Ortolano talks snow and safety

School zone safety has been at the forefront of concerns for the Common Council Public Safety Committee during the past two years and it was no different when the committee met for the last time in 2013 on Monday.

Committee Chair Stacy Szukala was joined by committeeman and fellow council member William J. Rivera and Police Chief David Ortolano. Councilman and committee member Adelino Gonzalez was unable to attend the meeting.

Traffic signs are in place at the middle school and the rules are being enforced, Ortolano stated.

“Hopefully everyone gets the message. The important part of that is the left turns into the bus lanes, which we wanted to put a stop to because it was very dangerous,” he explained. “Our guys have been monitoring it and they’ve written a couple tickets. I think it’s working out. I think it’s time for them to understand that we’re going to be doing that now.”

Ortolano added the department was enforcing speed limits in the school zones.

One concern is the flashing school light for School 3 on Route 60, which is in need of repair.

Ortolano added that according to state Department of Transportation records, the school district is responsible for maintenance of the flashing lights, but if the flashing lights are beyond repair a joint replacement project between the school and DOT will be looked into.

Ortolano noted that the newer school lights in use are computerized and coordinated with the school schedule.

Szukala asked about the recent travel ban and advisory the city issued.

Ortolano said it was a cooperative effort between DPW, his department and the mayor.

“The one day we had probably 10 or 15 stuck cars or accidents within a matter of an hour going on. … At that point in time we’ll make the call to public works and the mayor’s office and we’ll request we would like a travel ban,” he explained. “If the mayor or public works feels (we need one), they’ll call us and we’ll coordinate between the three of us to issue a travel ban. At that time we notify the media we have a travel ban.”

Szukala asked if people are ticketed for driving during travel advisories or bans, which Ortolano said were basically the same thing.

“It’s more of a courtesy. People have to use their heads, if we say please don’t travel, please don’t. You’re going to have people who are going to go out there anyway,” the chief continued. “It’s just kind of a crazy thing. Unless the mayor declares a state of emergency, then you’re talking about something different. … But just a travel ban to let the motoring public know, ‘hey, it’s bad, don’t go anywhere if you don’t have to. It’s more or less we’re asking you not to because there’s safety issues with the roads.”

During the first blast of snowfall, the chief said officers were shoveling cars out and pushing them to clear roads for the plows, which members of the public were thankful for.

“If it gets to the point where the weather is that bad we’ll hold our guys here and just answer calls if it’s not worth driving around and getting in an accident,” Ortolano said. “If they get a call they’ll go check on it. Those days they couldn’t get back here because they were digging out cars.”

Ortolano said the 2013 spending should be within budgetary limits.

“We did buy two new Tasers, … the ones we had were several years old and started to get to the point, if the guys go to use them they’re not working. … If they need them, that’s a tool they have to have available to them right then and there,” he explained. “Not something where they have to play with the batteries.”

Ortolano said over time the batteries were not seating properly in the Taser.

“That’s a good tool. It saves having to fight. It saves having to use hand to hand combat, things of that sort,” he added.

Rivera expressed his concerns again about students crossing the street near the high school.

“That’s education, I’ve talked to the school about it and they’ve told the kids we have a crosswalk for you, but they don’t use it,” Ortolano replied. ” … I don’t want to send officers over there and start arresting kids for disorderly conduct, walking in the road. To me it comes down to more of an educational issue rather than an enforcement issue. Teach them, they’re in school.”

Ortolano added he was thankful most people slow down in school zones.

Ortolano said it will be February before he has final numbers for 2013.

Send comments on this story to gsnyder@observertoday.com