Traffic officers on TV's radar

It's the way things work in America: Once you make a name for yourself, a reality TV show can't be far behind.

Now it could be police Chief Jerry Dyer's turn.

Fresno's traffic officers -- already known nationally for their success in cracking down on drunken drivers -- would star in a proposed new series that a production company plans to pitch to Court TV, Dyer said Wednesday.

Footage for a sample episode -- tentatively called "DUI Cops" -- already has been shot, he said, and negotiations are under way.

"Hopefully they will turn it into a series after they accept the pilot," Dyer said during a news conference to mark five years' worth of accomplishments since the Police Department launched an expansion of traffic-safety enforcement.

In 2002, Dyer said, Fresno had one of the worst reputations in the nation for traffic safety. That year, the Police Department struck a deal with the county to share traffic fine revenues, enabling the department to hire more traffic officers and buy more motorcycles.

The results are impressive, Dyer said. Traffic deaths and collisions have decreased, while DUI arrests and seat belt compliance have increased.

This year, there have been 20 traffic fatalities -- which puts the city on pace to have its lowest total since 2002, when there were 52.

Drunken-driving arrests steadily increased from 1,984 in 2001 to 3,015 last year.

Traffic collisions, meanwhile, have decreased from about 4,500 in 2002 to fewer than 3,700 last year.

The traffic police write enough tickets -- 95,000 last year -- to fund their unit, Dyer said.

"It's not popular with the general public, but it's the right thing to do," he said. "It's not about the money. It's about saving lives."

At Wednesday's celebration, Dyer personally honored each traffic-enforcement officer with a plaque.

Former traffic bureau Capt. Andy Hall was awarded the department's Medal of Merit for going beyond his duties to visit families of those who died in car crashes.

The traffic unit also displayed 43 new BMW 1200 motorcycles at the celebration. The BMWs will replace some of the 75 motorcycles in the fleet -- a mix of Kawasaki models and BMW 650s, police officials said.

The new motorcycles -- at $20,500 each -- are larger and offer more protection for the officers, Dyer said.

The department's efforts have brought it national attention. The Traffic Enforcement Bureau was featured on the front page of USA Today in November for its DUI bar stings and the drop in traffic fatalities.

That same month, the bureau was featured on an NBC Nightly News segment called "What Works," about law enforcement agencies that have seen positive results. NBC News crews spent two days in Fresno watching the bureau conduct bar stings, set up DUI checkpoints and perform probation searches.

Other police forces are noticing too, Dyer said.

The Traffic Enforcement Bureau received the Peter K. O'Rourke Special Achievement Award from the national Governors Highway Safety Association this year for increasing highway safety -- an award given to only one law enforcement agency in the country each year, Dyer said.

Fresno police officials have given more than 50 presentations on traffic enforcement to other agencies across the country in the past few years, he said.

"The Fresno Police Department has been a model law enforcement agency for the nation," Dyer said. "Oftentimes we are recognized more across the country than we are in our own backyards."