Highlands residents say that the sight of police pulling over speeding drivers has become common in the past few weeks. Photo courtesy of Doug Anter

Residents hope amped-up police presence in Highlands is just the beginning of new trend

The Issaquah Police Department’s increased efforts to combat speeding in the Issaquah Highlands in response to numerous complaints have made a huge difference, residents are reporting.

After residents became increasingly vocal about the amount of speeding going unchecked in the Highlands, the Issaquah Police Department announced a new campaign focused on traffic enforcement. Between mid-April and mid-May, two police officers are spending 150 patrol hours in different Issaquah neighborhoods that have become notorious for bad driving, including the Highlands.

“We are taking it seriously … We definitely make an effort to listen to the concerns of the city,” Interim Police Commander Laura Asbell stated. “Traffic in general is a concern in Issaquah.”

Residents of the neighborhood say they have witnessed police pulling drivers over on a daily basis since the city of Issaquah announced its campaign to crack down on speeding.

“There wasn’t a single time I drove on Park Drive and someone wasn’t getting pulled over,” said Highlands resident Paul Omekanda, who once had to dive to the ground in between parked cars to avoid being hit by a speeding driver.

Stephanie Buyagawan, who has been afraid to let her cats and dogs out of the house after her dog was nearly killed in an accident with a car last month, said at the beginning of May that she had seen cars being pulled over by police at least five different times in the previous two weeks.

“It’s been nice to see … It seems like they are putting in an effort to increase their presence and pull people over,” she said.

“It makes me happy to hear people are seeing a difference,” Asbell said.

Doug Anter compared the police presence on Northeast Park Drive to “an armada of cops up and down the street.” Anter helped to organize a town hall meeting last autumn to discuss the speeding problem with Issaquah police.

“Those roads are narrow and we want to make sure people are driving nice and slow,” Asbell said. She said that in addition to combating speeding, police are also looking for behaviors such as running stop signs, violating school drop-off rules, and driving while distracted by a cell phone.

However, the Highlands residents are not done campaigning for speed enforcement; they hope the current police effort is only the beginning of a future of action to target speeders.

Anter said that his current mindset is, “Thank you, what’s next?”

“I’ve seen the results, I like the results, I hope that it continues,” he said. “People are creatures of habit. The mom sipping a latte and looking at her Facebook page while going 45 mph isn’t going to change her behavior if the police presence disappears in a few weeks.”

Anter compared the speed enforcement to a workout routine. A person committed to being in shape does not just go to the gym once or twice and then never again, but instead incorporates working out into their daily lifestyle.

“There needs to be an ongoing police presence,” he said. “It needs to be part of an ongoing solution.”

If permanently keeping officers in the Highlands is too much of an expense for the Police Department, he suggests speed bumps and extra lighting at crosswalks.

Omekanda is taking the issue to local government leaders to try to ensure that future city funds go toward speed control in the Highlands. At the May 1 City Council meeting, he asked Mayor Fred Butler to consider putting speed bumps in the Highlands.

“There’s no way now that [the city] can say they’re not aware,” Omekanda said. “Clearly, there’s a culture of speeding. We need to do something more permanent to provide something better for our wives and our kids and our neighbors and our friends.”

Omekanda’s wife is five months pregnant, and he fears for the safety of his soon-to-be-son, Philip Michael.

“I’ve got four months until my kid is here … I have four months to make it clear to leaders to put it on their agenda,” he said. “If you’re going to run for office, this is something that should be on the agenda.

“Any time it’s a safety issue, it needs to be taken care of, something needs to be done sooner or later,” Buyagawan said. Otherwise, she said, a tragedy is inevitable.

“Nobody wants to have the finger pointed at them” after a tragedy, she said.

Asbell said the Police Department would continue working with city departments on engineering solutions and on educating the public on good driving habits.

What is most important, she said, is encouraging people to “take individual ownership” and act as role models of safe driving to cause a “shift in driving behavior” in their neighborhoods.

“We really want to work with the community … empowering members to keep their neighborhoods safe,” she said.