Berlin Police Department monitoring borough traffic safety

After brief postponement of program, Berlin Police Department once again looking to reduce traffic accidents within the borough

MATTHEW SHINKLE/The Sun: The Berlin Police Department temporarily suspended its Data Driven Approach to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS) earlier this year due to COVID-19. However, the program was recently instituted once again, and even expanded, within the borough.

Along with everything else dealing with COVID-19, police departments across the state are slowly restarting programs within their individual departments that were a focus before the pandemic set in.

For the Berlin Police Department, that includes restarting the Data Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety program, an initiative the department first started using in August of 2019 to reduce borough traffic accidents at three key intersections along the White Horse Pike.

After assistance from the Evesham police to start the program, Berlin identified intersections at Franklin Avenue, Cross Keys Road and Jackson Road along the pike as traffic concerns they wanted to address through the DDACTS model.

The department deployed officers at the three intersections for approximately five months during the end of 2019, so they could closely monitor motorist speed and driving safety and make stops when necessary. The department believes the mere presence of an officer helped drivers be safer.

According to department data, Berlin Borough reported 438 crashes last year, the fewest in the past five years. Meanwhile, the three intersections targeted by DDACTS where the borough routinely sees the most accidents saw a 23.51-percent decrease for the entire year.

Going into 2020, the department had hoped to use DDACTS at those three intersections, as well as additional locations, for the entire year to get 365 days worth of data.

COVID-19 forced suspension of the program during late March as the department, much like the rest of the country at the time, grappled with the disease and how it could be contracted and prevented.

“Once COVID-19 hit in March, we had to suspend the program. It was shut down from March to July and we were recently able to bring it back, and we actually expanded it a little bit,” said police Sgt. Jason Christy.

In the initial wake of the pandemic, the program was suspended due to health and safety concerns for officers in the department. But COVID-19 also meant fewer people were driving and the program may not have produced serious results had it continued.

Traffic has picked up since New Jersey eased some virus restrictions, so DDACTS is being further implemented across the borough due to its initial success.

“We used to run the program three days a week during that period of September to about February, but now we have it operational all five days of the work week,” said Christy. “We previously ran six patrols;  now we do 10, and we’re immediately seeing a difference just in the first two months.

“Obviously during those spring and summer months of COVID-19, our accident numbers were down because of quarantine and fewer cars on the roadways,” he added. “But now, traffic is picking back up and people are out.”

On top of more patrols and additional program days, DDACTS now focuses on five intersections along the pike instead of three, with the addition of Taunton Avenue and Jackson Road.

As constructed, the program allows police to determine what time and day the most accidents occur on average in each intersection, an indication of where the department should deploy one of its patrols.

The data proves DDACTS has helped cut down on accidents. According to Berlin police, the borough saw the fewest accidents in the past four years in the months of January and February, before COVID.

Since the program was restarted, the borough witnessed just 26 accidents during the month of September under the new DDACTS model. That’s down from 32 accidents in 2019, 33 in 2018 and 39 in 2017.

“Travelers that come through every day see our guys out there and it’s changing the speeds and traffic for the better,” Christy explained. “It’s mostly the presence that makes the difference out there. It’s a direct contribution to the officers buying into this program and following through with it.”

Christy said the department knows the 2020 data it assembles on total borough accidents and at each individual intersection will be skewed because fewer motorists were on the roads between March and July. But data assembled during the beginning of the year and from August to the end of the year will still help the department cut down on accidents and identify intersections where patrols should be deployed, at which times and on what days.

“What we have and what we’re doing is pretty impressive, I believe,” said Christy. “I’m excited for what a full year of this data would look like hopefully in 2021.

“We’re seeing, even though it’s been choppy, big differences in the months when we’re out there. It’s because we’re out there doing what we’re doing.”