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Senate approves traffic fine increase to pay for police training

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Motorists who speed a little too much or drift through stop signs may soon be paying a bit more in their debt to society.

Legislation approved April 24 by the Senate would tack a $4 penalty on all traffic fines. The proceeds would be used to pay for new training equipment for police.

But those who seek to avoid fines by going to defensive driving school won’t get off the hook. HB 2527 tacks that same surcharge onto what they pay for those classes.

Mike Williams, who lobbies for the Arizona Police Association, said officers need access to the latest state-of-the art equipment to simulate situations they might find themselves in on the street. And that, he said, means more than just training to be sure that officers do not kill the wrong person.

He describes it as a room with screens covering 300 degrees. But this is more than just a movie.

“What’s different about it is the characters on the screen, which are filmed by live actors, they react to how you react,” Williams said.

“So it’s not really just an ‘active shooter’ scenario,” he said. “A lot of it is teaching officers how to deescalate a situation or talk somebody down from a situation.”

He also said this equipment also has available software that allows police departments to go out and create their own situations. What that means, Williams said, is creating a situation in an actual local school as preparation for what might happen in the future.

All that promotion still left some lawmakers cold — at least to the idea of yet another fee.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said she sees the fee — and the $2.5 million a year it would raise — as just another unjustified growth of government, even for a good cause. And Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said he believes the state has plenty of revenues coming in now to meet its needs, including police training.

Williams, however, said the experience with the seven of these $300,000 interactive systems already set up across the state proves it works and it’s worthwhile.

He said the Tucson Police Department has already run 1,700 officers through the training.

“It’s getting about a 97 percent approval rating” from officers, Williams said. “They’ve also seen a reduction in their officer use-of-force incidents.”

The result, he said, is other departments want access.

Williams said Tucson could use a second one, made available for other Southern Arizona police agencies. He said there also are requests from the sheriff’s departments in Pinal and Yavapai counties.

The new simulation software isn’t the only thing on the law enforcement shopping list if they get more money.

Williams said police departments and their training academies also want a “virtual shooting range,” one where officers practice their skills — but without live fire.

One issue, he said, is financial: A single bullet can cost anywhere from 30 cents to $2. By contrast, the cost of operating one of these virtual ranges is in the neighborhood of a quarter cent per “trigger pull.”

The $80,000 price tag for that, Williams said, pays for itself in five to six months.

He said these are not just some sort of video game, saying they are accurate to one-half millimeter over 500 yards.

The Senate vote sends the measure to the House which has never considered the issue.

Williams, sensitive to that fee question, said the legislation has language allowing a judge to waive the surcharge in cases of financial hardship. And he said he would consider amending the bill to have the fee self-destruct after some period, perhaps five years, when the equipment has been bought and paid for.

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