BROOKSVILLE - An undercover operation enforcing traffic on Mariner Boulevard netted 477 citations, seven arrests, and 679 stops, according to Hernando County Sheriff's Office: up from 324 citations and 432 stops before it began.
Between June 2 and June 28, sheriff's deputies disguised as construction workers worked with a long-range laser detector that, unlike radar waves, can tag multiple vehicles' speeds from 2,000 feet, according to Traffic Unit Supervisor Sgt. Scott Lamia, who headed the operation.
"It's like shooting a gun and looking through a scope, but radar just sends out a wave," Lamia said. "We're trained to identify speeders, and radar can pick up a big object may be blocking a smaller object that's speeding, but with the laser you can get a pack of 10 cars and it tells you exactly how far away it is from here."
"I was getting people at 2,000 feet away before they even knew we were there," Lamia said.
Lamia, who has 15 years on the force and was recently promoted as supervisor of a 10-person team focusing strictly on traffic enforcement, said that some drivers stopped or issued citations thought the operation was entrapment.
"Some people questioned it, but traffic has been, and continues to be one of the chief complaints we get," Lamia said. "There was a question of entrapment. Well, a lot of people don't understand what entrapment is: We did not make anybody speed."
Most of the traffic citations were for speeding or nonmoving traffic violations like not wearing a seatbelt, Lamia said, and five arrests were for other, more serious traffic offenses like driving with an expired license for three years, in one case.
The other two arrests were for misdemeanor possession of marijuana, Lamia said.
"The last day we were out there we kind of counted cars, and we noticed a lot of distracted driving," he said. "It just caught our attention: a person holding up their phone and talking, or typing on it and texting."
"Hands-free totally would be the way to go, and I think the governor passing (a texting while driving ban) would be the first step to preventing that," Lamia said. "It's a secondary nonmoving violation starting in October, but I think down the road it's going to be a primary offense (like not wearing a seatbelt)."
The traffic crew targeted higher speeds and people with driving records, Lamia said, as well as people who seemed aggressive. The surveillance crew's measurements showed average speeding violations between 13-15 miles per hour over the limit, with some 30 and over.
One motorcyclist was clocked going more than 100 mph, according to the sheriff's office, but the motorist got away. As the father of an 8-year-old out of school for the summer, that's the kind of thing Lamia would like to see end.
"We'll continue to do operations like this. When? I don't know," he said. "It's good for this time of year, because school resource officers are out of school, and there is enough manpower to answer calls for service."
"But I definitely plan on something like this," he added, saying operations like the one last week on Mariner Boulevard are done frequently at the department.
Hernando County motorists might have noticed the speed trailers set up throughout the county in recent weeks, which marked the first week of the operation, as well as notices about increased enforcement in local news reports.
"The second week we hit it pretty hard with surveillance crews," Lamia said.