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Officer Swanson helps keep Redmond streets safe and sound
When Jeff Swanson first considered a career in law enforcement, he saw himself working in the fish and game department.
But after three years of active duty in the U.S. Army and earning a bachelor's degree in wildlife biology from Washington State University, job opportunities in the field were limited.
So he tested with a few local police departments and accepted a job with the Redmond Police Department (RPD).
About 23 years later, Swanson is still with RPD and has never regretted his decision.
"Once I got started here, there (was) a lot of comfort with the organization … The grass is not always greener in those other pastures," he said, referring to other organizations.
In his two-plus decades with the agency, Swanson has held a number of positions including police support officer, patrol officer and school resource officer for a number of elementary schools in the city.
He is currently a traffic officer, a position he has been at for about three and a half years and has held in the past.
Last Friday, Swanson spoke at the Redmond Senior Center's monthly First Friday Coffee Chat about some of the most common traffic infractions he sees on the job. The chats began in the fall 2009 to give the public an opportunity to get to know city officials and employees such as the mayor, paramedics and poet laureate.
The most common violations Swanson writes tickets for are talking on the cell phone while driving and not wearing a seatbelt. With the former, he stressed how costly the distraction of answering a call or reading a text can be.
"You are now risking your driving behavior for one little moment of your precious life," he said.
Swanson told the audience at the chat that the best way to avoid being distracted is to just ignore incoming calls or messages or to just turn off the phone completely.
When he does pull someone over for a cell phone infraction, he said there are ways to deal with the situation as sometimes people will pick up their phones to turn them off or to ignore phone calls.
If this is the case, Swanson said he will usually ask to look at the phone's call log.
"We do try to give (drivers) an opportunity (to explain)," he said.
When it was first introduced, Swanson said talking on a cell phone was considered a secondary violation, meaning he and his colleagues would have to pull a driver over for a primary offense such as speeding or running a red light in order to ticket them for talking on a cell phone.
In recent years, it has been upgraded to a primary offense so police can pull over a driver just for talking on their cell phone. Not wearing a seat belt has similarly been upgraded to a primary offense. Swanson said doing this was a way for the state to stress the importance of seat belts and their role in reducing fatalities in accidents.
In addition to dealing with drivers, Swanson will also ticket pedestrians and bicyclists if they violate traffic laws.
"We do enforce pedestrian laws and cyclist (laws)," he said.
Swanson is one of three traffic officers who ride motorcycles on the job and can maneuver himself more easily than in a car. Because of this, he said he will literally drive on the sidewalk to "pull over" a cyclist or pedestrian. While some people may think this may be extreme, Swanson said it is part of his job and traffic safety is the top priority.
"A pedestrian, whether you're right or wrong, when you get hit by a car, you're on the losing end of it …" he said. "We're just trying to modify the system so it's safest for everyone."
Swanson added that when ticketing people, his demographics are pretty even across the board because he does his best to remain objective and look at the situation rather than the individual and make his judgement that way.
Swanson said people have differences of opinions when it comes to traffic ticketing cameras — as seen with the recent presence of red-light cameras in Redmond. He said the cameras' locations in Redmond were selected based on the number of accidents and one of the reasons the cameras were taken down was because while there may have been a large number of violations, the number of accidents was not reduced.
He said one of the benefits of the cameras was that they were more efficient in catching violations than actual police officers would be. In addition, they were safer for officers because when pulling someone over, Swanson said they have to consider whether it is safe for them to enter traffic — especially at a busy intersection.
"We endanger ourselves as it is," he said.