that! Next, and this is important, pulling over a traffic violator is probable cause to stop. Once the violator has been stopped, the alert officer is now able to observe any number of criminal offenses inside the offender’s vehicle. As a result of traffic stops, I’ve made criminal arrests for abduction, escape, possession of stolen property, weapons offenses, drug possession and related offenses, alcohol offenses, (driving under the influence and minor in possession of alcohol,) stolen vehicles, fraudulently registered or fraudulently titled vehicles, unregistered vehicles, and illegal aliens to name a few. The most common was persons wanted on warrants. Not just local traffic warrants, but criminal warrants issued from within and without the state. In one case, a subject I pulled over on a traffic stop was wanted for murder in California!

Driving under the influence of Alcohol and / or Drugs is a very serious offense, and is something we took very seriously. The investigation of the greater majority of the injury or fatal motor vehicles collisions I investigated, or which I may have been involved in the investigation of were related to DUI or DWI. In the United States, a good deal of training is devoted to the detection, apprehension, and prosecution of drunk drivers. Why is so much time and expense devoted to chasing down these poor drunks? Simple; Drunk drivers kill people! It is not hard to speculate that the majority of the drunk drivers arrested by me during my time working with the Valley Police Department were on US-275. Perhaps seventy-five percent or more of these arrests were on the highway. I’ll write more about this topic in another story. There are many!

All of this was coming off of United States Highway 275 and running through our community!

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