MARK HOLMBERG: Sheriff to lawmakers “Bring it on”

Posted at 12:25 AM, Apr 20, 2012
and last updated 2012-04-20 09:22:24-04

HOPEWELL, Va. (WTVR) -- Hopewell Sheriff Greg Anderson says the buck stops with him.

Virginia’s General Assembly is saying, no it doesn’t. They want a cut of his controversial, high-speed gold mine on the so-called Million Dollar Mile of Interstate 295.

That has this colorful sheriff fighting mad.

“Hey, these entities can come after me all they want,” Anderson said Thursday. “You know, I’m in your face. I’m here, 250 pounds, ex-Vietnam veteran. Bring it on. Bring . . . it . . . on.”

The General Assembly approved a budget provision that could give the state’s literary fund a big hunk of $1 million-plus the sheriff’s busy deputies have made each year by arresting speeders on Hopewell’s one-mile stretch of I-295. Last year, the speeding program meant $2 million to Hopewell’s general fund.

“I just see it a punitive, vindictive move,” the sheriff said of the budget amendment.

Anderson’s speed trap program has angered the state police, legislators and countless motorists. Even AAA Mid-Atlantic came out publicly against the speed trap program that has left thousands of motorists with misdemeanor reckless driving convictions, saying it was more about revenue than safety.

The sheriff says of course it’s about safety, and the state police should welcome the help. And if the localities are enforcing the law, they should get the revenue from the fines. He and other sheriffs are “going to fight to the end to get Governor McDonnell to veto this rancid amendment, as I call it.”

Recently, the sheriff changed his policy to raise the reckless driving standard to 91 miles per hour instead of 81 in that 70 mile-per-hour zone.

Not to go easy on motorists, but the keep the state’s grubby hands out of this till.

“The city attorney went to work and did some legal research,” he said, “looking for ways to block the Commonwealth’s Attorney from being successful in that effort to send the fines from the locality to the state.”

A few days ago, CBS 6 started checking some of the sheriff’s claims by looking at court cases. Those cases showed he was wrong when he said his deputies only ticket those going 81 or faster.

Anderson sent an email to CBS 6, admitting the error:  “It took your report for me to have my chief deputy admit to me that one deputy in particular was writing tickets at 80 instead of 81."

"The 81 directive was given by me months ago.  I am a firm believer of the “buck” stopping at the top so I fault no one but myself," said the sheriff.

In this era of concerns about profiling, we looked at nearly all of the high-speed cases that came to traffic court Thursday.

Of the 276 cases we examined, 61 percent of those charged were white. Thirty percent were black. Six-and-a-half percent were Hispanic, two percent were other and less than one percent were Asian.

Blacks make up 13 percent of the U.S. population. The percentage of blacks ticketed was more than twice that number.

And while the majority of those ticketed come from out of the area, many are from here. And the high percentage of blacks in Hopewell (38 percent) and Petersburg (77 percent) as well as the fact that many of those travelling through are from urban areas, could well explain the high percentage of  African-Americans ticketed.

Anderson scoffed at suggestion that his deputies would be anything but perfectly fair.

“We don’t track minorities,” he said. “It’s impossible for the radar to pick up whose behind that wheel.”

A review of Thursday’s court cases and those from March 22nd shows what appears to be a fair court system, with fines built around speed and court costs largely uniform, even for those who don’t show up in court.

Those who hire lawyers tend to escape the reckless charges, but not the fines.

Thursdays hearings, coming after national coverage about the speed-trap program, saw a large number of cases reduced or dismissed.

One of the many-out-of-state motorists ticketed was William J. Carter of Neptune Beach, Florida. He was charged with going just over 80 on January 26 on his way to New York. By the time he got home, he said, there were about 10 letters from lawyers wanting to represent him in the speeding case, which made him wonder why kind of money-making mill he had driven into that day.

Sheriff Anderson isn’t a man to mince words. Law-breakers deserve to be caught and punished, and he’s not going to back down one single inch.

“Come on down, run for sheriff, and you get to make the calls,” he said. “But until such time as I’m no longer sheriff, I will make the calls, and I’m going to make the calls on the side of safety. I’m not going to make the calls on the side of gaining political favor.”