Air Force Staff Sgt. Roldofo Calderon sits in the driver's seat of the new Traffic Enforcement vehicle equipped with forward and backward-looking radar and in-car cameras to record traffic stops.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Roldofo Calderon sits in the driver's seat of the new Traffic Enforcement vehicle equipped with forward and backward-looking radar and in-car cameras to record traffic stops. (Mark Oliva / S&S)

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Call it a shiny, rolling billboard for law enforcement, but Kadena’s cops will tell you it’s just getting back to business.

The Traffic Enforcement vehicle Kadena’s 18th Security Forces Squadron debuted about two weeks ago is causing people to turn heads and tap brake pedals. The patrol car looks like the regular white sedans security police use to cruise the base but with a distinct difference: Large red letters reading “Traffic Enforcement” run down the side; the car is equipped with the latest forward- and backward-looking radar. And it’s on the road 24 hours a day for the sole purpose of keeping the streets safe.

“The aspect of policing took a back seat after 9/11,” said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Mark Myers, security forces administration superintendent. “The main headliner for us since then has been force protection. This is one way we’re trying to get back to a sense of normalcy.”

The idea of dedicating one vehicle to traffic enforcement came from a town hall meeting at which airmen at Kadena complained of traffic violations in housing areas.

Myers said Kadena’s security police routinely have patrolled the base but they also respond to domestic calls, reinforce gate security during peak rush hours and augment perimeter security.

The new vehicle, though, is meant strictly for cruising the streets.

“We see a lot of cars with illegal modifications, for instance,” Myers said. “Cars with under-car glow lights or blue-tinted headlights. That’s all illegal. … In the past we might have ignored it because we didn’t have the resources to stop every single one. Now, we have zeroed in one unit to focus in on those things.”

Myers said the traffic-enforcement vehicle’s debut is opportune. Police on Kadena routinely see traffic violations during peak hours in the morning, at lunch and during the business day — and many of those violations occur in school and housing areas.

“We’re not specifically targeting anybody,” Myers said, “But we want to reinforce good driving habits in the school zones and housing areas, especially since kids will be out of school soon. The kids will be everywhere, darting in and out of cars parked on the side of the road. We need to make the car visible in the housing areas to get the message out: ‘Slow down and obey traffic laws.’”

Security forces have more than the car to encourage enforcement, though: Every patrol car carries hand-held radar guns — and updated technology and training are on the way.

Also, Senior Master Sgt. Ronald McCarthy, security operations superintendent, said three additional radar carts now are posted roadside to warn speeding drivers.

“We want people to take notice of the carts,” McCarthy said. “But we want them to know we’re serious about enforcement. It might not just be the cart that’s out there tracking how fast you’re going. There might be a car just another 50 feet down the road.”

The new traffic-enforcement vehicle has been on the road just two weeks, so no quantifiable data exist yet to judge its effect, said Mike Fournier, 18th Security Forces Squadron reports and analysis manager.

“What we are seeing is a lot more phone calls coming in from residents about traffic violations happening in their neighborhoods. The more familiar people get with the vehicle, the more apt they are to interact with the cops.” That, he said, “opens the lines of communications to help us be more effective.”

And although the vehicle’s effectiveness still is being tested, McCarthy said, it’s already a hit with those wearing the badges.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we did add another one or two vehicles to traffic enforcement,” he said. “As we get more-updated equipment, all the vehicles will be outfitted as police vehicles should.”

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